Building and Using a Project Scorecard

by Cindy Coan

Communication is vital component of the management of any project.  One of the challenges is getting the attention of executive leadership and keeping them updated and informed on the project status.

Say hello, to the Project Scorecard!

The project scorecard is intended to be a simple visual illustrating the progress and status of a project.  It provides a quick “at-a-glance” overview of the project.  When you and the team are knocking it out of the park, you want a scorecard that says “winning!”  When things are falling off the rails, you want your scorecard to jump up and down and say, “look at me!”  and prompt your stakeholders and leadership to ask questions.

Let’s Get Started

The project timeline is the core of any project scorecard.  A timeline or Gantt chart shows time verses schedule progress.  Every project has one.  A simple, high-level time is the central component of your project scorecard.  You don’t want to show more than ten high-level activities or milestones, remember less is more.  Think visual; and provide a view of the overall timeline, you’re your current place on the timeline in comparison to where the project was scheduled to be at the current date.   Your audience should see two things.  1) the major milestones, phases or activities of the project across the timeline, 2) how the project is progressing against the schedule.

Adding More Metrics

In addition to the project timeline – add two or three other project metrics.  We’re talking about a budget or a financial metric and a status or risk metric, not the average number cups of coffee the team is drinking per day.  Depending on the project other key metrics may help paint the right picture.  These metrics will vary greatly and be unique and specific for each project.

Don’t try to show every project metric.  Include the relevant metrics and keep it simple. Remember you only get a few minutes in the spotlight – use it wisely.

Here are some key elements to consider for your scorecard.

Open Risks

Risks that have not mitigated or addressed are your open risks.  On your scorecard you may choose to highlight the top five open risks or simply show a visual of the number of high, medium and low risks.   Early in the project there are often a large number of high, unmitigated risks.  In the early stage, there are many unknowns; like if the project will ever get off the ground.  As the project progresses, you can expect to see this number decrease, especially the number of high risks.

Open issues

These are the identified issues and their status.  Again, you may choose to show the top five issues or provide a chart showing issue status.  As the project moves closer to completion, you will see the open issue to diminish to zero.

Budget

For each project the level of detail you represent in your budget chart will be very different.    Ideally, this chart will illustrate the budget status, are you on plan?  A simple planned verses actual bar chart can be effective.

 Open Tasks or Action Items

Depending on the audience; you may choose to include the most pressing tasks or a simple pie chart that details the number of tasks that are on schedule and number of overdue tasks.   The number and status of the open tasks or action items is a good indicator of the work load.  Lots of overdue tasks; something is happening – this is your back log.  Too many overdue tasks says you’re not keeping pace with your plan.

Select the metrics suited to your project.  Ideally your project scorecard will fit on one page or one slide.   Remember executive audiences do not need to know everything – they need enough information to determine if they need to dig in further.  Keep it simple and succinct.

Consider your Delivery and Format

The format must be clean and consistent.  Keep the cat pictures for your Facebook posts.  Avoid complicated charts or lists – if the chart needs an explanation it is too complicated. Each element should be simple and easily understood.  The layout should remain consistent.  Don’t change the order of the charts on the page, stick with the same color scheme and chart types.  Staying consistent will allow your audience to quickly scan the scorecard for the key information, see changes or red-flags quickly.

How your scorecard is delivered is also important. Obviously, posting the scorecard in your cubicle won’t get the appropriate attention.  Or expecting executives to log into a project management system to see the scorecard is not reasonable.  Sharing the scorecard during update meetings and following up by emailing the scorecard is a common approach.  Consider putting a few hot topic items directly in the body of email.  Many executives may not have the time to open email attachments – putting teaser data in the email can prompt opening the email attachment.

Using a Project Scorecard

How often you update and distribute the scorecard will depend on the complexity of the project and duration.  For a 12-month project, monthly might be sufficient.  However, if the project is complex or just a few weeks, you may want to update and distribute the scorecard each week.

Share the scorecard with your project team and customers as well as your project sponsors and stakeholders.  A good scorecard will give everyone; including the project manager, risk indicators.  The simple act of updating the scorecard is a way of taking the project’s temperature.

Keep your project healthy, create a rock-star scorecard that is consistent in schedule, format and easily accessible.

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