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Do you Have a Project Dashboard?

A key consideration for any good Project Manager is clear communication with senior stakeholders.  Those that shape your immediate career prospects or fund the project for which you have been given responsibility, must be kept informed and updated.

Consistency and punctuality must be etched in your brain when it comes to reporting.  Recipients must see a consistent report format each period and should receive it like clockwork.  It builds confidence in you and the methods you are using to manage your project.  They are therefore more likely to believe your report.

Usually reporting is on a monthly basis but this of course depends on the nature of your project.  I will leave it to your common sense to decide the appropriate reporting cycle.

Often there is a need for PowerPoint, particularly in the larger corporate environment.  It appears that the more senior a manager is, the less information they should receive.  A dashboard supported by a more detailed monthly report is a robust solution to meet the needs of the various individuals and their level of seniority (or more likely interest in your project).

I am a great believer in “management by exception”.  If it is given a status of “green”, then people do not need to know the details.  If it’s “orange” or “red” then lets dig a bit further.  A dashboard provides this high level summary and allows senior manager to get on with their day job, assuming all is “green” of course.

There are a number of key pieces of information you can include on a dashboard with all of it being easy to generate if you have implemented good project management tools and techniques.  My suggested favourites are:

  • RAG colour coding against work packages / sub-projects / products to show if they are on time, on budget & quality.
  • A bullet point summary of key achievements in the last period, followed by a similar list for expected achievements in the next period.
  • A list of high priority risks and issues.
  • A list of changes (could be just those of a certain scale or yet to be approved).
  • A histogram showing the costs to date and forecast to go.
  • A histogram showing benefits achieved and forecast.
  • A milestone summary that immediately shows if key milestones have shifted from the agreed baseline.

I feel that a milestone summary is a natural choice but is probably duplication of the first item.  After all, if the RAG code for time is green, then do we need any more information than that?  One thing is clear though and it requires discipline and honesty – what defines when you should change the colours!

You MUST set clear criteria for why something is red, amber or green.  I have seen many managers tempted to mark things as green or amber (never red for some reason) based on a pretty ad hoc gut feel approach.  It is not correct.  People will believe in your RAG status if they understand the criteria and see that it is applied with discipline.

So to create your dashboard I recommend you select four of the above suggested items and put them on a slide.  My preference is given below:

Project Management Dashboard

In this instance I am using a RAG coding criteria of:

GREEN = No variance from approved Business Case and PID

AMBER = Less than 10% variance from approved Business Case and PID

RED = 10% or greater variance from approved Business Case and PID

This criteria needs to be stated at the beginning.  I have therefore assessed each work package of the project but then provided an overall project summary.  A common question is, “why is the project level green for cost, when WP 5 is red?”.  In this particular scenario I have assumed that although WP5 is over budget, this overspend can be contained within the project as a whole, either by Contingency or by an underspend elsewhere.  The project itself is therefore not over budget and is well within tolerances, so is therefore green.

Of course the same dashboard could be used at a Programme level, with each Work Package being replaced with a project.

In summary, a dashboard can be quickly produced and updated IF you have implemented good project controls.  It provides a very clear communication mechanism and you might even win friends within senior management who no longer have to trawl through pages of a report to understand how things are going.

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