The concept of dashboard reporting has been around for decades. Data warehouses were first built to provide executive management reporting on key business indicators like budget to actuals and the trending of sales, cash flow, and inventory levels. The whole purpose of this style of reporting was to provide 4-5 critical gauges of how things were going in order to quickly draw attention to areas for concern or celebration. In the world of project reporting, the concept of dashboard reporting has taken on a whole new meaning as project managers try to cram 20-30 different project indicators in front of the project sponsor. The danger in providing too many indicators, is in the ability to quickly identify what is important and in being able to quickly call out areas that need special attention. The detailed status report and dashboard report have become merged into a chaos of information.
There is no “one size fits all” answer to what should be on a project dashboard. Key project indicators are often unique to the project at hand, with some focusing more on budgets, while others more concerned about progress to plan. During the project initiation phase, project sponsors and key stakeholders should provide guidance and input into what is most important for them to see. PMO reporting practices should allow for the evolution of data and not be so concerned about “standard templates” that they stifle the communication needs of project stakeholders. Governance processes must be fluid enough to allow for the evolution of the dashboard report over the life cycle of the project; yet rigid enough to force the reporting of critical warning signs.
Another concept that is extremely prevalent is the use of traffic light reporting (Green/Yellow/Red). All things running according to plan – highlighted in green, those that are trending negatively – turning to yellow and imminent danger or critical call-outs flashing in bright red. The sensitivity of the color gauges should also be discussed during the project initiation phase, to set expectations around what triggers a change and what is expected when a change occurs. Defining a response plan, similar to the risk register, for each indicator will set the tone and allow stakeholders to better understand what their role and responsibility is when there is a call for action. Traffic light reporting can be effective, provided there is honesty in the “greens” and ownership in resolving the “reds”.
Pull out last week’s status report, and take an honest assessment of the information that is being reported. Can your sponsor quickly find the project speedometer or gas gauge?
Maybe you should consider a little spring cleaning of your dashboard. Ask yourself and your sponsor if the information on the first page is truly “front page” worthy? Does it highlight the areas that need immediate attention? Is there a call to action and a clear “response owner” for the gauges that are flashing red? Does your dashboard have too much of the wrong information and not enough of the right stuff? Don’t fall victim to communication chaos. Embrace the concept of “Information Evolution” and get rid of the clutter!
Janet Dahmen is Avout’s Delivery Services Partner who focuses on ensuring the overall effectiveness and quality of each engagement. She has over 20 years of project management experience in the IT industry, specializing in ERP implementations. Follow her on Twitter @JanetDahmen.