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The Ever Changing Dashboard

Dashboard Spy Readers – you are in for a very special treat. Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Harold Kerner, Senior Executive Director at the International Institute for Learning, Inc. and author of Project Management Metrics, KPIs, and Dashboards: A Guide to Measuring and Monitoring Project Performance

The Ever-Changing Dashboard

by
Harold Kerzner
Sr. Executive Director for Project Management
International Institute for Learning (www.iil.com)

If you are reading this short article, then you are on the Dashboard Spy website. I have been a fan of Dashboard Spy for some time, have read every article, but am often disappointed because only a small percentage of the articles are directly related to my profession, project management. I assume I have now gotten your attention! If you want to know more about why I am sometimes disappointed, read on.

I have been a project manager for more than four decades. In all of my years of experience, my greatest curse has been the cost of paperwork on projects. Every piece of paper handed to a client can cost between $1200 to $2000 per page. To prepare a report, the steps we follow are: organizing the report, typing, proofing, editing, retyping, graphic design, approval, reproduction, distribution, storage, security classification if needed, and ultimately, disposal. As a rough guess, we estimate approximately 8-10 fully burdened hours per page, which includes everyone involved in the previous steps. For companies with high overhead rates, reports can consume a large portion of the project’s budget.

Not all reports can be eliminated, but we can somewhat reduce the impact of this curse by striving for paperless project management, where appropriate. In the past, reports were needed to assist clients and stakeholders in making “informed” rather than seat-of-the-pants decisions on projects. Projects thrive on decisions, and decisions require meaningful and timely data. The bad news was that decision makers often had to read through volumes of irrelevant information to find the few pieces of critical data that they required. Fortunately, dashboards have come to our rescue in replacing reports.

The need for dashboards in project management is now quite evident. That’s why I became fascinated with Dashboard Spy. Unfortunately, the majority of the articles that I have read have a common thread: they focus on business intelligence data and information related to the long-term, ongoing business base of the company. The metrics in these dashboards may not change for decades, especially the financial metrics. These dashboards are more strategic than operational.

To understand why these dashboards may not be directly applicable to project management, we need to look at how project management will work in the future. Consider the following steps, that are listed in the order in which I believe they will take place:

  • The project manager and the client/stakeholders will meet and come up with an agreed-upon definition of success for that project. (Each project can have different success criteria.)
  • The project manager and the client/stakeholders will identify the competing constraints that will be tracked in order to monitor that the success criteria are being met. The constraints can be time, cost, quality, risk mitigation, safety, aesthetic value, etc. Each stakeholder may identify a different set of constraints, and metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be established to track each of the constraints.
  • The project manager will show the client and the stakeholders the core metrics that to be used on the project, namely cost, schedule, resource utilization, quality, scope and action items.
  • The project manager will show the client and the stakeholders their metrics/KPI library and ask the client and the stakeholders to select what other metrics and KPIs they wish to have displayed in the dashboards. The client and stakeholders may identify metrics that do not appear in the original library.
  • The project manager will try to get all of the stakeholders and the client to come to an agreement on what will be displayed on the dashboards. It is highly unlikely that an agreement will be reached. The project manager must then plan on the possibility of having different dashboards for each of the stakeholders and the client.
  • Because of the necessity for different dashboards, every project team may be assigned a dashboard designer knowledgeable in infographics.
  • As the project progresses, the client and the stakeholders may identify the need for changes to the metrics and KPIs. This may require additional effort from the dashboard designer.
  • Some of the metrics and KPIs may be applicable to only one of the life cycle phases of a project. An example would be the amount of money or percentage of direct labor dollars used for planning the project. As metrics and KPIs change, so might the construction and design of the dashboards.
  • When the project comes to an end, the project team is debriefed by the person(s) responsible for maintaining the metrics/KPI library. The metrics/KPI library is then updated.

By now, you should recognize the differences in the dashboards needed for project managers. They include:

A mixture of metrics and KPIs rather than merely KPIs

  • Throughout the life of the project, metrics may become KPIs and vice versa
  • The dashboards are ever-changing
  • There may be a wide variety of different dashboards on the same project
  • There must be flexibility built into the dashboard design so that changes can be made quickly
  • Every project team may require support from a dashboard designer

Hopefully, you are beginning to see the complexity of project management dashboards. Unfortunately, for some companies the situation becomes more challenging. For most BI and strategic dashboards, we know who the viewers will be. There may be only a dozen or so executives at the top floor of the building reviewing the dashboard information. But for companies that are managing project for external clients, the audience of client and stakeholder viewers can be several orders of magnitude greater than internal viewers. And each of these viewers may have different dashboard needs. It is impossible to develop standard dashboards that will satisfy everyone all of the time.

When you manage projects for external clients, you always strive for repeat business. Follow-on work is based upon customer satisfaction and loyalty. Customer satisfaction can be directly dependent on the timely flow of meaningful information. At the end of each project, we generally debrief the client and stakeholders and ask them what we can do differently on the next project we manage for them. Most customers respond that they want the information displayed in the dashboard to be more closely aligned with their business model rather than your company’s business model. This may require new metrics. The price you must pay for this is the requirement for an ever-changing dashboard.
Project managers may have three information systems on their project:

  • An information system for the project manager
  • An information system for the project manager’s parent company
  • An information system for the clients and stakeholders

The first two bullets may be satisfied by standard dashboards that do not change often. The third bullet will most assuredly require ever-changing dashboards.
The last topic to be discussed is metric/KPI measurement. With strategic and BI dashboards, the majority of the data needed to support the information in the dashboards comes from the company’s information systems. Information on topics such as market share, new customers and profitability is relatively easy to measure and report.

But what happens when clients and stakeholders want metrics that require complex measurement techniques? Before agreeing to provide a metric or KPI in a dashboard you must be sure that you understand how to perform the measurement and that you have people on the project team trained in metric measurement. As an example, clients today are asking for a metric that reports the ongoing value of a project as the work progresses. Without a good grasp on metric measurement, you cannot promise that this metric will be included in the dashboard.

As can be seen, the dashboard environment in project management has some different requirements than the traditional BI dashboards and strategic dashboards. I enjoy reading the material in Dashboard Spy and encourage all of you who have ideas for the best way to design project management dashboards and ever-changing dashboards requiring flexibility in design to submit articles to Dashboard Spy. I look forward to reading them.
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HAROLD KERZNER, (M.S., Ph.D., Engineering and M.B.A) is Senior Executive Director for Project Management for International Institute for Learning and Professor Emeritus of Systems Management at Baldwin-Wallace College. He has published more than 50 books (including later editions) on project management. His latest book is Project Management Metrics, KPIs and Dashboards, released in August 2011. Contact Dr. Kerzner at harold.kerzner@iil.com

New Look and Feel for The Dashboard Spy

Dashboard Spy readers will no doubt notice that we have a new look and feel for The Dashboard Spy blog.

Yes, it was time for a fresh new look, but the impetus for the change was more from necessity.

It was reported to me last week that The Dashboard Spy newsletter triggered some sort of warning regarding redirection of site visitors. I’m not sure what was going on, but I decided to err on the side of caution and move the blog to another webhost.

So, I took the plunge and moved everything over to a fresh new server complete with new blog software and theme.

A special “thank you” goes out to the Dashboard Spy reader who provided me with the report.

Warmly,

Hubert Lee