NASA Apollo Cost Tracker

Quick how to guide on building my NASA cost tracker.

To follow up a recent video showcasing the NASA Apollo Costs, I wanted to illustrate how easy it is to use PowerBI to generate quick program of works dashboard. If you have several projects following a pipeline of work, some features here might spur some discussions or thoughts on what is possible.

The Data

I have sourced data from a google drive folder


However, like most data you find, the format is not suited to analytics. So a little manipulation was in order. Firstly, I had to create a WBS structure.  Typically, information we find is buried under headers, however for databases, we need to turn group headings into a column data field.

We can see I have inserted a 3 layer WBS structure, plus a company name field. This will allow me the flexibility to add subsequent data to this file from perhaps multiple companies, not just NASA. Again, when you build flexible data structures, the way you can use the structure is much more powerful

I know that I also want more contextual information displayed on the dashboard beyond simple data. Specifically, I want a description blurb to be viewable on a tool tip, along with a picture. Additionally, I want to display the leading contractor as well. Therefore, I added a few columns to the excel file. When you import the data into PowerBI, the URL needs to be set as a special format of “Image URL”. Took for some time to find that setting: its under “data category” on the column tools tab.

At some point, I will hopefully build out this dataset to include subsequent NASA budgets, and also publish this data through an API that everyone can access. However, there are limitation to what I can do and what I want to do typically far outstrips my abilities.

The Dashboard

Importing the data is quite straight forward, we do need our usual “unpivot” trick to convert the year information (which is contained inside columns) into row based data. However once that is done, lets look the various parts of the dashboard.

Before I jump into the various aspects of the dashboard, what really gives a dashboard a little polish is the use of a background image. Here is my go to ground image. Just a little playing around with Paint can produce something very valuable to your end product.

The dashboard utilizes 3 slicers. Each has a slightly different formatting. I definitely recommend playing around with the formatting of your slicers

The TREEMAP is where I have put a little extra bit of attention

What pops out here is the tooltip. I have created a separate page just for this tooltip. I am by no means an expert in designing tooltip, but know the power of inserting extra dimensions of data that again allows your dashboard to pop. This specific tooltip includes the blurb, an image URL and the main contractors. This information would be too dense for the overall dashboard and perhaps not dense enough for its own dash, therefore a tooltip is a perfect medium between.

The final element of the dashboard is the line graph and histogram. I still find creating line graphs difficult and in this case I had to add a measure to my data. I think there is a much easier way to achieve rolling sum data, but in my case, the below measure works easy enough for me.

CTD_line = CALCULATE(SUM(NASA_Budgets[Value]),filter(ALLSELECTED(NASA_Budgets),NASA_Budgets[Year]<=MAX(NASA_Budgets[Year])))

And with that, we have our completed dashboard


There is a lot I can do with this framework now. We have a cost file that is quite generic and a dashboard that is also generic. We can in theory use this to outline any type of project pipeline. Although this dashboard is looking in the past, we can also have a rolling wave where we can see past spend on specific projects and what our future pipeline of work looks like. I love seeing project pipelines and following my NASA theme for the moment, here is a great view of what the NASA project pipeline looked like in 1973

PowerBI Progress & Schedule Dashboard – By Darrin Kinney

I have recently been developing a series of videos that highlight the key features utilized in a progress and schedule dashboard. The videos showcase the capabilities of PowerBI dashboards in the Project Controls space. I have not seen dashboards effectively used in this way and want to share the valuable knowledge.


I have recently been developing a series of videos that highlight the key features utilized in a progress and schedule dashboard. The videos showcase the capabilities of PowerBI dashboards in the Project Controls space. I have not seen dashboards effectively used in this way and want to share the valuable knowledge.

This series is not meant to be a step by step guide. There are subtleties about this demo that may cause difficulties in the production environment. I would simply recommend you share this with your development team and discuss the pros and cons of your approach. Oftentimes, a more straight forward approach is more valuable when compared to endless development polishing an inferior product.


Part 1: The Showcase

This video gives an insight into the key capabilities of the dashboard. Having the ability to seamlessly review schedule activities, and how these contribute to the overall progress and forecast, is invaluable.

The ability to quickly dive into your schedule, without having to deal with the confines and limitations of your actual scheduling tool are also key features.


Part 2: The Excel Feeder Sheets

This highlights a simple Excel feeder sheet. Too often the time phased data that our schedules produce are not easily accessible in a digital format. I have built an excel file around a typical structure that project controls deals with. This structure will lend itself nicely to the steps that follow in converting the into a database format.


Part 3: PowerBI PowerQuery

Here we import the data from the Excel feeder sheets into the PowerBI platform. The use of PowerQuery is so embedded with the way PowerBI works. The steps you need to follow here are the similar to the steps you would need to follow in inserting the progress and schedule data into any formal data structure. The way we think about data is sometimes not compatible with the format that databases need. This is specifically around the need to “unpivot” time phased data.


Part 4:  PowerBI Measures and Dax

With all the data now structured and available to PowerBI, we need to now dive into the use of DAX to create Measures. A perfect example in the use of measures is in the generation of progress curves.

What might seem line a straight forward approach to drawing simple progress curves, is in fact (within the realms of PowerBI) not that simple. However, if you follow a logic approach and know what calculations are needed, the world is your oyster.


Part 5: Integration of JIRA and Agile Methods

In the (as of now) final installment of this series, I showcase a way in which we can integrate our PowerBI dashboard with a JIRA project. This approach is completely different from what you might expect. I don’t want to put a PowerBI dashboard ontop of my JIRA task list. I want to put a JIRA task list on top of my schedule.

The purpose of the dashboard is to extract the SCHEDULE data from the scheduling tool. When variations to prior forecasts occur, or where further detail is needed, we are often constrained because pictures, running commentary and discussion about each activity is not something that resides in our schedule. However, we can use JIRA to easily capture those elements and use our PowerBI dashboard and a linking tool to integrate everything together.


The Future: ???

There are still a lot of features and extensions that I have yet to formally discuss. The next steps are likely going to be a showcase of a SQL Server backend for this data. There is a lot of information that is missed in the way this dashboard imports data (specifically past budgets). Therefore visibility into changes is restricted.

Another interesting feature is the use of saw tooth graphs when budget changes occur. I have a clear vision for how this is possible, but perhaps not the development know how. I will definitely be passing my ideas on to a few more tech savvy than I, and will hopefully have something to say about that in the near future.

In general, the way in which dashboards and data are embedded into our work processes, is a field ripe for growth. It is also an endeavor that can greatly increase the visibility into project controls data and can also bring teams together using integrated tools like JIRA. As such, the future is bright and where we should always have half an eye looking.


Digital Transformation – McKinsey Practices – Darrin Kinney Commentary

A short commentary on my personal view of the 5 key digital practices promoted by McKinsey

For me, value is generated out of simple smart execution of our projects, but looking back into the feasibility studies and at the delivery of engineering HUGE gains can be had. I think McKinsey hits a lot of key issues, but perhaps missed the point of WHEN in the project lifecycle specific practices can be best employed

Understanding where value can be unlocked and realized, in the construction focused digital transformation space, is still elusive. Companies are making huge strides, mostly on backend support services such as HR and general employee services, such as online training, however, I personally do not believe these areas are where value is created. It is more an issue where cost has been eliminated as opposed to value creation.

For me, value is generated out of simple smart execution of our projects. When we can arrange for a pump to be installed right off a truck onto a foundation, have a mechanical crew available to commence work on it, and know that pump is on a critical path towards project completion: that is where we realize value.  When we can realize that differing rates of installation (linear planning), will force certain commodities to be the pivotable drivers to our schedule, understanding that delaying the commencement of later activities is actually a value adder due to the efficiency gains (or re-arrange your area handover to complete some areas without having to wait for everything). These are obviously simplistic examples: but, we need to be grounded, and understand the problems we face, and be clear on where digital transformation can support solutions to these problems.

In the realm of lightweight digital strategy, my series on the subject hit some good points

Digital Strategy in Construction – The Videos

In the realm of Project Management, I think the use of AGILE and the tools that have spawned from the Agile revolution will play a part in smart digital transforamtion

Agile In Construction

However, if we expand to a much broader topic, I think turning to companies like McKinsey is a good place to start. One of my favorite documents on this subject is

Decoding Digital Transformation – By McKinsey

The 5 Key practices outlined by McKinsey to capture the full value of digital initiatives:

  • Focus on fixing pain points, not installing IT solutions.
  • Implement digital use cases that promote collaboration.
  • Reskill and restructure engineering teams.
  • Adjust project baselines to capture value.
  • Connect projects to unlock impact across the enterprise

In my world or project controls, we perhaps interact with these practices in different ways. What follows is my personal take on these topics and what they mean to me and how I believe we can embrace them to extract value from digital transformation

Understanding FEL and where value exists

Before I really begin to discuss each item, what I really want to bring to the table here is the concept of WHEN. Major construction projects all operate under some sort of front of loading process

Front End Loading (wikipedia)

Most value gained in project development is during the FEL Stages. As I primarily work on the execution project management side of things, my perspective on what is valuable to me in the exuection space is different. Therefore understand that way you embrace the 5 practices will be a function on where you are at in the FEL process for a specific project, and your overarching project development lifecycle for what may be a variety of projects

Some of the practices (my personal belief) are more geared towards early studies, while others are more geared towards Execution. Below is my quick take on what practices are relevant to consider in each stage of your project development. This is more a strawman for discussion, and exactly why I write these blogs – to try to stimulate discussion on these topics.

The first 2 topics are in my view, more applicable to the execution environment. As such I have some good perspectives and existing material on them. The remaining are more study focused.

Focus on fixing pain points, not installing IT solutions. 0% 0% 20% 80%
Implement digital use cases that promote collaboration. 0% 0% 20% 80%
Reskill and restructure engineering teams. 80% 20% 0 0%
Adjust project baselines to capture value. 0% 50% 45% 5%
Connect projects to unlock impact across the enterprise 80% 20% 0% 0%

With that, lets now jump in and unwrap what each of the 5 key practices mean to me.

Focus on fixing pain points, not installing IT solutions

A few years ago, I was called in to a project to assist in the implementation of EcoSys. I have a good amount of experience with cost systems and it was nice to know someone could lean on me help them install their new “IT Solution”.

However, immediately, it was apparent the initiative was doomed to fail. The issue was exactly what McKinsey indicates – the company was not focused on the “pain points”. For this particular project, visibility into the build up of a specific contract final forecast cost (FFC) is the day in day out function of the cost team. However, that build up of data is not easily managed inside EcoSys. Creating “detail items” for each site instruction, when you have 100s of site instruction on each contract, and 10 major contracts – and that is only the cost need for site instruction – you quickly realize that information needed to be managed elsewhere.

Obviously the project already had an existing, more bespoke, system that allowed them to manage the build up of the contract FFCs. So, installing a new tool that just extracted the bottom line number from one system and consolidate it – was of no value to the project. Quite the contrary, extra work is required each period to now update Ecosys with summary level data. Now, as part of another key practice (Connecting Projects), having access to enterprise wide data is important; however, I would query where the value add is before pursuing that option.

My video on EXCEL Hell is a good primer on where you can look for understanding where PAIN POINTS exist

So, I can’t stress enough, before you begin pursuing a digital transformation, look at what you are doing and dive into the “PAIN POINTS”. More often then not, when you start looking into the weeds, you realize that a specific IT solution might not be the silver bullet.

Implement digital use cases that promote collaboration.

I am a huge proponent of collaboration. In the McKinsey position, they focus on interdisciplinary interfaces. In the project controls world, this is our bread and butter. We constantly need to get information from Engineering, Procurement, Contracts and all functions and merge this all into a manageable project management framework – either being the schedule, specific management plans, or our estimate and cost forecasts.

Anything that can positively influence collaboration as opposed to simply forwarding emails and excel files, is a huge win-win.

I have discussed my position of trying to implement a tool such as JIRA. I have a key quote

“how do we interact as a TEAM”

That concept is a core premise – dive into how your project interacts. Look at how information and data is shared. Who edits what- how – where does it go – what does someone do with it?

So when we look at collaboration and implementing a specific solution for a use case, ensure that use case touches many people in different functions. From that, if you are successful, that will immediately leverage you for future wins

Reskill and restructure engineering teams.

I can’t stress enough, real VALUE on construction projects is delivered by ENGINEERING.  Although, value can be retained via efficient execution, truly innovative approaches and step changes in value have to be driven by ENGINEERING.

A clear example we have seen in the past few decades it the use of Modular construction, and focused Pre-Assembly. This is not specifically new, but is not perhaps as embedded into our culture to keep driving the limits for what is possible.

To achieve gains, your engineering team needs to be at the forefront of technology. You need to empower your engineering teams to constantly venture out into the real word and see what everyone else is doing and to not be afraid to mashup something they see elsewhere and try new things. The risk adversity of owners oftentimes restricts this. So, you need to be careful implementing new ideas, no question there.

All I can reference here, is perhaps the way TESLA has designed and engineered their cars. There application to smart control systems on cars is revolutionary and now makes every other car made look anachronistic. You only get that solution by engaging an engineering team willing to think outside the box.

A critical aspect of engineering teams, is the need that there is negative value into trying to implement restructuring of engineering teams during Execution. Or at least, if you do truly pursue that approach, you have de-facto moved your project OUT of Execution and back into a study phase. Again, always having a clear mindset in where you are in your project development cycle is critical in how you make decision and interact with digital solutions.

Adjust project baselines to capture value

One of the most important terminologies in the planning world is DRAG. DRAG is the opportunity that a project has in pulling back the critical path until a secondary sequence of work becomes critical.

When a change in execution caused by smart digital tools impacts the critical path, you are limited by your DRAG. Past that point, further gains are no possible (without also changing something else). Therefore, the balance between smart execution and reality need to be constantly played off each other.

Another aspect that is key in this practice, is that we need to perhaps understand where this adds value. In the FEL 2&3 phases, or perhaps better known simply as the feasibility studies, this is where baseline development occurs. Thus, this is exactly where you want to dive into how digital solutions can impact the execution of a project. In my initial example of seeing clearly the linear quantity limitations a project might have. Making decision that either increase a productivity rate, or split the project into more access points needs to be done duration a study phase to add value. Opportunity exists to extend this concept into execution, but careful management of changes in execution would be needed.

Connect projects to unlock impact across the enterprise

Executing a true program of work is the nirvana of every project. I have seen clients are limited in their abilities to run a program of works (outside the government sector). Often times instead, you have competing owners executing competing projects at the same time.

Personally, this practice might be better replaced with concepts or partnerships and teaming arrangements to perhaps unlock value among an industry, not just 1 company. McKinsey makes specific reference to:

consolidating cost and schedule data from multiple projects and business units to increase the accuracy of bids for future tenders, thereby increasing the margin

gaining an enterprise-wide view of resources to optimize resource loading and respond quickly when project demands change

creating central repositories for designs at the element, package, and project levels so those designs can be repurposed on future projects

Consolidating cost and schedule data: Reference Estimate data is a “great to have”; however you will be again limited. Good estimate data will likely reside OUTSIDE your company and a better practice is to have closer alignment with delivery partners.

Enterprise view of resourcing to adapt to changes: Again, project are delivered by a much wider matrix of differing companies. Aligning resources is something I always hear discussed, but have never seen in practice. Here to, a better practice is to have alignment with delivery partners. Only when you can act as an industry team, can this happen.

Central repositories for designs: This is something that I don’t feel is notable. Obviously it is important and is something every engineering company and client will keep. I don’t feel as as if this really belongs as a novel practice. This is more standard business as usual.

Bottom line is that I believe that a much better practice, as opposed to aligning projects from an enterprise wide view, is to instead ensure better contracting relationships with delivery partners and executing smart engagement to extract value from engineering delivery partners.

Closing Thoughts

Huge gains from smart implementation of digital strategies can be had. With a good framework of practices. I think all effective digital transformation is led by PEOPLE. While we have noted 5 key practices, never loose sight that digital transformation is a direct function of the people involved. Great ideas can fail if not implemented by great people. My view is that the common theme linking successful digital initiatives is people – and communication. In the end, nothing is substitute for plain ole good project management ideals.

When you look at your projects and begin to discuss how digital transformation can positively be implemented, pay close attention to WHEN in your project lifecycle you are. Some initiatives are more focused on what you can do during execution, while others provide value earlier on and are not effective during execution. Having a digital framework to ask key questions as certain points in your project lifecycle is a natural extension to implement these ideas.


Digital Strategy in Construction – The Videos

Within the project controls world – I have found the strategic approaches to digital strategy to perhaps be a bit lacking. They key is that nothing exists in isolation. You need a fully comprehensive approach Gaining awareness of what is out there, gaining clear understanding of the current capabilities of your staff and in general, being at the forefront of our technological world is what the future will bring

Specifically in the world of project controls, I have found the strategic approaches to digital strategy to perhaps be a bit lacking.  This was the key impetus for me to put together the presentation last year. For me, digital strategy is not about implementing PRISM or EcoSYS. It isn’t even about upskilling your staff. There are more holistic views that can enable users to operate smarter. Obviously, this goes hand and hand with systems and education. They key is that nothing exists in isolation. You need a fully comprehensive approach

The genesis of the ideas were several posts on LinkedIn and a Blog Post on Digital Strategy

I have posted each of these separately, but nice to have them all together in once concise post that I can reference in the future. There is a similar post on Agile in Construction

Digital Strategy – Dealing with Excel Hell

Excel Hell is where we all live and the area of our business that has seldom been touched by digital strategies. Perhaps times we start to think what we can do about it and move to the next step


Digital Strategy – Enter Data Once

The next step is Entering Data Once. This term is tossed around a lot, but the way we view and deal with this is a dogs breakfast. I don’t necessarily understand all the possible solutions, but perhaps the framing of the problem and discussions about what we can do about will stimulate some discussions.

Once we have data stored digitally, we can move onto the next step: Be Visual


Digital Strategy – Be Visual

The future is all about digital dashboards. If you are not in this space now, you will be in the future. Now that we have our key data stored in a digital format, we can start to move our reporting into the 21st century: BE VISUAL!

Whats in the Future?

I think the sophistication of many of the commercial software packages can in some regards leave my beliefs redundant. Companies like Sablono and JIRA not to mention a myriad of other providers are implementing many of the concepts I try to follow related to digital strategy.

Gaining awareness of what is out there, gaining clear understanding of the current capabilities of your staff and in general, being at the forefront of our technological world is what the future will bring

Thus, perhaps the most important strategy I can recommend

Digital Strategy – Follow all the latest Trends and know all the software capabilities

This is perhaps at the core of my beliefs. Unless you at the forefront, vision alone is not sufficient.

Digital Strategy – IT by itself does not solve your problems – its how you use IT