Reporting methods are receiving more and more attention, which is just as true for project portfolio management as it is for most other disciplines. I do not find this to be surprising (and I’m not only speaking as the Data Analyst at Meisterplan when I say that). We have realized the importance of reporting by talking to our users and, of course, by organizing our own data. Based on our experience, I can say that reporting has become an integral part of functioning PPM processes.
Standard Views: Insights from the Right Kind of Data
There are a number of good reasons for this trend. Reports that condense the right information in the right way are an excellent basis for informed decision making. At the same time, they serve as an invaluable means of keeping your colleagues informed about the underlying facts.
A good example for how a well thought-out graphical representation of data can help to quickly understand a situation is the Gantt view in the Meisterplan application. It is, effectively, an intuitive visualization of a complex system of individual plans involving a large number of different human and material factors. In this view, the timeline and allocation load, as well as more complex information such as resource conflicts and dependencies, can be instantly grasped by the human eye.
Reports: Customized Details
Often the view of the big picture is not enough. More typically, reports are used as an extension to the standard views of the planning tools that are used. In the Meisterplan application, if more detailed information is needed, the graphical view can be complemented by customizable pivot tables and corresponding charts. These provide the user with the option to display data in a custom way and to drill down to the desired granularity.
Business Intelligence: Expert Visualizations
Beyond any integrated reporting functionality, flexible as it may be, the widest options are offered by BI tools which are explicitly designed for visualizing data. Several powerful visualization tools are currently available, the most commonly mentioned being Tableau and Microsoft Power BI.
From what I have seen, there are various reasons for employing external reporting tools.
Frequently, users are looking for a way to display a specific combination of fields at a specific aggregation level, which may not be possible to achieve with the original tool alone. These concepts can also include fairly complex custom-defined calculations.
In some cases, the focus is on obtaining detailed information at high precision levels. Such reports are often realized in the form of list views loaded with condensed information.
In other cases, the point of the report is to create visual representations that make it easy to absorb the key messages or present the most important properties of a data set. Another surprisingly common requirement is transforming a view from a tool into a form that can be printed on a sheet of paper. Although this may seem simple enough, it is not always straightforward, for example, when dealing with a Gantt chart for a yearly planning cycle – but with Tableau it is possible.
These are just some general examples. A working project portfolio management process can benefit substantially from productive reports. However, there appear to be a number of challenges and pitfalls regarding their implementation.
That sounds pretty simple, and often it is. Technically, creating visualizations with a state-of-the art BI tool is a matter of no more than a few clicks. The real complexity often lies in preparing the data, especially when the underlying questions are of a more complicated type.
Apart from the technical point of view, it can be difficult to find the appropriate way to visualize the data. When using a BI tool, intricate visualizations can be created with little effort. This may look impressive to your colleagues, but does not necessarily help to convey the information you are trying to show. First, you have to ask the right question!
Your Experience and Your Question
We have recently started an online community that we call the Quest. Why do we call it the Quest? Because we feel that we are on a quest to find the best project portfolio management method, and continually improve both that method and our tool that supports that method. As part of our Quest, we have started a section on reporting.
I would like to personally invite you to participate and share your experience on what reports work best for you or ask questions on how reports could help you make plans that truly work. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, and I look forward to learning ways that we can make our reporting even better.