Unlocking the potential of PMO through BI and Data Visualisation
In a world of big data, visualisation tools and technologies are critical to enable the analysis of vast amounts of information to inform data-driven decisions. Programme delivery is no exception, yet central PMO is an area that often gets overlooked when considering visualisation tools to enhance project MI. Having effective, insightful data visualisation is paramount to operating an efficient PMO and we are seeing an increasing shift in both the mindset and skillsets of organisations in adapting to this change.
Today’s project manager has more to oversee than just scope, deliverables, communications, and teams – they are also expected to manage large volumes of project-related data. This data then forms an interconnected model that becomes hugely inefficient to manage at scale on larger portfolios with traditional tools. Historically this has led to the need for large PMO analyst teams, who are essentially overseeing and administering the data. In a cost constrained world focused on agile delivery, powerful data analytics tools can be used to automate this administration and create visuals to support decision making and hence reduce team sizes and/or cost.
From a portfolio perspective, having change related data automated across projects and programmes enables real-time creation (and management) of scorecards and key performance indicators. This supports the overall corporate strategic planning and management process by ensuring alignment of critical business activities towards a series of agreed goals and benchmarks. Performance can then be compared against these targets, with the intent of tracking, managing, and improving project and portfolio performance. This can be hugely effective, as having clear and measurable KPIs that have been agreed, top down, allows for greater accountability against the owners of those metrics. Data visualisation tools then allow the ability to drill down further, providing a powerful tool for execs and business unit heads to get real insight into whether things are on track or if intervention is needed.
Choosing the tool that’s right for you
The importance of visual project management is ever-growing. According to Eisenberg, “the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual”. It should therefore come as no surprise that there has been a noticeable shift in organisations using dedicated PPM and data visualisation tools to enhance their project reporting and MI. However, choosing the appropriate provider can often be overwhelming. The larger, well-known vendors such as Planview, Clarity and Clarizen are typically used to manage overarching projects, programmes, or portfolios at scale but often at a higher cost, whereas Business Intelligence related tools such as Tableau, PowerBI and Qlik provide more flexible, customisable dashboards, delivering real-time project status tracking, at a lower price point and with the ability to connect to multiple data sources relatively simply.
Here are some suggested minimum standards that we believe should be considered when deciding on your chosen provider:
1. Ease of use
This is an essential characteristic when utilising dashboards for project management. The tool must be accessible to everyone, even those without a technical background. Users should be able to interact with, and manipulate, the data to suit their own requirements easily and with little training.
2. Supports collaboration
Once the data has been manipulated, allowing users to share the view they have produced with other users is essential for optimised collaboration. Another useful feature supporting collaboration is the ability to add a comment or annotate graphs and charts, enabling the recipient to easily provide feedback or query the data.
3. Connects to a range of data sources
Various projects across a portfolio may be using different data sources to track project metrics. The ideal data visualisation tool will have the flexibility to integrate with multiple sources so that the project manager can easily adapt the dashboards without having to manipulate the input.
4. Accessible across all devices
Stakeholders often review documents on the go, across a variety of devices. The tool should be optimised for viewing on tablet, mobile and desktop and across operating systems.
5. Built-in security features
Project managers have access to confidential, sensitive data which needs to be adequately governed. At the very least, a feature to control the level of access based on an individual’s role and responsibilities is essential and all data sources need to be scrutinized before being made available to end-users.
Whatever data visualisation tool you choose, the associated benefits can be extensive. These can be grouped into the following themes:
Increased time efficiency
Visualisation enables the user to understand vast amounts of data at a glance. Critical project information can be produced, processed and replicated in more efficient and effective ways, leading to huge time savings for both the project manager and end users of the data. Duplication of effort is reduced as consistent data is being used across the project instead of across multiple Excel files, meaning project resources can focus their attention elsewhere.
Time-poor stakeholders won’t have a free slot in their (likely double-booked) calendars to navigate text-heavy artefacts nor for lengthy status meetings. Key decisions must be made in the moment, with the information available at the time. Visualisation tools enable users to easily identify and analyse patterns, helping project managers focus on the areas that require attention and decide where to invest resources.
Improved risk and issue management and project health
Understanding the impact of any changes to scope, plan or resource allocations is possible in real-time. As well as improving pattern recognition to facilitate investment decisions, data visualisation can also be used to enhance risk and issue tracking. Using a PPM solution can also lend itself to benefit from Artificial Intelligence (AI), by leveraging historical project information from the centralised database. According to ‘Larson, R. & Larson, E. (2009). Top five causes of scope creep … and what to do about them’, 44% of project practitioners referenced scope creep or unrealistic deadlines as the most common reason for project failure. Applying AI to project management enables the identification of project failure indicators prior to them occurring.
Stakeholders often want instant answers to their queries, especially those that focus on project or workstream status, risks, issues and escalations. Using dashboards and PPM software facilitates the shift from the more traditional ‘push’ method of communication (whereby the project manager will decide the ‘who, what, when and how’ of information flow) to a more ‘pull’ based form of communication where project visuals can be made accessible to all key stakeholders, enabling them to view the data and insight they need instantly.
Here at BCS Consulting, we have extensive experience in supporting clients with the implementation of effective Business Intelligence solutions. We also possess the skillsets needed to implement digitised PMO functions using these tools, from the initial data maturity assessment through to handing over management of the tool as it transitions into BAU. We adapt to suit the level of support required by each client, tailoring our approach to suit individual needs.