Project Management: Turn Data into Insight

There’s a lot of data available within the project management function, and every bit of it serves a purpose at one time or another. But PMs sometimes leverage raw data when a more selective approach would be better. This is particularly true when reviewing information across multiple initiatives, or with people who don’t have a day-to-day familiarity with project management.

raw data

For program and portfolio managers, turning all of that project data into understandable and actionable insight is an important step. It’s useful in maintaining engagement with stakeholders while staying in tune with deadlines and expectations. If you want to adopt a better strategy to make your project data more valuable, consider these strategies.

• Before you begin curating the information from your projects, you first need to confirm you’re working with the most current and accurate data available. If you don’t have an automated system to track project information, you’ll need to manually gather updates from the project team(s) and identify where necessary information may be missing. Add recent vendor invoices to the mix and indicate which have and have not been paid, so you know your expense information is also complete. You may also want to pull together any queries from those working in the field and include them as appropriate—some may simply confirm completion of key activities while others might contain questions, concerns, and other alerts. Once you have everything on hand, you can begin parsing the data into useful insight.

• Provide the most relevant timeline information to each stakeholder group. The project team often needs a detailed accounting of how day-to-day activities line up against the plan and where efforts may need to be compressed to ensure everything is completed on time. Project sponsors and the leadership team, on the other hand, are more likely to be interested in key milestones and where today’s progress stands in relation to those critical dates.

• Highlight variances according to your audience. Raw variance data is rarely useful outside the project team. Executives, for example, are typically much more interested in those instances where a divergence from the project plan could negatively impact business functions or finances. Rather providing a list of all variances—many of which can often be resolved at the team level—select only those deviations that could significantly affect the organization. Is a project in danger of missing a regulatory deadline? Does a forecasted variance create a resource conflict with other projects in the pipeline? If you need an executive to help resolve the issue (approval for additional funding, direction to reallocate resources, etc.), it should be on the variance list, too.

• Translate resource management issues into terms stakeholders can understand. When looking at resource constraints across an entire project portfolio, sponsors and executives may not understand where troubles lurk or how much impact any one problem could ultimately have. You don’t want your executives to become so mired in resource discussions that they begin to ignore them. Instead, give senior leaders a very clear and concise report that tells them which resource management issues require their attention and offer solutions to begin addressing them.

By giving executives and senior sponsors an abbreviated rollup that reflects the current status of projects in the portfolio, along with any issues that require high-level attention, PMs can prevent stakeholders from feeling bogged down with too much project data. Translating that information into clear and usable insight will instead move the leadership team to action when necessary, and will also give them confidence that projects are being properly managed and that there won’t be any last-minute surprises.


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