Have you ever driven your car when your dashboard isn’t working?
I have. It was terrifying.
My first car was a ’83 Mercury Marquis. It was a tank of a car and mostly reliable, which is saying something for a fourteen year-old car.
Unfortunately, the dashboard didn’t always work. One time, the gas gauge gave out. I had to take hand-written notes so I knew when I needed to fill the tank.
After getting that fixed, the speedometer decided to take a break while I was driving on the highway. Not fun. I was driving back roads without a lot of traffic so I had to gauge my speed by sticking my head out the window.
Then there’s the dreaded “check engine” light. Mine would usually light up whenever I drove in the rain. When I finally got it looked at, I learned I had an issue with my gas line. Yikes!
The final straw was when the whole dashboard just plain quit right at the beginning of a road trip. No gas gauge. No speedometer. Nothing. Heck, I would’ve welcomed the check engine light at that point. Needless to say, I started car shopping right when I got back.
Just like your car’s dashboard tell you what’s going on with your car, a project dashboard can quickly tell you what’s going right (or wrong) with your project. Without a dashboard, you’re doing the equivalent of sticking your head out the window. Hardly precise.
What is a dashboard?
A dashboard is a visual tool that gives you a quick overview of your project. Dashboards are used to measure key performance indicators (KPIs). They can measure any aspect of your project, provided you have the data.
According to Wikipedia, a well-designed dashboard uses simple communication, presents meaningful and useful data, contains minimal distractions, and applies visual perception cues to present information.
By their very nature, dashboards are concise – they typically fit on one screen. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to scroll in order to see the information. Many dashboards are also interactive so you can drill down through the data to isolate particular trends.
Lastly, dashboards should update automatically or at least very easily, with little input required from the user. Like in your car, you don’t want to know how fast you were going last week, you need to know how fast you’re going right this very second.
Why you need a dashboard
I once worked on core-and-shell office project that had very strict area requirements. The owner didn’t want any one tenant to have too big a share of the overall area so we had to verify every change to the building using a series of area formulas. It was a tedious process.
In hindsight, we could have saved lots of time with a project dashboard. I spent hours calculating the areas on this project. Once the areas were updated, I had to run through the various calculations to determine whether or not the design change met the area criteria.
This process would have been much easier with a dashboard. Rather than run the calculations manually, I could have just let the dashboard do the work for me. Ideally, a visual indicator, like a green or red button, would tell me if the design change met the area criteria. Easy as pie.
As I mentioned above, dashboards allow you to process information quickly. It tells you everything you need to know about your project’s key metrics in a quick glance. This lets you get back to more important work, like making sure your project is a huge success.
How to create a dashboard
Dashboards require two things – some data and a way to present and visualize that data. If you’re using BIM, you can easily export building data to Excel using schedules or through a tool like Dynamo. There are a number of dedicated tools for creating dashboards, such as Tableau and Power BI. My preferred method is Excel.
I’ve written a lot about Excel here at ArchSmarter. You can easily create an interactive dashboard using Excel pivot tables and pivot charts. Again, as long as you have the data, you can track it using a dashboard.
What sort of metrics should you track?
In my example above, I talked about tracking project area. That’s an easy one. You want to know when you’re over or under your required areas.
Another example would be LEED certification. Where is your project in the certification process? Do you know exactly how many points you need to meet Silver or Gold certification at this very moment?
Or what about project fee? Can you quickly see where you are in the process relative to your fee? Again, provided you have the data and know what metrics you want to measure, you can easily create a dashboard to measure your progress.
As I’ve shown above, dashboards are a useful tool for checking the health of your project. You can create a dashboard for virtually any aspect of your project. The main value of a dashboard is its visual nature. Keep in mind the four principles outlined at the beginning of this post and you’ll have a useful tool that will save you lots of time and give you greater insight into your project.