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06/01/2011

5 Keys to an Exceptional Dashboard in Your Project Management Software Tool

IStock_000003110526_web Dashboards are not created equal, even dashboards that display the same information.  One organization may have a vibrant dashboard that is used by everyone reliably.  Another organization may have a stagnant dashboard used by no one.  What makes the difference?  What are the keys to implementing a good dashboard?

Here are five keys to implementing a fantastic dashboard in your project management software tool:

1.  Keep it Simple

Some dashboards are overly complicated with too much information, or information that is too complex.  Keep your dashboard simple both in terms of the layout and the information presented.  Do not make it too complex.  Someone should be able to glean significant information from the dashboard in a matter of seconds.  If it takes a lot of effort and time for them to glean information, it will not be effective.

2.  Your Dashboard is Only as Good as the Data You Enter

It does not matter how fancy of a tool you have, how nice the reports are, or how fancy the presentation is if the underlying data is not solid.  In other words, all a dashboard does is present data that has been entered by people.  If people are not entering data correctly, or are not regularly keeping the data up to date, then your dashboard will be useless.

3.  Stay High-Level with the Ability to Drill-Down Into More Detail

It is easy to get lost in the minutiae of adding all of the significant detail to a dashboard.  That is not the purpose of a dashboard.  The purpose of a dashboard is to provide a high-level overview so that the viewer knows what action to take.  The viewer may then need the ability to drill-down into more detailed information, but this information should not all be displayed in the dashboard itself.  For example, it may be important to the viewer to know which projects need attention - perhaps a green / yellow / red indicator is attached to each project or portfolio.  However, the individual tasks, milestones, or issues that are causing the indication would not normally be displayed.  Those would be available upon the viewer drilling down further.  The exception to this would be a team member-level dashboard whose specific purpose is not to provide insight but to communicate a lot of detailed information, such as their current tasks.

4.  Only Present Actionable Information

There is a tendency to put information on the dashboard because it is neat and because you can show off the fact that you know the percentage of tasks within a portfolio that begin with the letter "M", started the Monday after a holiday, and the number of letters in the name is divisible by 2.  However, no one is going to use this information so there is no reason to display it and no reason to collect it.  The dashboard should be a tool where information is displayed that viewers will consider relevant, that they will actually look at, and that they can take action on.  Ask yourself whether the information in your dashboard meets this criteria.

5.  Don't Forget Training

 No matter how simple your dashboard may be, do not assume that people understand what they are seeing.  Sometimes there are nuances in language or procedures that are interpreted differently by different departments, people, and organizations.  Provide some training so that people know they are using the information in the dashboards appropriately and effectively.  I am not talking about formal training, but either holding periodic brown bag lunch sessions and / or providing a one-page cheat sheet on the information presented.

What other keys have you seen make a dashboard effective?

Happy Dashboarding!





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