By Steve Bodman
In “Write status reports with the reader’s interests in mind,” project management guru Tom Mochal counseled one of his colleagues who complained about the poor quality of project status reports he was receiving from project managers. Mochal cautioned members that it’s the project manager’s responsibility to effectively communicate project status information.
I couldn’t agree more with Mochal’s assessment that an effective report process is integral to a project’s success. Here are some steps that I always follow to ensure that my status reports meet the needs of the sponsor and the department heads.
Step 1: Meet with all concerned parties
Like all good project managers, I meet early in the project cycle with the sponsor and determine not only what he or she wants to know about progress (and how much detail, etc.) but also how they want to see it, how frequently they want to see it, and if there are any “roll-up” reports that the status report might become a part of that would require a different presentation methodology. Some sponsors prefer a visual presentation (bar chart, graphs, etc.), while others prefer a report in narrative style.
After I’ve nailed down sponsor requirements, I meet with the cross-functional department heads and ask the same questions. (Assessing the sponsor requirements first helps because they act as a guide for reporting requirements at the departmental-head level.)
If at all possible, I construct an interaction among lower-level reports so that their reports automatically roll up to produce the sponsor-level report. Sometimes this is a very manual process, and other times a simple Excel spreadsheet may do the trick.
Step 2: Gather feedback from the report draft
After I’ve set up what I think is going to meet the needs of the department heads and sponsor (let’s call it the “alpha” report), I share it with them and determine if the report meets their needs. If it doesn’t, I make modifications and obtain feedback until all stakeholders are satisfied with the who, what, when, where, and how aspects of the communications plan.
Step 3: Agree on cutoff dates
Finally, all stakeholders agree on the “rules” concerning cutoff dates for information status. In today’s “always on, always connected” work environment, there are often circumstances where the value of what you know is dependent on when you learned of it. The result of this “information time lapse” problem is the time wasted cross-validating information during progress reporting meetings. It’s better to agree up front that the information in progress reports is based on data obtained as of a certain date and time. This strategy should eliminate some of the time spent during progress meetings updating reports.
This three-step reporting plan gives all stakeholders an opportunity to designate their reporting requirements early on. They also are aware of what “everyone else” is getting, so it increases the opportunity for report standardization (although it doesn’t guarantee it).
Producing progress reports based on how stakeholders want to use them is the real “value add” that executives are looking for from their project managers. Senior management not only wants to know when a project will be completed but also how it is progressing. This type of reporting plan is valuable because senior managers stay informed and don’t have to be proficient at using project management software to figure it out.
How good are your status reports?