The most essential function a project manager can perform is keeping their team on task and on time. With so many moving pieces and people, though, it can be challenging to visualize the project’s progress in real time. Project management (PM) dashboards are a helpful tool for monitoring the advancement and performance of a specific project or campaign. They provide managers (and their team) with data-driven direction on how to stay on track, address problems, and reach the goals of the project.
Your Project Dashboard Template
If the idea of building a dashboard seems daunting to you, think of this post as a template for building a project management dashboard. We’ll cover the uses and benefits of PM dashboards, get to the bottom of which metrics to include, and demonstrate how to effectively design them.
Who Uses Project Management Dashboards?
There are three main groups that benefit from the use of project management dashboards:
- Project managers: Shows the health and progress of the project in an easy-to-read display
- Team members: Provides an easily accessible, live overview of the project
- Stakeholders: Delivers an overview of the project’s status, including milestone achievements
It’s important to know who your audience is prior to building the dashboard. You can design one that appeals to all three groups, but depending on the complexity, it may make more sense to have two (or even three) different dashboards for the same project. It all depends on what level of insight you want to offer to each group.
How Project Managers Use Dashboards
Dashboards can greatly assist project managers in their roles, especially with these key responsibilities:
- Project planning: Map out the phases of the project and set baselines for scope, time, and budget. Charts can help you easily visualize the order and cadence of project’s stages.
- Resource management: Track each employee’s progress and workload to help you identify and assign the right person for the right tasks based on availability and skill set.
- Project tracking: Aggregate data and run reports in real-time to report the project status to stakeholders.
- Budgeting: Monitor the cost of the project to ensure that you are staying within budget.
Benefits of a Project Dashboard
Dashboards make project management easier and more efficient. They allow managers to harness the power of their data without having to turn your focus away from the project itself. These are four unique benefits of using a project management dashboard:
- Streamline your data. Dashboards serve as a single repository for your data. Some complex, large-scale projects require data from multiple sources, which can be headache-inducing when it isn’t combined. Dashboards can integrate information from data sources like Excel spreadsheets, CRMs, SQL servers, Google Analytics, Google Sheets, and more. That way, you can track information that would normally require bouncing between multiple platforms in a single view. In the end, it will save you time and prevent inevitable manual data entry mistakes.
- Update your team members (without hounding them). Dashboards improve collaboration, communication, and teamwork. When everyone working on the project has access to the same data, you can rely on everyone to have a good understanding of what is going on. Transparency at this level can also help prevent feelings of micromanagement, because managers can check in on the details they want without asking team members about every last aspect. This can help to establish trust and accountability, which in turn can help ensure that the project runs smoothly.
- Get real-time updates. With a dashboard, your data is constantly being updated in real-time. You can even set up alerts to show you when there is an anomaly in your data or something requires immediate action. Dashboards are the best way to spot problems early to get your project back on track. This also allows for better budget control and time management – the top concerns of every project manager.
- Get a holistic view of your data. Dashboards are typically used to provide a high-level look at metrics, but you can incorporate drilldowns to provide more information about a specific chart or graph. You can get to the detailed granular data that is driving the numbers that stakeholders care most about. For a project management dashboard, you might use a drilldown to click into the details of a project phase, whether that include budget, necessary resources, or associated team members.
Read next: Dashboards: Tools for Better Management
Top Project Management Metrics
Your dashboard won’t be effective if it isn’t tracking the right metrics. Only data that defines the project’s success should be included. While these metrics will vary depending on your audience and focus, these are a few example KPIs based on how project managers typically use dashboards:
- Resource utilization
- Planned vs. actual hours of work
- Planned vs. actual budget
- Percentage of tasks completed
- Overdue project tasks
- Identified issues/risks
- Project progress in relation to the deadline
Project Dashboard Design Considerations
After determining which metrics to include in your dashboard, the next step is planning out what you want your dashboard to look like.
Gauges and bullet charts are popular in PM dashboards to track your team’s progress towards hitting a target. They can also be used to show how much time and money you are spending alongside your projected numbers. There’s no need to limit yourself to these specific chart types, however. There are plenty of options, and it may be worth experimenting with a couple of different chart types before making the commitment.
It’s important to choose your dashboard color palette wisely. While it’s easy to get distracted by all of the different options, the most important part of the dashboard is the data, so make sure people can actually read it! Make sure that the colors you use emphasize the important metrics that you want to jump out to our office. We recommend that you stay away from bright colors, like lime green, neon yellow, and hot pink, as natural colors are a bit more eyeball friendly. When in doubt, try a free color palette tool like Adobe Color, and try to stick to five colors or less.
Focus on a clean, uncluttered design for your dashboards so that users can easily identify key patterns and relationships in the data. Readability is key. Whitespace allows the eye to rest and register the information from the charts, so make sure your graphic elements aren’t too clustered together. You want people to be able to quickly scan the dashboard and easily decipher the information they need, so they can walk away with actionable insight.
If you want your team members to actually use your dashboard, they need to get value out of it. Basically, it needs to provide relevant information, deliver actionable insight, and fit seamlessly into their day. It can’t hurt to present your data through a user-friendly, visually-appealing dashboard design.
Check out our gallery of interactive dashboard examples to get some inspiration for building a project dashboard of your own!
Get the Guide Fundamental Design Principles for Dashboards
Even if you’re not the artistic type, this guide will have you thinking like a graphic designer and making informed choices that support your data narrative.