The Perfect Project Management Dashboard for A&E Firms

Posted by Jeremiah Mcnicholas on December 23, 2014

principal dashboard

Track A&E Project Performance Metrics

Tracking all of the variables at work in a typical design project can seem like a daunting task. As with any undertaking of this magnitude, it’s best to break it down into smaller, more approachable parts. So we’ll start by determining exactly what we need to track in relation to our project performance. There are many different ways for an A&E firm to approach project performance metrics, but in my experience they all boil down to two important factors: A project needs to be delivered on time AND under budget. If you deliver projects that are always on time and under budget, you can safely say that you are a successful project manager. So with our goal established, let’s explore how we can create the proper tools to meet our objective.

Timing is Everything

You could deliver the best quality project at the lowest possible cost, but if it’s a year too late it won’t do any good. Delivering your project on time is vitally important to satisfying the client and making sure you’re firm gets paid for your hard work. With this in mind, your project management dashboard needs to have tools for tracking project schedules, milestones, and progress against agreed upon delivery dates.

Starting with the schedule, it’s important to note that when creating a dashboard report for this information, keep in mind that things don’t always go according to plan. Your schedule report should provide more than just an idea of the work you have ahead of you and the people assigned do the work. It should also reflect the schedule for the previous weeks or months with a comparison to the actual time spent on the scheduled task and whether the task was actually completed in the time allotted. This will let you know if you need to adjust your schedule when the actual work that was done doesn’t match up with the schedule.

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Keeping track of your progress towards milestones is also key to project management success. The same way we are breaking our dashboard into smaller pieces, you will likely break your project into smaller pieces with milestones indicating when one of these important pieces is completed. Simply tracking your team’s time committed towards the completion of a milestone isn’t enough. This only conveys how much the completion of this milestone has cost your firm. This information needs to be paired with the project’s reported percent complete. Consistently recording and monitoring estimations of a project’s reported percent complete will give you a better view into your project’s performance and will allow for much better forecasting capability.

With forecasting in mind, routine entry of project completion estimates paired with project cost and budget information will leave you with the third piece of our project management dashboard puzzle: Earned Value Analysis. Commonly referred to as EVA, this powerful report provides a project manager with the insight necessary to know when a project is going off course so they can properly direct the project toward on time delivery. EVA should be a key part of the project management dashboard.

A Tale of a Timesheet

The other half of successful project delivery is bringing that timely project in under budget. This requires closely monitoring all the timesheets, expenses, and consultant fees that make up the project cost. For this I suggest including the project snapshot report on your project management dashboard. This report compares the project budget to the amount you’ve billed the client and your total unbilled activity, referred to as work in progress or WIP. Taken a step further, having this information both for the project as a whole as well as each phase of the project will help you ensure each part of the project remains under budget. With this comparison at each level of the project, you’ll always know where you stand at any point over the project life cycle.

The majority of the costs represented in the snapshot report will be made up of the project team’s timesheets. So it’s important that you’re able to drill down to determine the details that make up this report. Pairing the snapshot report with a timesheet details report will make this even more powerful. Make sure that your timesheet details report allows you to easily separate time by project, phase, and employee so you can easily identify and resolve any problems. Also, the ability to include timesheet notes in this report will add an additional layer of depth to your dashboard.

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So what does the perfect project management dashboard look like? Well, that depends on the metrics the project manager wants to track. While these may be up to interpretation, I can guarantee any candidate for the perfect project management dashboard will contain some variation of the elements described here: scheduling, EVA, project snapshot, and timesheet detail. With these pieces put together you can be confident that your project is on its way to success!

For more information about tools that simplify the creation of project management dashboards, check out Deltek Ajera.

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