They say that a picture paints a thousand words, and that’s certainly true in project and portfolio management. Hence the strong need for visual project progress reports.
Enterprise project management tools give you the option of creating visual dashboards and tailored reports with graphs and charts. These might feel like a bit of effort to set up, but there is no doubting that visual reporting helps stakeholders understand what the data is telling them.
Graphical reports can be run from Primavera P6 EPPM in response to internal and external customer requests as well: it’s not just the project team that benefit from having information in a visual format.
You can speed up the time it takes to create graphical reporting by taking a BI Publisher training course. Once you’ve got the basic skills, there’s almost no limit to the types of report you can create from your project management data.
Here are some examples of visual project progress reports.
Horizontal Bar Chart
This bar chart shows data grouped by activity for one activity code. As you can see, the report comes with the date embedded in the report. This means everyone can easily check if they are looking at the latest version.
Bar Chart and Data Table
Bar charts are good, but often executives and clients will want to drill down into the data that makes up the chart. This bar chart template comes with the data table underneath, so it’s easy to interrogate the base data as well as visually represent the peaks and troughs in the numbers.
An S curve shows the cumulative data for a project against the project timescales. It’s a way of tracking progress and visually showing how much work has been completed.
S curve reports can be run from BI Publisher ‘live’ or created as a PDF to email or share with project stakeholders. Again, it’s important to make sure that the date is clearly communicated so recipients know the time period covered by the report.
Experienced BI Publisher users can combine multiple graphs on a single report and create reports which highlight the summary view and detail to suit all kinds of audience.
Tips for Producing Graphical Reports
We’ve already talked about the importance of making sure the time period covered by the report is clear. Here are some other tips for making the most of your graphical reports.
- Talk to stakeholders to understand what data they are most interested in seeing. There’s no point creating a beautiful report only to find out that stakeholders want to know about something else.
- Invest some time in explaining to stakeholders what they are looking at. Some of your stakeholders might never have seen an S curve before, for example. When they understand how to read a graphical report, they’ll ask fewer questions and make better decisions so it’s worth taking the time to ensure they understand what the report is telling them.
- Provide a way for executives to access more detail when they need it. Look at the report you are about to issue and try to work out what the next question from stakeholders might be. Can you answer that as well? This will save you time and help your stakeholders get the information they need all at the same time.
It’s fine to include some text on your report if it summarizes and explains what the graphs and charts are saying. Some readers will appreciate an executive summary highlighting the key takeaways. Then they can dive into the graphical report to understand the topic in more detail.
Finally, charts are only as good as the data they draw from. Make sure your project teams are updating your project management software regularly, and that the information in there reflects current project status. If anything looks wrong, follow up with the project team members before issuing the report, so they have a chance to put it right before incorrect information is shared.
Sometimes it might be a typo, other times it might be a more fundamental data error that is skewing the figures. If your instincts tell you something looks off, verify it! Outliers might be genuine and can be explained in the accompanying narrative. But if they are truly errors, it’s far better for everyone if they are corrected at source – even if that means your report might reach people a little later than normal.
Visual project progress reports can be dry, or they can be engaging and informative. Once your charts and graphs are set up, it’s easy to use them on a recurring basis to provide detailed and clear analysis about project performance.