Did you know that the term ‘dashboard’ comes from the part of a horse-drawn cart that stopped the driver being splashed with mud from the horses’ hooves? Today, you’ll have a dashboard in your car and you may also have one on your project.

In a car it shows key information about how the car is performing – speed, fuel consumption, overall mileage and so on. 

On a project, dashboards show similar performance information: how much of the project has been completed, outstanding tasks, budget information, open risks and issues, contact details for key personnel. Basically, anything you want!

How To Make A Project Dashboard

Your project management software might come with a reporting suite, in which case it’s easy! Simply choose the type of graphical report that you want, and tailor it accordingly.

It’s easy to put together your dashboard when you know what kind of data you want to display, so ask your project sponsors and stakeholders what they would like to see. You’ll also want a dashboard view for yourself to be able to monitor progress overall on the project.

Your team don’t even have to have access to your project management software in order to see the dashboards created by it. Seavus Project Viewer allows them to see all the graphical reports that you create, and save their customizations without ever touching Microsoft® Project.

Dashboards Show You The Detail

A great feature about dashboards is that they are built from the ground up from other types of information available in the project management software. That means that for any fact you see on the screen, you can dig into the tool to find more detail about it.

This is perfect for uncovering problems in the data: if the view you are seeing looks odd and your common sense is telling you that something is off, it probably is. Dive into the data to find out where the discrepancy lies and then you can correct it.

This is something that ordinary project reports can’t do, as they are static representations of the project in time. You can’t click through a PDF to get to the next level down of detail.

Dashboards Are Real Time

One of the things that senior managers love best about dashboards is that they update in real time. Whenever your sponsor or other exec goes in to look at them, they can see the latest status. If your sponsor is interested in the burndown chart, it’s right there. If they want to see latest expenditure, it’s available and accurate.

Real time data makes it easier to manage your project because you aren’t always having to work out the difference between the last report and the latest situation on the ground. As a project manager 

it’s definitely beneficial to have an accurate view of what is happening. Where you spot gaps, you can dive in to find out if it is because the tool has not been updated or because there really is a problem that needs your attention.

Dashboards Use Graphics

It might seem like stating the obvious, but for people who are not used to interpreting project performance data it can really make the difference between understanding why a project is late and having to call the project manager to ask them.

Graphs and charts make data a lot easier to understand. Instead of looking at a list of tasks, your sponsor is seeing a relevant summary, showing what’s late and what’s on track, based on the latest data in your project schedule.

With the huge growth of Pinterest and YouTube showing that people are really interested in the visual presentation of data (in a business environment think infographics), this helps you talk about your project simply. It’s best to use software to show the information in real time but if you had to you could easily take a screenshot or print the dashboard out to take along to a meeting.

Dashboards Need Your Input

Hopefully you are sold on the benefits of dashboards but there is one important thing to note: it doesn’t matter how good your charts and graphs, if the data they are representing is rubbish then your dashboard counts for nothing.

Get your team into the habit of providing you with status updates (or making their own updates to the schedule and project management software) to ensure that your reports are always showing data that is worthy of being called ‘real time’.

If they haven’t worked in this ‘real time’ way before then it is a mind-set change but once they see the benefits of recording their effort and task updates it should be an easy enough change to make. Your stakeholders will appreciate it too, because it means the data they are seeing in the dashboard is much more reliable.

Your project dashboard should help you steer the project from A to B. You’ve got speed dials, warning lights and other flags and performance measures to help you get there. Are you taking advantage of project dashboards yet? Share your thoughts on using them with your team and executives in the comments below.