I've been looking for more efficient ways to reduce project administration and still have a meaningful conversation about project status. Instead of creating a separate Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel-based status report, I wanted to use Microsoft Project to generate a one-page status report that could facilitate a discussion and provide relevant project detail.Project managers don't need another status report template; we need better solutions to reduce the overall project management administrative burden. In this tutorial, I show how to customize Microsoft Project 2010 to create a custom view that filters out the detailed tasks and highlights the major deliverables that need to be reviewed in a sample software development project (Figure A). I also demonstrate how to create custom fields, tables, filters, and views that can be applied to other projects. Figure A
Project status report in Microsoft Project 2010 (Click the image to enlarge.)
Step 1: Create custom fields
In this example, I use the Flag1, Text2, and Text 3 fields. Depending on your existing Microsoft Project file or template, you may have already used these fields. If your PMO or methodology mandates the use of these fields for other purposes, you need to select different fields names. Fortunately, Microsoft Project provides a lot of additional fields for customization.1. Go to Project | Custom Fields and click the Text2 field and rename it Comment (Figure B). Figure B
Rename fields (Click the image to enlarge.)
2. Do the same for the Flag1 field by selecting Flag from the Type drop-down menu and renaming Flag 1 to Include In Project Status.
3. Select the Text3 field and rename it Health.4. Click the Lookup button of the newly renamed Health field and enter R, Y, and G for the traffic light project status values for Red, Yellow, and Green (Figure C). You can also consider adding a C for complete to reflect completed work streams, tasks, or milestones. Figure C
Red, Yellow, and Green lookup values (Click the image to enlarge.)5. Click the graphical indicators button and set up the test, values, and graphical indicator image (Figure D). In order to cascade the graphical indicators to the summary rows and project summary task, you need to click the Summary Rows and Project Summary radio buttons and ensure each option inherits criteria from the child rows. When using graphical indicators, this is an important step to remember if your summary tasks don't display the graphical indicators. Figure D
Set graphical indicators (Click the image to enlarge.)
With this step completed, you have a list of customized fields that will be added to a new Project Status table and existing views.
Step 2: Create a custom project status table
A custom table will be created to include the custom fields you created in step 1 as well as existing Microsoft project data. It is better to create a custom table that incorporates custom and existing fields rather than customized delivered tables and views in Microsoft Project. I've inherited many project schedules that have customized common views and tables that make you wonder if you are even using a standard version of Microsoft Project.
To create the custom project status table:
1. Go to View | Tables | More Tables.
2. Click New.
3. Enter the name ProjectStatus.4. Click each row and select the following field names (Figure E):
- Health (this was the Text3 field)
- Comment (Text 2)
5. Click OK and then click Apply.Figure E
Custom project status table (Click the image to enlarge.)
Step 3: Create a custom Include In Project Status filterOnce the project table is created, the next step is to create a Project Status filter that can be added to a view. Before you create the filter, switch to the Gantt Chart view and insert the Include In Status field into the Gantt Chart view. Go ahead and change the Include In Status flag to Yes for some sample tasks (Figure F). Figure F
Gantt Chart View with Include In Status field (Click the image to enlarge.)
To create the filter:
1. Go to View | Filters | New Filter.2. Enter the Name Include In Status (Figure G).
3. Select the Include In Status field from the Field name.
4. Set the Test to "equals" and the Value to "Yes".
5. Click Show in the Menu checkbox in the upper right corner.
6. Click Save.
7. Click Apply.Figure G
Include In Status filter (Click the image to enlarge.)By applying the filter, it will only show the tasks that have the Include In Status field that have been set to Yes. (Figure H). Figure H
Include In Status filter applied (Click the image to enlarge.)
You can clear the filter by going to View | Filter | Clear Filter to reset the Gantt Chart view.
Step 4: Create a custom Project Status viewThe next step is to create a custom view that combines the ProjectStatus table and the Include In Status filter (Figure I). To create the view:
1. Go to View | Other Views | More Views and select New.
2. Enter the name Project Status.
3. Select the Gantt Chart screen.
4. Select the ProjectStatus table.
5. Select No Group.
6. Select the filter Include In Status.
7. Click the Show In Menu checkbox.
8. Click OK and then click Apply.Figure I
Project Status view (Click the image to enlarge.)
The next step is to identify the key summary tasks to be included in the project status report.
Step 5: In the Gantt Chart view, identify the high level WBS tasks for reporting
At this point, you likely only have a couple of tasks identified to be included in the project status report. Switch back to the Gantt Chart view and review the entire project schedule. Identify the higher levels of the work breakdown structure (WBS) and determine which sections require status reporting. I think about the major workstreams or deliverables in a project and prefer to report out on those items in the schedule. If the project sponsor has a particular area of interest, be sure to include it on the status report.In the Gantt Chart view, set the Include In Project Status column to Yes for the desired tasks. In Figure J, I collapsed the project schedule layers and only applied the Yes value to specific higher level summary tasks. Figure J
Set Include In Project Status to Yes (Click the image to enlarge.)
I also included several lower level tasks, including Develop Code, Interfaces, and Conversion, as those are typical status items in an IT project. When you apply the Include In Project Status filter, only the rows flagged with a Yes will appear. For planning purposes in the Gantt Chart view, you can hide the Include In Status column and insert it when needed.
Step 6: Add top three issues and risks for discussion
Project status reports frequently include important issues, risks, and changes to be discussed with the project stakholders and sponsors. Many projects will maintain a separate project log to capture issues, risks, and change requests. For smaller projects with fewer issues, you can track these items directly in the project schedule as a separate set of tasks.Managing risks and issues and investigating change request costs take time from the project team and can be tracked as tasks. I frequently ask about the target date to resolve an issue, provide a risk action plan, or manage a change control cycle. Using the notes feature in Microsoft Project, you can expand upon the risk or issue detail as needed (Figure K). Figure K
Risk detail (Click the image to enlarge.)
Remember to include the relevant risk and issues in the project status by setting the Include In Project Status field to Yes. You may want to consider only adding the most important issues or risks into the status report since including more than a few could become unwieldy. Remember, the goal is to easily develop a one-page status report.
Step 7: Switch to the Project Status viewOnce all the tasks are identified, switch to the Project Status view by going to View | Gantt Chart and selecting the custom Project Status view (Figure L). Figure L
Project Status view (Click the image to enlarge.)
Step 8: Complete the status report
The Health column consists of the Red, Yellow, and Green traffic light values to represent the health of each major task. At this point, the Health column is blank, and by adding the value of R, Y, or G the correct traffic light color will appear as in Figure L.
The Comments column is intended for a brief one line status and not meant for a paragraph of text. Remember, you want the project status discussion to be the focus and not the number of words on a status page. You should be able to speak to the details with a paragraph of text for each task status. If you need room for additional notes, you can double click the specific task and use the Notes tab to provide supporting details.
Step 9: Distribute the status report
The final step is to distribute the status report, which can be completed by saving the Project file as a PDF file. This is typically done by installing a PDF Writer software component like pdf995 or a similar PDF writer. Once in PDF form, you can easily distribute the one-page status report to anyone who doesn't have Microsoft Project. You can also screen capture the status report using Microsoft's Snipping Tool and paste it into a supporting Microsoft Project presentation. There are a variety of technical solutions to produce a readable one-page status report. The important step is to distribute and communicate the status.
I'm using this format in one of my smaller projects, and it is working out well. Larger programs or projects will require more robust reporting, although this one-page format forces you to focus the status discussion on the important project elements.
Microsoft Project's text fields and note capabilities were not intended to function as a fully functioning word processor, and PMOs may require a different format for executive reporting. However, if you're looking for a quick and easy way to report project status, you'll find this format useful.
Remember the purpose of the project status meeting is to communicate the project status and seek assistance to resolve major issues and risks. You shouldn't feel compelled to write a paper summarizing the weekly project status deck. You also shouldn't spend a lot of time preparing separate documents. By applying innovative thinking, you can reduce the level of project management administration and leverage tools you are already using to properly manage the project.