6 Ways Power BI Improves your Project Estimating Outcomes 

PowerBI

Data-driven decision making is at the core of estimating a project.

Financial data, specifically, is in high demand, with its goal being the ability to forecast, interrogate and record cost requirements accurately. Power BI from Microsoft is a business intelligence platform capable of collating, transforming, and visually representing this data and we consider it a valuable addition to your project estimating toolkit.

Here is how to use Power BI in your project estimates to improve outcomes.

 

If you’re running the estimating process and have several teams to gather your estimates from, this platform will make consolidating your data into one digital asset easy. Having an estimating template for your organisation will make this an easy process if your estimators know how to use the template. It’s worth developing an estimating template in MS Excel that will capture all the information you need to complete your consolidated estimate.

When designing this template, keep in mind the following: 

  • What data will be available to and from your estimators? 
  • What calculations and formulas can be added to the template to automate some of the data transformations before Power BI ingestion? 
  • Have a clear process for updating the figures in the template. 
  • What information do you need on the template to create your consolidated estimate? 

Offering training to those using this template will reduce errors and make the data ingestion process smoother.  

Creating and formatting visuals in Power BI is the smallest part of the report generation process. If you’re starting from scratch, you will build the report’s framework based on conversations between you and the end users. Some will use the platform to update the report periodically, and some will view the finished product for decision-making purposes. Creating the frame of the report will be the bulk of your effort. Power BI can use many different data sources, and connecting those sources to your report is reasonably straightforward. However, transforming your data once it’s ingested is the next step that requires some finesse and planning. Being clear on what outcome you want to achieve will serve you well in this case. Allow yourself time to figure it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect in the first iteration.  

If estimating project cost and labour requirements is a frequent activity in your business, you may want to create a structure in Power BI that you can use as a template for your estimating needs. This will reduce the time and effort spent building a report in the platform. You can upgrade your report based on user feedback if you’re keen on continuous improvement. 

Some things to consider when building a reusable report template in Power BI: 

  • keep the needs of your end user in mind right from the design stage 
  • how you’re going to share your report with your end user 
  • what platforms you need to integrate with Power BI 
  • is it more beneficial to have data transformation done outside of Power BI and before the ingestion of data? 

Project estimating is done with one goal in mind.

Vital decisions are made about a project’s viability or projected success based on the presented data. When using business intelligence to pull estimating-related data together, having figures in tables with some pie charts thrown in here and there is not enough. Seeing how different data sets relate to and affect each other takes decision-making ability to the next level.

When using Power BI in estimating, there are two instrumental elements that this platform assists with:

A. Translating data into visuals 

Visuals help the users better understand the data they are looking at. It levels the playing field for all users, regardless of their knowledge of the data and its source. Visuals are an effective way to simplify and communicate complex information. 

B. Shows the effect of relationships between data sets 

When feeding data into Power BI from different data sources and formats, relationships between data sets are often not apparent. Identifying patterns and relationships and how changes in one data set will affect another can be demonstrated in Power BI. 

When estimating, the first iteration of an estimate is rarely the final one. Seeing data in a visual representation often generates questions of “what-ifs”. Being able to respond to those “what-if” situations in real time with the help of Power BI gives the user an interactive experience. One is where they can present and demonstrate scenarios with updated data showing the on-flowing effects of proposed changes in the estimate data. Think in terms of seeing changes in things such as the scope of the project, resources required, cost and risk. 

PowerBI

When estimating for a bid, ensuring that you have covered everything and gaining the approval of your management team are paramount. Once you put your estimates together in Power BI, your attention will turn towards presenting figures and visuals to those deciding whether to proceed with a project. You might have a few tiers of review gates to pass before the final tick. You will likely come away from each review with a list of proposed changes and requests from your management team. Those changes are likely to fall into one of two categories. 

  1. The estimates need to be tweaked in terms of things like labour hours, labour rates, roles, availability, and type of engagement. These changes will be carried out in your data sources. 
  1. The visuals need to be tweaked in terms of what data is shown and how. These changes will be carried out in your Power BI platform. 

Filtering and slicing inside the platform allow end users to create their own experience and manipulate the visuals according to their needs, drilling down to information that interests them in more detail without affecting the data sources and the format of your report build. Suppose your end user wants historical data to compare past project data with current estimates. This platform can process information from previous projects and put it against your current estimate. A comparison like this is also helpful for your stakeholders when deciding your project’s viability.  

If you use the Power BI Service instead of the Desktop version, communication between you and your stakeholders becomes even easier. Comments can be left attached to elements of your report or dashboard without affecting your report’s layout or content. An option to use Natural Language Queries (NLQs) makes it easy for end users to formulate their questions while reviewing the information and gain meaningful answers through the intelligence contained in the data. This provides the users with much-welcomed autonomy. 

When you’re preparing an estimate for a bid, chances are your planner and scheduler haven’t finished building a schedule yet. If you want to wait for your schedule to be finalised to derive a labour profile and cost details for your project, you can end up running out of time.  

Feeding your estimates into Power BI as they come in gives you and your end users a chance to see how the estimating part of your bid is developing. Each time a new estimate is added, the report is updated, and emerging issues such as under and over-resourcing and costing can be picked up early.  

While end users will understand the data produced and visualised in the business intelligence platform, they may not have a firm grasp on the transformations and the data sourcing behind the scenes to produce the report. On the other hand, the person who built the report may not be across how the data presented in the report may influence business decisions or necessarily that the data presented is accurate.  

This can happen if the data in the data source is inaccurate to start with or if the transformations performed in the engine are not fit for purpose. It’s, therefore, essential to put measures in place to check the accuracy and completeness of the data generated in the Power BI platform. It’s not entirely left to the user to sift through the data and the visuals to determine and find faults.  

Checks can be created to find missing data, and cross-referencing will help find inaccurate results. It’s important to add those measures in place when creating a report and have that part of it evolve along with other changing user requirements. 


Using a business intelligence platform like Power BI gives estimators the tools to make it easier to pull together an estimate from several areas of the business and present the information in a way that puts decision-makers at ease with the information presented, allowing them to digest, investigate and discuss the data before deciding on a project’s viability, profitability, and operational feasibility.  



We welcome you to get in contact should you like to learn how Power BI can improve your project estimating outcomes.

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