Ten critical success factors for using dashboards to manage your program portfolio

This is my fourth and final post in my series on creating effective dashboards to ensure program and portfolio success.

Even the greatest Program Dashboard will not help if you do not use it to manage your portfolio more effectively. Below are 10 critical success factors I have learned in the process of using dashboards to drive successful outcomes on over 3,300 projects and programs over the past 15 years:

1. Measure What is Important to Your Stakeholders

Don’t just measure what one group thinks is important (as many technology groups do). Ask your critical stakeholders outside your group what they would like to see to understand your progress. (See Tip #1 for more information on this). This will ensure what you measure will be important to all.

2. Be Forward-looking

Dashboards are intended to look where you are going (they are not rearview mirrors). As such, use metrics that look to the future. This lets you use your Dashboard to detect and prevent problems (See Tip #2 for more on this.)

3. Ensure All Use the Same Objective Metrics

If you want to use your Dashboard for than a tiny group, you need to ensure everyone identifies their “apples and oranges” correctly. This can only be done with clearly defined objective metrics. Define these clearly and use them universally.

4. Measure at the Right Level

We do not heat buildings by putting one thermostat in the lobby. We put thermostats in each major area and measure and adjust accordingly. Do the same for your large program: break them down and measure where the work is being done. See Tip #3 for recommendations as to how to do this.

5. Be Accurate and Truthful

For a Dashboard to be effective, it must have the correct data. Avoid using it as a “Sunshine Reporting Tool.” Instead be brutally honest: entering positive and negative data. Share this with your stakeholders (it will give you credibility.) If you do this, your Dashboard will be viewed as a “source of truth” by all.

6. Treat “No Data” as “Bad Data”

Many people simply do not complete all the data a Dashboard requires because they do not have the inclination to monitor as much as you require (or they are trying to “fix” something before reporting status.)  Don’t allow this. Absence of data indicates a problem. Whenever I audit projects due to lack of reporting I almost always find that major items are not being managed.

7. Trust but Verify – Especially When “All News” is “Good News”

Having Green indicators is great. Having them week after week after week is suspicious. While there an limited number of things that must “go right” for a project to be a success, there are an unlimited number of things that can “go wrong.” When everything is Green week after week you almost always have a hidden problem.

8. Match the Timing of Your Dashboard Updates to Your Sensitivity to Problems

Updating your Dashboard a few times a year will ensure it is always stale and out-of-date. (It will also ensure that it will never be able to detect and head off problems before they occur). Updating it daily will create needless overhead. Use the following “rule of thumb” to determine how often you update your Dashboard: How long could I go without knowing about a potential major problem before it becomes a threat to my mission? (Usually this time is between one week and one month.)

9. Do Not Punish Bad News

Do not punish people for reporting problems. Instead, encourage them to highlight their need for support. Asking for help is not a bad thing (it should be rewarded). Covering up problems (or repeating the same mistake over and over again) is entirely a different manner.

10. Use Common Sense

Finally, it goes without saying that you always need to apply common sense to how you are tracking and measuring projects. Every organization is different. Some metrics that are critical one place are useless overhead in others. Pick and measure what is important for your success.

Good luck!

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