Stop Driving Blind with a Project Dashboard
Road Trip! That’s right…road trip. You and your friend decide to take a couple of days off of work and visit someplace you’ve never been before. Your friend volunteers to drive and you’re all set to go. You pile your stuff into the car, crank up the tunes, roll down the windows, and hit the road. You’ve been looking forward to this trip for some time now. You ease the seat back and feel the wind in your hair.
A couple of hours pass and you ask your friend how far they think you’ve gone. “Not sure,” they reply. You take it from a different angle. You know you’ve been traveling for about two hours so you ask how fast you’re going. “Not sure,” they reply. “Odd,” you think. You then ask when you need to stop for gas. “Not sure,” they reply. “What is going on here??” you ask yourself. Just then you lean over to look past the steering wheel and to your horror you see there is no dashboard! That’s right…the dashboard has been ripped out of the car!
There’s no way to tell how fast you are going, how far you’ve gone, whether you have enough gas, if you are low on oil, or even if the car is about to overheat. Your friend is driving blind and you’re along for the ride!
Hope you make it.
But, how many projects have you been on in your career where the project manager is running their projects without a project dashboard? Probably too many to count. Without a project dashboard, you don’t know how far you’ve gone, how much is left to go, if the project resources are running low, or if there is the possibility for a risk to blow up in your face and capsize the entire project. There is zero visibility into and that’s a big problem.
Hope you make it.
Some project managers may like to say that they have it all in their head. That’s great. But it doesn’t help anyone else. And, truth be known, they really don’t have it all in their head unless the projects are very small, very simple and very short in their duration.
What is a Project Dashboard and Why is It Important?
A project dashboard is a snapshot of how your project is running at any given moment in time. You pick the date you want to peer into your project’s performance and then freeze key aspects of your project right then and there.
The dashboard of a car is a perfect analogy. You’re not keeping your eyes on the dashboard the entire time you are driving. Rather, you are looking at the road ahead of you, the cars to the side of you, chatting with your passengers in the car and occasionally glancing down at your dashboard.
When you glance down at your dashboard you get immediate feedback on exactly where you are at that moment in time. You know how fast you are going from the speedometer, how many miles you’ve traveled from the odometer, and how much gas you have left from the fuel gauge. You then look back up at the road and continue driving the vehicle making any minor adjustments (for example…slowing down) that may be necessary.
It’s the same thing with a project dashboard. It would be ludicrous to run your entire project from just looking at the dashboard. Rather, you are looking around in all directions on the project you are managing. You are looking forward to keep the project on the right course. You are watching for obstacles on the side of the road that could prevent you from moving forward and having LOTS of conversations (aka meetings) with those who are working on the same project with you.
Every now and then you’ll glance at the project dashboard to see how things are going. Based upon the feedback you receive from this dashboard you’ll make the necessary adjustments necessary to keep your project on the road. For example, you may find that the speed of the project has slowed down considerably. It’s up to you to pick up the pace so the project gets back to where it should be according to the project plan.
You Know Your Projects Have Backseat Drivers, Right?
“Take a left. Slow down. Speed Up. You’re lost, aren’t you?” are all familiar refrains for those of us who have driven others around for any period of time. These people have the best of intentions, but they just don’t see what you see. They’re not in the driver’s seat and they don’t have the perspective you do on how the trip is going. You listen to them (maybe), weigh their advice in the context of what you know about the trip from the driver’s seat and then choose to adjust or hold the course.
Your projects have backseat drivers too. They are called stakeholders. It could be anyone on your project team. It could be the project sponsor or the paying client. It could be the guy who is not even remotely involved in the project that just seems to have an opinion about everything that feels compelled to interject his insight and wisdom every now and then.
What can help to quiet some of these backseat project drivers? A good project dashboard. Everyone will feel free to render their subjective opinions without objective facts. A project dashboard provides those objective facts to quell the subjective opinions. You may not be able to quiet everyone but you certainly will be able to shorten the conversations if you carry the facts with you about the project at all times.
What Should Be Included on a Project Dashboard?
Project Dashboards are diverse and molded by the needs of the users. However, there are a couple of standard elements that should at least be incorporated in all dashboards. The following are a few to consider:
- Current Status – A brief synopsis of where the project currently stands. This can be an “all good” sign to a couple of sentences about the current state of the project.
- Risk – There should be some element of Risk management on a dashboard. Perhaps this is how many High, Medium, and Low priority risks there are on the project. Or, it may be a breakdown of the High profile risks and a brief mitigation strategy for each one.
- Financial – This will let the reader know whether the project is under or over budget and by how much. This can also be expended into resource utilization or other key metrics that have financial ramifications.
- Key Metrics – Key Metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be included on the project dashboard as well. This will vary greatly by project type, company, and industry but will provide a snapshot of what is important. It may be percentage complete, percentage remaining, hours overtime, quality score, defect rate or whatever else is important to be measured.
- Next Steps – Everyone should walk away after reading a project dashboard with not only a clear indication of the current state of the project but also what the next immediate steps are ahead of the project. This will allow for the removal of any issues or obstacles that are preventing the project from moving forward.
Is a project dashboard critical for every project? Yes. Sure, you can run smaller projects without the hassle or the overhead of having to put a dashboard together, but the benefits are generally worth the time invested. Dashboards are an absolute must for larger or enterprise level projects that have multiple teams and dozens of people working on them.
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