April 1, 2016 1 Comment
Keeping tabs on a project (or program’s) progress is of critical important to the project manager. The success (or failure) of a project can often hinge on the effectiveness of the project manager in being able to spot issues that may be arising and deal with them in an efficient and expedient manner.
There are numerous attributes to a project. From resources to tasks to timelines, the various pieces that make up a full project’s structure can become quite complex.
A common fallacy within the world of project management (and also in other fields), is the tendency to try to track every possible metric that exists. The general concept behind this technique is the assertion that more is better.
While it is important to track progress and specific items pertaining to a project/program’s general success criteria, there are potential downsides to attempting to track too many attributes. Doing so can make the overall project more unwieldy and complex then it actually needs to be. Furthermore, tracking too many metrics can actually devalue key metrics and cause them to be lost in a storm of data. The project manager may also discover that he/she is spending so much time maintaining these unwieldy data sets, that other aspects of their core responsibilities will fall through the cracks.
Based on all the aforementioned, what sort of criteria should the project manager be tracking and what steps can they take to avoid the deluge of unnecessary and sometimes irrelevant data?
Keep Things Lean
Whenever you are looking at setting up the specific metrics you wish to monitor, always try to start out small. A good rule of thumb is to use the Triple Constraint as a frame of reference and general guide for the metrics you will want to monitor. (For more information, please view the post: Scope, Time and Cost – Managing the Triple Constraint)
A simple concept would be to just create three metrics to monitor based on the aforementioned Triple Constraint attributes. From there, you can look to expand your metrics pool as needed. But remember to do so sparingly. As indicated, the more metrics and data sets you add, the more cumbersome and complex it will become to maintain and monitor your project or program.
Bring Core (Critical) Metrics to the Forefront
Not all metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are created equal. As such, there will likely be certain indicators of project performance and status that you will want to have readily available and easily obtained. When you are composing your metrics reports (whatever format they may be in), always ensure that the core critical metrics and KPIs are always viewable FIRST. So for example, if your standard report is an advanced Excel Workbook, ensure that the key metrics will exist in the first few worksheets of the full report. It is also advantageous to provide a more terse summary worksheet that will focus all the key metrics into concise packets for easier viewing. This also becomes especially important if you are using this Workbook as your primary distribution medium for project members, stakeholders or the sponsor.
Set Up a Concise Set of Dashboard Metrics
Nowadays, most companies will have some internal software system that allows for the creation of reporting dashboards. Dashboards are a fantastic way of creating dynamic and easily viewable mash-ups of the primary metrics pertaining to your program.
A dashboard, in general, should be something that is easily viewable in a single pass and requires minimal amounts of scrolling. Which provides further validation of the premise of this article in that simple is almost always best.
The type and nature of your own dashboard will be defined by you. But it is imperative that the dashboard is also something that is obvious to those who do not always necessarily have as much understanding of project metrics and KPIs. As such, from a visual standpoint, it is important to focus on chart types and display concepts that are more intuitive to a wide variety of individuals from varying backgrounds. (For more information on better project metrics display techniques, please feel free to access the post: Conveying Project Status – The Simplistic Approach)
An example of a well structured dashboard that is conveying project status and specific KPIs is provided below:
For those individuals who are either freelancing or working in situations where a good dashboarding solution is not available, you should consider the website ProjectManager.com. It provides a robust and relatively inexpensive cloud dashboarding solution that is easily configurable and sharable for anyone with internet connectivity.
Maintain Different Dashboards Depending on Audience
A final note on dashboarding: while it is important to convey key information in a dashboard that is easily viewable and requires minimal scrolling, that does not mean the project manager has to sweat over trying to determine which metrics to add and which to leave out of a dashboard. Virtually all dashboarding solutions are designed in a way that allows you to store multiple dashboard types and layouts. As such, a project manager can create different dashboards that target different audience types. One dashboard could, for example, be configured to show KPIs denoting resource distribution and task loads which would likely be used by project team members or their direct management to determine who is working on what. Additionally, a high level dashboard showing overall project health and timelines might be something that would be viewed almost exclusively by the project stakeholders or sponsor. As you can see, different dashboards designed effectively, will provide different outputs or views depending on the target audience. One note of caution: a project manager may simply start creating dashboards at their leisure thereby undermining their efforts to keep things lean. Whenever possible, try to ensure that you leverage existing dashboards and their content for different audience types and only create ancillary dashboards if you feel that it is too difficult or impossible to provide all the data summations for the different user types in a singular view.
Keeping your metrics easy to decipher and not overwhelming is important to not only the project manager, but their constituents and team members. As alluded to earlier, focus on keeping your displays as simple and readable as possible. Avoid data inundation. And remember, if it is confusing to you, it will most certainly be confusing for someone else.