Automated portfolio reporting in Microsoft Project Desktop: Best Practices [+150 Prepared BI Dashboards]

14 min read

Almost 36% of organizations use business process management software for workflow automation, while 50% of business leaders plan to automate more repetitive tasks.

Imagine a world where effortlessly tracking and analyzing project portfolios, gaining valuable insights at your fingertips, becomes a reality. Say goodbye to manual data manipulation and time-consuming report generation. 

When unlocking the power of MS Project Desktop, you can revolutionize portfolio management by eliminating manual data manipulation and time-consuming report generation.

Let’s explore the features, benefits, and implementation of automated portfolio reporting in MS Project Desktop. 

By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to harness the full potential of this technology and be equipped with 150+ prepared BI dashboards to supercharge your reporting capabilities. 

Essential reports for effective project portfolio management

In project portfolio management, generating detailed and meaningful reports is essential for informed decision-making and project success. 

The specific reports needed may vary depending on the industry, project types, and reporting requirements. Here are some examples of relevant reports in project portfolio management:

  • Portfolio summary report: provides a high-level overview of the entire project portfolio, including key metrics like project status, budget, resource allocation, and milestones.
  • Project status report: offers updates on individual projects within the portfolio, including milestones, progress, risks, issues, and upcoming tasks.
  • Resource allocation report: focuses on resource utilization and allocation across projects, helping identify bottlenecks and opportunities for optimizing resource usage.
  • Financial report: tracks project budgets, expenditures, and cost performance, providing insights into the financial health of the portfolio.
  • Risk assessment report: identifies and assesses project risks, offering insights into probability, impact, mitigation strategies, and contingency plans.
  • Benefits realization report: tracks the realization of expected benefits from completed projects, evaluating outcomes, return on investment, and identifying areas for improvement.

Once you understand the importance of creating reports in project portfolio management, the next step is determining the metrics crucial for building a perfect project portfolio report. 

What metrics should you collect to build a perfect project portfolio report?

For project portfolio reporting, choosing the appropriate metrics is vital. These metrics offer valuable insights into project performance, health, and progress, allowing for informed decision-making. 

Here are some essential metrics to consider when building a comprehensive PPM report:

Metric GroupMetric NameDefinition
Financial metricsReturn on Investment (ROI)Calculates the financial return generated by projects compared to the invested resources.
Net Present Value (NPV)Determines the current value of future cash flows generated by projects, adjusted for the time value of money.
Payback PeriodThe time required for the cumulative benefits from a project to equal or exceed the initial investment.
Schedule and cost MetricsSchedule Variance (SV)Measures the variance between the planned schedule and the actual progress of projects.
Cost Variance (CV)Measures the variance between the planned budget and the actual expenses incurred for projects.
Resource metricsResource UtilizationMeasures the extent to which project resources (e.g., personnel, equipment) are effectively utilized.
Resource Allocation EfficiencyMeasures the effectiveness of resource allocation across projects to ensure optimal utilization.
Project success metricsProject Success RateThe percentage of successfully completed projects within the portfolio.
Customer SatisfactionAssesses the satisfaction levels of customers or stakeholders impacted by the projects within the portfolio.
Benefit RealizationEvaluates the achievement of anticipated benefits and outcomes from completed projects.
Strategic alignment metricsStrategic AlignmentAssesses how projects align with the organization’s overall strategic goals and objectives.
Portfolio DiversityMeasures the distribution and balance of projects across various categories (e.g., innovation, maintenance, growth).
Risk management metricsRisk ExposureEvaluates the potential risks associated with projects and assesses their impact on the overall portfolio.
Scope CreepTracks the frequency and extent of changes to project scope during the project lifecycle.
Portfolio health metricsPortfolio Health IndexA composite metric that assesses the overall health and performance of the project portfolio.
Change Request RateTracks the frequency and volume of change requests initiated during the project lifecycle.
Stakeholder engagement metricsStakeholder EngagementEvaluates the level of engagement and satisfaction of key stakeholders throughout the portfolio.
Knowledge management metricsLessons Learned ImplementationAssesses the incorporation of lessons learned from completed projects into future project planning and execution.

N.B. Please note that this table provides a concise summary of the metrics. Depending on your specific needs and the context of your PPM process, you may want to refine or expand these definitions to align with your organization’s goals and objectives.

After identifying the key metrics to include to create a perfect project portfolio report, it’s important to understand the critical requirements for portfolio management reports. 

Critical requirements for portfolio management reports

Clear requirements are essential for effective and valuable portfolio management reports that inform decision-making.

Here are some key requirements to consider:

  • Accuracy and reliability: reports should be based on accurate and reliable data, verified through regular validation processes.
  • Customization and flexibility: reports should allow customization to meet specific stakeholder needs and objectives.
  • Real-time and timeliness: reports should provide real-time or near-real-time data to enable proactive decision-making.
  • Visual appeal and clarity: reports should be visually appealing and presented clearly and concisely for easy understanding.
  • Comparative analysis: reports should facilitate comparative analysis across projects, programs, portfolios, or timeframes.
  • Drill-down capability: reports should allow stakeholders to access detailed information by drilling into specific data points.
  • Mobile accessibility: reports should be accessible on mobile devices for on-the-go access.

After understanding the critical requirements for portfolio management reports, it’s essential to establish efficient data collection processes as the basis for creating these reports.

Efficient data collection as the basis for portfolio reports

The digital universe currently holds over 44 zettabytes of data.

With this amount of data around, its efficient collection is the basis for generating accurate and insightful portfolio reports. And only with a streamlined process for collecting project data can the reports be complete, updated, and reliable. 

Here are some key considerations for efficient data collection:

  • Standardized data entry: establish consistent processes and templates for accurate and reliable information.
  • Automation and integration: leverage automation tools and integrate data sources to streamline data collection and minimize errors.
  • Data validation and quality assurance: implement validation processes and conduct regular quality checks to maintain data integrity.
  • User-friendly interfaces: use intuitive interfaces and clear instructions to encourage accurate and timely data entry.
  • Continuous improvement: continuously evaluate and improve data collection methods based on feedback and changing requirements.

Now that you have a solid understanding of the basics of portfolio reports, let’s explore how you can build essential portfolio reporting using MS Project Desktop.

How to build basic portfolio reporting with MS Project Desktop

Building comprehensive and insightful portfolio reports is crucial for effective project management and decision-making.

With this purpose in mind, let’s explore how to build basic portfolio reporting with MS Project Desktop. 

We will start by exploring the suitable report templates available and how to customize them. Then, we’ll find out how to create custom reports and the methods for sharing, collaborating, and automating reports within MS Project Desktop.

Which report template is best?

A suitable report template is crucial when building basic portfolio reporting with MS Project Desktop. It determines your portfolio reports’ structure, layout, and content. 

Here are some factors to consider when choosing a suitable report template:

  1. Reporting requirements: identify the metrics and visualizations needed to communicate insights effectively.
  2. Audience and purpose: tailor the report template to the intended audience and the report’s purpose.
  3. Customizability: ensure the template can be easily customized to match specific needs.

After considering the factors for choosing a suitable report template, let’s explore a quick overview of the pre-built reports available in Microsoft Project Desktop.

Microsoft Project Desktop pre-built reports: a quick overview

MS Project Desktop provides a range of built-in report templates that cater to various reporting requirements:

Here is a brief overview of these features:

1. Dashboard Reports: you can find them under “Report” → “Dashboards”. They provide an overview of your project’s health.

Dashboard reports example from MS Project Desktop

Microsoft Project Dashboard reports offer a concise overview of project health by monitoring work progress, cost status, project milestones, upcoming tasks, and work statistics.

2. Resource Reports: you can find them under “Report” → “Resources”. These reports focus on resource allocation and usage. 

Microsoft Project Resource reports provide valuable insights into the status of overallocated resources and the overall work progress of project team members.

3. Cost Reports: you can find them under “Report” → “Costs”. These reports provide detailed cost information. 

Microsoft Project Desktop Cost reports menu

Microsoft Project Cost reports offer valuable insights into quarterly cash flow, cost overruns, comparisons between costs and schedules against baselines, and detailed overviews of resource and task costs.

4. In Progress Reports: you can find them under “Report” → “In Progress”. These reports track project progression.

In Progress reports from Project Desktop by Microsoft

Microsoft Project In-progress reports highlight critical and delayed tasks, milestone statuses, and tasks that exceed their expected durations.

5. Custom Reports: if predefined reports don’t meet your needs, you can create custom project reports. Use the “Report” → “New Report” function and select a report template (Blank, Chart, Table, Comparison) to start customizing your report.

6. Visual Reports: available in Excel or Visio format, visual reports graphically present specific project data. 

Click “Report” → “Visual Reports”, select the report for your project data, and click “View”.

After that quick overview of the pre-built reports available in Microsoft Project Desktop, let’s explore how you can take your reporting capabilities to the next level by customizing its reports.

How to customize reports in Microsoft Project Desktop

Microsoft Project Desktop provides full customization options that allow you to tailor your portfolio reports to meet specific requirements. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on customizing reports in Microsoft Project Desktop:

  1. Choose a report template that aligns with your reporting needs.
  2. Navigate to the “Report” menu and choose the “Report Design” option.
  3. Modify, add, or remove sections of the report template as desired. Use the drag-and-drop functionality to rearrange sections as desired. You can also choose from various chart and graph options to visualize the data effectively.
Different shapes user can use to update the report in MS Project Desktop
  1. Customize the data fields and visualizations within each section. 
Field adjustment in Microsoft Project Desktop
  1. Add branding elements and adjust formatting to match your organization’s style: add a logo, and change font styles, colors, and sizes to fit your organization’s visual identity.
  2. Save the project for further usage in MS Project Desktop.

After exploring the process of customizing reports in Microsoft Project Desktop, let’s take it a step further and learn how to create a completely custom report in MS Project Desktop.

How to make a custom MS Project Desktop report from scratch

Microsoft Project Desktop offers powerful tools and features that allow you to create custom reports tailored to your specific portfolio reporting needs. 

With these steps, you can make a custom report in MS Project Desktop:

  1. Clarify the key metrics, data points, and visualizations needed for your custom report.
  2. Navigate to the “Report” tab in MS Project Desktop to access report tools and features. Choose “New Report” and the type of report that aligns with your objectives.
Custom reports in MS Project Desktop
  1. Select the report elements that focus on the specific information you want to include. Adjust filters, grouping, date ranges, and other report-specific settings.
  2. Preview the report layout, formatting, and data displayed, and make any necessary modifications.
  3. Save the customized report as a template for future use.

Now that you have learned how to create a custom report in MS Project Desktop, you might be wondering about the role of Excel in building MS Project reports. 

Do you need Excel to build MS Project reports?

According to James Kwak, a Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, “Microsoft Excel is one of the greatest, most powerful, most important software applications of all time.

And even when building portfolio reports in MS Project Desktop, one common question is whether you need to rely on Excel for report creation. 

The short answer is “no”

However, Excel can be a powerful tool to analyze further and visualize data from MS Project Desktop. 

Here are a few ways you can use Excel with data from MS Project Desktop:

  • Data export: export project and portfolio data from MS Project Desktop to Excel for further analysis and manipulation and to combine it with other data sources.
  • Data analysis: utilize Excel’s powerful capabilities for functions, formulas, filtering, sorting, statistical analysis, and pivot tables to gain deeper insights into project and portfolio data.
  • Visualization and reporting: utilize Excel’s robust charting and graphing options to create visual representations like bar charts, line graphs, and pie charts for effective reporting.
  • Data integration: use Excel as a central hub to consolidate and integrate data from multiple sources and platforms, enabling the creation of comprehensive reports and cross-analysis by combining data sets.

While Excel can be a valuable tool for data analysis and further customization of MS Project reports, it’s important to explore the collaborative aspects within MS Project Desktop. 

How to share and collaborate within MS Project Desktop reports

Sharing and collaboration are essential aspects of portfolio reporting, allowing stakeholders to access and contribute to the reporting process. 

MS Project Desktop provides features that facilitate sharing and collaboration within your reports by copying reports as graphic files to share. 

Here’s how to leverage these capabilities:

  • Email reports: attach reports to emails directly from MS Project Desktop to efficiently share them with specific stakeholders.
  • Share reports in MS Teams: share reports within MS Teams channels or chat conversations to enable real-time collaboration and discussions among team members.
  • Export data for further collaboration: export project data as Excel or CSV files for stakeholders who require access to the underlying data for further analysis or cooperation.
  • Utilize cloud storage: host and distribute MS Project Desktop files on cloud storage platforms like OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox for secure and accessible sharing with stakeholders.
  • Publish reports to SharePoint: publish reports to SharePoint for centralized access, version control, access permissions, and commenting features to foster collaboration.
  • Utilize third-party solutions: leverage comprehensive reporting tools such as PPM Express to enhance collaboration, automate report generation, and simplify the sharing process, providing a centralized platform for stakeholders to access, analyze, and collaborate on MS Project Desktop reports.

Having explored the various methods for sharing and online collaborating within MS Project Desktop reports, let’s now explore the possibility of automating the reporting process. 

Can Microsoft Project Desktop reports be automated?

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency,” said Bill Gates.

Automation is vital to modern portfolio reporting, streamlining the reporting process and ensuring timely and accurate information delivery. 

Microsoft Project Desktop offers automation options that can significantly enhance your portfolio reporting workflow. 

Here’s how you can automate reports in MS Project Desktop:

  • Visual Basic for Applications (VBA): utilize VBA programming to create custom macros and scripts for automating report generation, data manipulation, formatting, and other repetitive tasks.
  • Power BI: export project data for advanced visualization and analytics. Though some manual steps are involved in creating and refreshing reports, the integration enables efficient and visually appealing reporting compared to traditional methods.
  • Integration with third-party tools: integrate MS Project Desktop with external tools like PPM Express for data synchronization, automated data extraction, and advanced analysis or visualization.

While MS Project Desktop offers robust reporting capabilities, there are additional tools that can further enhance your project reporting and data visualization experience. The following section will explore using Microsoft Power BI for project reporting.

How to use Microsoft Power BI for project reporting

Enhancing your project reporting capabilities goes beyond traditional MS Project Desktop reports. 

Microsoft Power BI offers a powerful platform for data analysis, visualization, and interactive reporting. 

This section compares MS Project Desktop Reports and Power BI Dashboards, explains how to connect Microsoft Project Desktop to Power BI, and provides access to over 150 prepared BI dashboards by PPM Express to kickstart your project reporting.

Let’s dive into the world of Microsoft Power BI and unlock the full potential of your project reporting.

MS Project Desktop Reports VS PowerBI Dashboards – what are the differences?

When it comes to project reporting, both MS Project Desktop reports and Power BI dashboards offer powerful options for visualizing and analyzing project data. 

While they serve similar purposes, there are distinct differences between the two. 

Let’s explore the key differences:

DifferenceMS Project Desktop ReportsPower BI Dashboards
Interactivity and explorationPrimarily static reports with predefined layouts and limited interactivity.Interactive and dynamic dashboards allow users to explore data, apply filters, and drill down for deeper insights.
Data integration and holistic viewFocuses on project-level reporting within the MS Project Desktop environment.Enables data integration and consolidation from various sources, providing a holistic view of project data alongside other business data.
Customization and visual appealLimited options for visualizations and customization.Offers a wide range of customizable visualizations, charts, and graphs, allowing users to present data in meaningful and visually appealing ways.
Data connectivity and real-time updatesRequire data export or manual data entry from MS Project Desktop to create reports.Can directly connect to data sources for real-time or scheduled data updates, eliminating the need for manual data transfer.
Reporting scope and collaborative analysisSuitable for traditional reporting needs within the MS Project Desktop software.Well-suited for advanced data analysis, complex reporting requirements, and collaborative data exploration across teams and departments.
Scalability and data volumeLimited scalability for handling large data volumes and complex data analysis.Provides scalability to handle large data volumes, perform complex calculations, and accommodate extensive data analysis requirements.
InteractivityMinimal interactivity, limited to predefined interactions or basic filtering.Offers rich interactivity, allowing users to interact with data, apply filters, perform slicing and dicing, and create custom views for comprehensive data exploration.
Real-time data and refreshData is static and not automatically refreshed. Requires manual updates or data export/import to reflect the latest information.Supports real-time or scheduled data refreshes, ensuring that reports always reflect the most up-to-date information.
Advanced analytics and insightsLimited analytical capabilities, primarily focused on basic calculations and summary metrics.Provides advanced analytics and insights, including complex calculations, statistical analysis, forecasting, and machine learning integration, enabling users to gain deeper insights and extract valuable business intelligence from their project data.
Automatic calculation and formulasLimited support for automatic calculations and formulas.Offers extensive support for automatic calculations and formulas, enabling users to perform complex calculations, create custom formulas, and apply mathematical and logical operations to the data.

After understanding the differences between MS Project Desktop Reports and PowerBI Dashboards, let’s explore how to connect Microsoft Project Desktop with Power BI.

How to connect to PowerBI with Microsoft Project Desktop

Connecting Microsoft Project Desktop to Power BI allows you to leverage the advanced data visualization and analytics capabilities of Power BI for your project reporting. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on connecting Microsoft Project Desktop to Power BI:

  1. Organize and clean up your project data in Microsoft Project Desktop for analysis in Power BI.
  2. Export your project data from Microsoft Project Desktop to a compatible format like Excel or CSV.
Export data menu in Microsoft Project Desktop
  1. Open Power BI Desktop, the application for creating reports and dashboards.
  2. Use the “Get Data” button in Power BI Desktop to select and connect to your exported data source. Import the data into Power BI Desktop.
How to add data from Excel to Power Bi
  1. Utilize the available visualizations, charts, and customizations in Power BI Desktop to design meaningful reports.
  2. Publish your designed reports to the Power BI service for sharing, collaboration, and access from various devices.

Now that you know how to connect Microsoft Project Desktop with Power BI, let’s explore where to find Power BI report templates to jumpstart your project reporting. 

Where to find PowerBI report templates

Creating Power BI reports from scratch can be time-consuming, especially if you’re new to the platform. 

Fortunately, there are platforms that provide pre-designed Power BI report templates to kickstart your project reporting. 

One such platform is PPM Express, which offers over 150 Power BI dashboards tailored for project and portfolio management:

  • Analyze comprehensive project status overviews, including risks, issues, milestones, and financial information.
  • Get a deeper understanding of project portfolio statuses and overall portfolio performance with detailed analytics and budgeting information.
  • Report on projects and project details such as epics, stories, features, and tasks directly from integrated systems and generate insightful reports based on this data.
  • Access detailed reports on assignments, tasks, resource utilization, and resource governance for effective resource management.

Here’s how to access these templates:

  1. Sign up for a PPM Express trial. Connect your MS Project Desktop to PPM Express via simple steps.
  2. Explore the template library for project reporting and portfolio management. Select a template that aligns with your reporting needs.
  3. Download the template file (.pbix) compatible with Power BI Desktop. Open the template in Power BI Desktop to customize it. Modify data connections, visualizations, labels, and formatting.
  4. Save the customized report and publish it to the Power BI service for sharing and online collaboration.

Continuously review and adapt the templates to meet your specific reporting needs and incorporate your project data effectively.

After exploring the wide range of Power BI report templates available from PPM Express, you might wonder if MS Project Desktop is ready to implement automated portfolio reporting. 

Let’s dive into the capabilities of MS Project Desktop and see how it can support automated reporting for your project portfolio.

Is MS Project Desktop ready to implement automated portfolio reporting?

MS Project Desktop is a powerful tool that provides robust features and functionalities for project management and reporting. It offers various reporting options to track project progress, resource utilization, and financial metrics. 

However, achieving fully automated portfolio reporting, where data from multiple projects are consolidated and presented comprehensively and timely, requires additional considerations:

  • Reporting complexity: MS Project Desktop’s reporting capabilities can be complex, requiring advanced skills for customized and automated reports.
  • Limited data visualization: Project Desktop offers basic reporting options and lacks advanced data visualization capabilities in dedicated BI tools.
  • Manual data extraction and integration: Project Desktop lacks native integration with external sources, hindering automated data extraction and integration.
  • Limited collaboration and sharing: reporting in MS Project Desktop focuses on internal reports, requiring manual steps or external tools for collaborative sharing.
  • Lack of real-time updates: MS Project Desktop relies on manual data updates, posing challenges for real-time reporting.

If you’re looking to streamline your portfolio reporting process and automate the generation of insightful reports, there is a solution that seamlessly integrates with MS Project Desktop: PPM Express. 

Automation does not need to be our enemy,” as John F. Kennedy stated.

With this in mind, you can easily generate comprehensive and visually appealing reports with Power BI ready-to-use report template resources. 

PPM Express and MS Project Desktop integration enables seamless data synchronization, advanced analytics, and real-time updates.

Take your portfolio reporting to the next level by exploring PPM Express today.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can MS Project Desktop generate automated portfolio reports?

While MS Project Desktop offers built-in reporting options, fully automating portfolio reporting requires additional steps and tools.

How can Power BI be integrated with MS Project Desktop for automated portfolio reporting?

Power BI can be integrated with MS Project Desktop to leverage its advanced data visualization and analytics capabilities. This integration enables automated data extraction, report generation, and stakeholder distribution.

What is the role of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in automated portfolio reporting?

VBA, supported by MS Project Desktop, allows you to automate tasks and processes within the software. With VBA, you can create custom macros and scripts to automate various aspects of portfolio reporting.

Is data integration necessary for automated portfolio reporting in MS Project Desktop?

Yes, data integration from various sources beyond MS Project Desktop may be required to achieve comprehensive portfolio reporting. Integration with Excel, SharePoint, and other project management software can provide a centralized reporting solution.

Can MS Project Desktop be customized for automated portfolio reporting?

Yes, MS Project Desktop offers customization options and report templates that can be tailored to your portfolio reporting needs. By customizing templates and defining data connections, you can streamline the reporting process and automate the generation of consistent reports.

Are real-time updates important for automated portfolio reporting in MS Project Desktop?

Real-time updates are crucial to reflect the latest project information in automated portfolio reporting. MS Project Desktop provides options for real-time data updates through online collaboration platforms or data synchronization with other systems.

How can PPM Express help with automated portfolio reporting?

PPM Express is a comprehensive reporting tool that seamlessly integrates with MS Project Desktop. With its pre-designed BI dashboards and templates, advanced analytics features, and user-friendly interface, PPM Express simplifies the process of automated portfolio reporting.

Automated portfolio reporting in Microsoft Project Desktop: Best Practices [+150 Prepared BI Dashboards]
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