What Makes a Great Project Dashboard

A project dashboard can make or break a project. Learn how great project dashboards look like and what information you should track to avoid overruns.
Masooma Memon

Tracking a project’s progress while having full visibility into all its moving pieces including the budget, schedule, and people involved is key to successful project management.

The catch? Keeping tabs on all the projects you’re spinning at a time can be challenging. But not impossible – thanks to project dashboards.

Without a project management dashboard, it’s easy for information and updates to slip through the cracks. Resource waste is also common. And so is time waste.

Take it from 54% of organizations that say they’ve no way to track their project KPIs (key performance indicators) in real-time. So one-third of them end up spending one or more days manually curating project reports.

To add, 11.4% of resources go to waste due to poor project management processes.

Fortunately, all these are issues that project management dashboards can fix.

The question now is: what should a project dashboard include? Let’s answer that for you in this article. We’ve also got details on: 

What is a project dashboard?

A project dashboard is a data-driven, visual representation of your project’s performance that gives a quick, birds-eye view into key project metrics like budget, schedule, and status. 

It gives you an overview of work completed, work remaining, and any potential risks or issues that may show up during the course of a project

Project dashboards can also be used to provide high-level reporting on your organization’s portfolio of projects.

Plus, they make it simple for you to see completed and/or canceled projects’ data. This way, you can use what you glean as guardrails for the success of future projects. 

Types of project dashboards

Project dashboards come in different forms based on the insights you’d like to get.

So, on a high level there are two main types of project dashboards: 

A project portfolio dashboard for visibility into multiple projects

 

project dashboard with visibility into multiple projects

 A great project portfolio dashboard displays high-level metrics that management can quickly scan without having to delve into the nitty-gritty details.

Here are three common dashboard metrics to include here: 

  • Project status. Is your project behind or ahead of schedule, over or under budget?
  • Project phase. What stage is your project at? For example, is it in the requirements gathering phase or ready for testing?
  • Ownership. Who owns each task in the project?

A single project overview dashboard for individual project visibility

On a single project overview dashboard, you’ll find everything related to specific projects. 

So use your dashboard to:

  • Illustrate the project’s status
  • Capture important milestones
  • Create visualizations of your objectives and key results (OKRs).
  • Display key performance indicators (KPIs) such as earned value metrics

So why do you need a project management dashboard?

Essentially, a project dashboard helps teams track and collaborate on projects in real-time by showing important project metrics.

By summarizing key project data in one visual central location, dashboards also help project managers (PMs) and stakeholders stay updated on everything they need to know about a project.

What’s more, visual project management can help solve some of the leading problems (see below) that project managers struggle with.

why you need project dashboards
Source

For example, dashboards can assist with resource allocation, risk management, offering visibility into task progress as well as help with running multiple projects at a time.

So without exaggeration, a project dashboard can make or break a project.

With that, here’s an in-depth look at the individual benefits of using project dashboards:

1. Get full visibility into the project at hand and projects in your pipeline

Depending on the type of project dashboard you’re using (more on this in a bit), you get a full overview of essential project metrics.

So instead of scrapping information from a ton of different places, PMs can easily see all the important project data (and progress) in one place.

2. Make better, more informed decisions

Project managers make lots of day-to-day decisions. These include who should be taking on which project, who is at max capacity and whose services are being underused, what work should be completed by when, how to allocate the budget, and so on.

Thankfully, project dashboards lay out the insights to make these decisions in one place, helping you make the right call.

3. Better track project controls

Project controls ensure your project stays on the course of the dedicated budget, time, and scope. Luckily, dashboards help with monitoring and managing project controls better. 

For instance, you can track the difference between the set schedule and the actual time spent on the project in your dashboard.

 

project management dashboard

What’s more, using the timesheets feature in Runn, a project management software, you can record both billable and non-billable work.

We also provide reports on how much time is going into non-billable work so you can better manage future projects’ time and budget.

4. Improve team collaboration and accountability

Dashboards strengthen team collaboration too by serving as the single source of truth for all things project-related.

Not to mention, with each team member having visibility into what’s due from their end and by when, accountability grows as well.

5. Track progress and eliminate bottlenecks

Better visibility into the project helps you better track its progress. As a result, you can quickly identify any bottlenecks and course-correct before it’s late.

The best part? With project forecasting, you can also see whether projects are going to be over- or under-budget. Again, this helps you manage unexpected changes in time.

project dashboards

6. Increase client satisfaction

Better project management with real-time visibility into the project helps you deliver high-quality work to your client.

This is on top of the excellent communication that you have with your client regarding any project scope and budget changes. The result? Better client relationships and improved satisfaction.

What does a great project dashboard look like?

Now that it’s clear what a project dashboard is and why you need it, let’s look at what makes a high-quality dashboard. 

Briefly, a great project dashboard offers a detailed overview of the health of your project. In doing so, it answers questions like:

  • How much work has been completed?
  • Who’s working on what?
  • Who has taken on how much work?
  • What tasks are overdue or at risk?
  • Who do I need to follow up with? 

But that’s not all.

An uber-useful project dashboard provides all this information and more in a visually engaging, concise manner in real-time. As a result, it’s easy to read and tells everyone involved exactly how well things are going at any given point. 

Plus, the best project dashboards can automatically update to help save your time.

Lastly, the best project dashboards are simple to customize to your business needs. This makes it simple to whip up a dashboard as you plan a new project

5 things your project dashboard should have

With the basics out of the way, let’s look at what a good project dashboard should show:

1. Key project information

This includes everything from the basics to the pricing model an individual project is based on. Let’s break the information down:

  • Project name
  • Budget
  • Client
  • Team
  • Tags
  • Status (tentative or confirmed)
  • Pricing model (Fixed price, T&M, Internal)

2. Project totals

This is important information for tracking project controls. These include:

  • Project budget
  • Total billable hours
  • Budget remaining
  • Completed hours

3. Project performance

Project performance is determined by charts that track project progress and your revenue. This way, you can see how your budget is tracking and whether it’s going above the baseline numbers.

These numbers also update automatically based on the project actuals added in the timesheet entries.

However, how you track performance on your project dashboard depends upon the project type – time & materials (T&M) or fixed price. Some of the key metrics you monitor are going to be the same. These are:

  • Time. The number of billable hours completed, how many are pending, and the total budget.
  • Revenue. This shows the revenue earned in the past and future. And the total revenue based on budget.
  • Cost. As with revenue, this shows the people costs in the past, the future as well as the total project costs.

However, how these specific metrics are determined differ by project type. Runn's project dashboard makes it easy to track performance regardless of the project type. 

For instance, you get the T&M benchmark view and Fixed Price viewing option in the dashboard. This shows you what revenue would’ve been had a fixed-price project been a T&M project or vice versa.

4. Schedule variance (actual vs scheduled)

Track the baseline schedule – the plan you’ve created to get things done by a certain time, and how well tasks are on schedule (the actual). 

schedule variance on a project dashboard
Schedule Variance calculated automatically in Runn

Keep in mind: schedule variance is a crucial project control metric that not only ensures project completion on time but also helps you organize the rest of the project pipeline accordingly.

5. Milestones and project phase

Tracking how far you’ve come into the project helps understand the progress at a glance.

With Runn, everyone can see milestones hit and upcoming milestones as well as the phase in which a project is.

How to pick a project dashboard software: 3 key features to look at

Truth be told: only 35% of project managers say they’re “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the management systems they have in place.

This makes sense considering only 1 in 4 organizations uses project management software to handle their processes. The rest? They work on paper, Excel, or a hotchpotch of tools.

Of course, all this leads to poor satisfaction and sub-optimal results. There’s also proof that not having mature management processes such as customized project dashboards impacts performance, on-time, and within-budget work delivery. 

Ready to define your processes starting with creating auto-updated project dashboards? 

Instead of using piecemeal tactics to track, manage, and collaborate on your projects, invest in a great project management dashboard software. 

Here’s what to look for when selecting a project dashboard software:

  • How easy to use is the project dashboard software?

Ease of use is critical for reducing friction in getting started with and using dashboard software.

It’s also what makes it simple and time-saving for you to set up dashboards for different projects. And to onboard your entire team to the software.

  • Does it give you the right amount of information that you need?

A handful of project management tools can help you get an at-a-glance overview of what’s in progress, who’s responsible for what, and what’s due soon.

However, this is basic information for managing projects. With lots of projects in your pipeline and subsequently more moving pieces involved, you need advanced-level information.

For instance, how the budget breaks down, who’s spending how much on the project and how much does that time compare to the time you’ve scheduled, and so on. You’ll also want to see project milestones and schedule variances.

Only an advanced project management tool like Runn can offer all this and more.

Pro tip: When selecting a project management tool, don’t just look at the fully customizable dashboard creation aspect. Instead, look at how the software helps you plan and forecast projects, manage resources, and encourage team collaboration.

For example, with Runn’s Time Tracking Chrome extension, your team can see what is scheduled for them each day and instantly record their time as they work. The time spent, in turn, syncs with the dashboard. 

  • How does it help you monitor project progress?

Lastly, it’s important you look at how the project dashboard software helps you track progress.

Case in point: Runn. It not only gives you complete visibility into the project but also helps you track progress by showing it against your baseline.

For instance, it forecasts how likely it is for a project to complete within its dedicated budget. In turn, all this significantly improves project management.

Similarly, it generates reports for you to review performance and improve future project management.

So who’s ready to create their project management dashboards? Try Runn for free today and manage projects the stress-free way.

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