7 essentials for a project, programme or portfolio dashboard

Arms and hands of project team working at desk with tablets, graphs and cups of coffee

All PRINCE2® project, MSP® programme and MoP® portfolio governance bodies want updates on how well initiatives are progressing. To do this, management dashboards are a useful tool.

Mark SuttonMSP programmes aim to realize benefits resulting from changes in organizational capability, portfolio decision makers want to know that they’re getting return on investment and P3O® talks about programme and/or portfolio offices running benefits-tracking services.

A dashboard is a summary report – a snapshot picture – often based on status reports provided by projects, business change and business as usual (BAU), aimed at showing where senior management needs to focus its attention and make decisions about any issues. This is about reporting how well transition is going and how effectively benefits are being realized.

So, what does the ideal dashboard contain and how can the information be used?

1. Data:
What data do you want? Where can you get it? Get agreement on what your stakeholders want and establish an agreed reporting schedule. Understand who else needs the information and work with them to agree on a common set of cleansed data.

2. Getting the message across:
You need to get your message across briefly, so a dashboard of any sort should be filled with visuals, diagrams, tables and charts – not necessarily text. Visuals should convey the message in a self-explanatory way without the need for the audience to read lots of supporting narrative. Focus on the quality of the metrics rather than quantity.

3. Delivery health:
An understanding of the “delivery health” of the project, programme or portfolio, e.g. how closely the actual and planned schedule of output delivery compares.

4. BAU business change:
A comparison of what is actually happening against what is planned for migrating people from their old business model and habits to the new, desired practices.

In programmes, there is always tension when trying to make a change and get as much early benefit as possible; meanwhile, BAU is under pressure to deliver on a day-to-day basis while dealing with staff grieving about routines, products and services they might have lost in the change. Senior managers confuse the availability of something new with people actually using it; people need to be engaged to leave behind their old ways of working and use the new output effectively. Completion of a project is not enough – the business needs to transition to sustained use of the project’s output to realize benefits.

5. Risk:
What’s the trend in risk exposure (has it increased or decreased since the last report because more risks have been identified or successfully controlled) and how well is it being managed? Understanding the most significant risks, their likely impact and the effectiveness of the actions implemented to control them.

6. Value:
While statements about spending are visible, reporting the value of projects, programmes and portfolios is often missed. Maybe nobody is measuring the benefits because the project has finished and there’s no responsibility for BAU to monitor benefits. In a programme there is the delivery of both product and business change, so that brings clear responsibility for BAU to measure and report on benefits realized.

Using a normalized scale allows decision-makers to track combined performance of benefits quantified using different metrics (e.g. a staff cost reduction financial measure combined with a customer satisfaction non-financial measure). By adjusting the values measured on the different scales to a notionally common scale (such as a points system), it is immediately apparent where actual achievement falls below or exceeds the number of points expected.

7. Helping future initiatives
You can re-use dashboard data (e.g. any trend in the gaps between outturn performance and the initiatives’ plans) to recycle learning and knowledge and better understand what you are likely to achieve on the next initiative and help validate the next business case.

Having a management dashboard helps get the issues out into the open, makes everything visible to the Senior Responsible Owner who can recognize any conflict and manage it. And tracking how well BAU executes transition and behaviour change, and realizes the benefits this will bring, is part of persuading people at the sharp end that change is needed.

Read Mark Sutton's previous AXELOS Blog Posts

Starting a project with PRINCE2®

Achieving the endgame: product-based planning in PRINCE2®

When Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) goes back to school

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