Project management dashboard: what features to look for

Written on 
March 10, 2020

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Project management can quickly become overwhelming. With so many different tasks, milestones and budgets to keep track of, it can often be difficult to see the wood for the trees. This is where project management dashboards come in. They are effectively your project control panel, visualizing all your key stats and measures to simplify project performance management.

With the right dashboard, you can instantly gauge progress, quickly update stakeholders and proactively respond to new threats. But not all project management dashboards are created equal – some miss key information or are too reductive, whereas others crowd your most important activity. To help you choose the best project dashboard for your set-up, here are a few points to consider.

Project dashboard key features

A good project management dashboard will provide your most important project information in an easily digestible format. It’s quite a fine balance to strike: they shouldn’t be overwhelmingly busy and complex, nor should they be too vague or high-level. But a few metrics are standard – a good project management dashboard should always include the following features.

Tracking budget spend

Your dashboard should quickly communicate where you are against your budget, visually flagging whether you are over or under budget. Whether monetary or time-based, you should always know how much of your budget you have spent and how much remains. Proactive spending milestones notifications are a huge plus.

Planning capabilities

Since project performance is measured against a set schedule, it makes tremendous sense for your dashboard to integrate some planning functionality. This should help you quickly review your project timeline, helping you understand what work you have planned for the coming days, and flexibly adjust any tasks as resource availability, budgets or time pressures change.  

Project activity feed

Your dashboard should contain some activity feed overview, listing historic project actions – from reaching milestones or seeing how many hours have been logged to a project each day. The best dashboards now use AI to intelligently highlight any unusual behaviour, like when someone logs an unusually high number of hours to a project. These help you respond quickly to potential threats or mistakes before they get expensive.

Total time spent (and billable total of those)

No matter the size of your project, keeping tab of your hours is paramount. It’s a no-brainer if you bill by the hour or work by a retainer, but is also crucial for managing project efficiency. You should be able to see how long your team is spending on different tasks, down to the individual. Aside from balancing your resources, this can provide a useful overview on where the bulk of project time is being spent and where you need to be more cost-effective.

Quick reporting

The graphs and charts on your dashboard should be easy to share with others. This is particularly important for stakeholders who don’t necessarily have an account on your dashboard tool. Look for basic reporting export options – like XLS, PDF and CSV – as well as more advanced ones, like sharing one-off or locked URLs.

Design and usability

Showing useful information is only one half of a good project management dashboard – the other is actually helping you digest it. You need to be able to quickly navigate your dashboard, pinpoint your most important metrics and trust that the data shown is actually reliable. Always consider these two points of usability:

  • Levels of granularity: A global overview for managing multiple projects is great – you can see in a glance what’s going on across your client profile. But you should also be able to tailor your dashboard for more precise information. Ideally, each live project should have its own individual dashboard for digging into the details of time, budget and tasks.
  • Intuitive UI: a good project management dashboard has a simple and attractive user interface that makes it simple to process key information. The best display real-time information, to ensure you never miss a detail. Ready-made dashboards are great for simply getting stuck in, but you should be able to easily filter and customize your view, so you don’t spend ages hunting for specific information.

Project management dashboard tools

Luckily, there’s an abundance of project dashboard tools which pre-configure project performance charts and graphs, effectively doing all the hard work for you. Here are just three examples to give you a flavour of what’s out there:

1. Timely

Unlike many apps, Timely’s project management dashboards are powered by automatically-tracked project time data, meaning no detail is ever lost or misrepresented. This provides extremely accurate real-time reports of individual project health, making it an exceptional tool for tracking project budgets. Monitor multiple project activity from one dashboard page, or click into a single project for more detailed analysis.

2. WorkOtter

WorkOtter lets you to arrange for regular reports to be sent automatically to stakeholders. It also has a comprehensive offering of advanced project planning tools, and allows people to personalize their dashboards; everyone gets the same information, but via custom dashboards, which helps boost engagement.

3. Smartsheet

With dashboards for executive control and project management, to Sales pipelines and event planning, Smartsheet understands the power of visual communication. While the breadth of its offering might make it a little heavy-weight for some, it’s a great choice for those who want to configure dashboards using a spreadsheet approach, without having to create a ton of formulas.  

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