The Best of Project Management Reports A selection of professional insights from the Blog archive
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Since 2008 our project management professionals have been sharing knowledge, experience and learning with online readers via the Project Manager Blog. Their collective wisdom provides a wealth of how to, top tips and best practice advice, for project managers, teams and businesses. To make their writings more accessible we’ve created a series of “Best of” project management topics available free to download and share. Here is a collection of excerpts and insights from blog posts that discuss the importance of project management reports along with tips and tools that you can use to make reporting easier Enjoy!
Jason Westland CEO ProjectManager.com
4 Things You Should Never Do During a Project Report ............................................................................. 3 Your Most Recent Project Report Does Not Look Good ............................................................................. 5 Top 5 Project Management Reports ........................................................................................................... 6 5 Essentials for Your Project Status Reports ............................................................................................... 7 4 Words That Should Never Show Up on a Status Report ........................................................................ 10 Writing the Project Management Status Report for Management .......................................................... 13 5 Ways to Keep Your Project Management Status Report out of the Trash ............................................ 15 8 Ways to Create Simple Project Management Reports........................................................................... 17 The Ubiquitous Program Management Report ......................................................................................... 19 30 Day Free Software Trial ........................................................................................................................ 22
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4 Things You Should Never Do During a Project Report If you have the same gut-wrenching, heart-palpitating, headache-inducing reaction to the Quarterly Executive Project Review, then the following points will help you make the most of these meetings. But first, let’s talk about the benefits that can be derived from such a meeting. Look past the fact that the meeting is called a Project Review. You can make it whatever you want. Sure, you need to discuss project status, risks, next steps, etc., but you can also use it to focus on new opportunities, gather strategic information related to where the customer is going, and make the relationship between your two organizations seem like a match made in heaven. You don’t have to limit the meeting to what was pulled from your project reporting software. Use this meeting as an opportunity to clear up all those stubborn little obstacles that haven’t been resolved since the project started. Your counterpart at this client meeting has done the best he can, but sometimes things are even out of his control. At this table are the people that can make a difference, and even more importantly, they can make a decision so activity can get unstuck and the project can move forward. Resources can be assigned, schedules can be cleared, and budgets can be reallocated at the single nod of an executive giving the go-ahead.
A Recipe of DO NOT’s for a Good Executive Review The following are some guidelines you’ll want to follow for the purpose of having a productive and stress-free executive review. 1. Don’t Dwell on the Past This crowd doesn’t care that you met your goals. It’s an assumption on their part. These people are a no-nonsense, no-excuses group of people that didn’t get where they are by resting on their laurels. Spend 20% of the meeting rapidly going down the checklist of what’s been accomplished so everyone is on the same page, and then the remaining 80% of the time on the future. Talk about next steps, strategic initiatives and issue resolution. This is how this crowd is wired, that’s what keeps them engaged, and that’s what makes you sound credible. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
2. Don’t Just Present the Positive If you get in front of everyone and just focus on everything that went right, then your credibility begins to dwindle as well. These people have made plenty of mistakes in their career and they know stuff happens. They also realize that’s part of business and if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not pushing the envelope and you’re certainly not learning. They know there’s more to business than just what shows up on a sanitized project report. You don’t have to air all of your dirty laundry, but do be mindful to include a ‘missed opportunities’ component to the presentation. 3. Don’t Sound like a Project Manager This group of people doesn’t care about Gantt charts, or project schedules, work breakdown structures, or the project reporting software you use. Do you know what they do care about? The bottom line. Do you know why they care about the bottom line? Because their personal financial statements are joined at the hip with the company’s bottom line. Bonuses, compensation and other employment variables are intrinsically connected to how well the company is doing.With this fact in mind, always speak in terms of how much money this saved, the income it generated, the expenses it cut and any combination thereof that allows them the ability to take home a bit more for themselves. 4. Don’t Spend a lot of Time Putting Your PowerPoint together This may sound counterintuitive, but they don’t want to see another PowerPoint presentation. Have a conversation with these people. Ask them questions. Let them ask you questions. Look them in the eye when you talk to them…not at some screen filled with mindless dribble that you’re reading from. If you do have a PowerPoint, just have it serve as a backdrop to the main show…which is you.
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Your Most Recent Project Report Does Not Look Good The following are three tell-tale signs that your project may be in trouble and soon to be another victim of ‘the next best thing’.
1. Deteriorating Buzz Sometimes, it’s not as much about what is being said about your project as it is what is NOT being said. If people are no longer asking questions, throwing out deadlines for you to refute, or presenting risks and challenges…than your project may be on the road of being another casualty of ‘the next best thing’. It’s hard to capture what’s NOT there with any project reporting software, so you need to rely upon your experience and gut feelings as a project manager.
2. Meeting Attendance Dries Up There used to be a dozen people in the small conference room. There weren’t enough copies of handouts to give to everyone and they would have to share. Meetings were scheduled for an hour but they would run two hours and resulted in enough action items and next steps to fill the most robust project report. Then the makeup and nature of the meetings began to change as well. The first to go were the executives. They were busy working on ‘the next best thing’. Then, the functional managers disappeared leaving you with a couple of low-level resources that enjoyed coming to your meetings because they liked your jokes. There’s no longer a need for handouts as the meetings have gone from a couple of hours long to about five minutes where the question “does anybody need anything?” is met with a resounding “no, we’re good”. Meeting adjourned. When you see the above begin to occur, you can know that your project is assuredly in trouble.
3. You’re Not a Rock Star Anymore You used to be the central repository of everything good and vibrant related to your project. Managers came to you with questions – and you had answers. Resources came to you with risks – and you had mitigations. Stakeholders came to you with ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
unreasonable demands – and you had pushback…along with facts to back it up project reporting software. You’re reputation preceded you no matter which meeting you attended and people loved being plugged into your energy. It was a great show. But now, your calendar is wide open…a lot. Your emails have dropped from 150 per day to a dozen or so. Nobody asks you any questions and you haven’t had the opportunity to pushback in a LONG time. The spotlight is now on Joe, the project manager across the hall.In today’s economy and work environment, everybody is a hired gun. You’ll get all the attention, direction, accolades and atta’boys you want as long as you are providing value. When you are no longer providing value, you run the risk of your rock show being cancelled. Always be mindful of when the value in your organization shifts to another project or to ‘the next best thing.’ What can you do when you see the buzz deteriorating about your project, meeting attendance drying up and your celebrity status shifting over to a has-been? First, get a reality check from the most senior person who knows the answer in your company on whether the project you are still working on is viable and important to your organization. If it is still important, talk to them about what you have noticed related to support and ask when they feel it will be reinvigorated. They may not even be aware of that happening and this one conversation will be all that is required to jumpstart things again. If it is going away, ask for permission to close the project out so you can apply your project management skills to ‘the next best thing!’
Top 5 Project Management Reports Project management training video presented by Jennifer Witt, Director of projectmanager.com on the top 5 available project management reports and why you should use them.
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5 Essentials for Your Project Status Reports The project sponsor walks up to your desk. “Can you give me an update on your project?” she says. That’s something that all project managers hear a lot. It’s important to keep your project stakeholders updated, and while you’ll not stop those ad hoc requests where someone asks you for a status update in the corridor or at your desk, you can get ahead of the game by providing great status reports. Many online project management software tools have a template or dashboard that you can use for your status reporting. This is really handy as it means that all projects managed across the company will have their status presented in a consistent way and this is better for stakeholders – they only have to learn how to interpret one report. So use whatever template or tool your Project Management Office supports – don’t try to create one from scratch and give yourself extra work! Whatever system you use, or whatever tool you have available, here are 5 things that are essential for your status reports.
1. The Top Project Risks What is likely to trip you up on this project? Include a snapshot of your top 3 project risks and what you are doing about them. Make sure these are the big risks that your project sponsor should be aware of – don’t bother about including the small risks that you know you have a good action plan to mitigate against. The situation with risks can change frequently, so speak to the risk owner to make sure that you have the latest information to report. What is a big risk this month may not be a concern next month, so update this section of the report regularly. And if there is nothing to report because all the risks are being managed, say so! Use your status report to share good news as well as bad.
2. The Top Project Issues List the top 3 issues that your project is facing. You can also include a short summary of the actions that you are taking to address them. Include the name of the person who is managing the issue and if you need input from your project sponsor to help you resolve any of them, make sure to mention it here. You can also rank the ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
impact of your issues as high, medium or low to give them some context. This section will change each time, so review your issue log and check that your status report has the most up-to-date information.
3. A List of Milestones and Progress One of the things sponsors are most interested in is how much progress is being made on the project. Progress against your forecasted schedule is something that you’ll definitely be asked about regularly – so make sure to include the highlights in your status reports. You can do this by including a list of major milestones and the progress against them.Pick the high level milestones; don’t try to include every task on your plan.
Start date of a stage, Finish date of a stage, When the project moves into testing, External dependencies or dates where you are relying or suppliers
Record the original baseline date (when you originally thought that you would be able to complete the task) and the current forecasted date (the date that you now think that the task will be completed on). These might be the same if your project is on track. Or they might be different if your dates have changed slightly. When the task is complete, highlight this too. Next time you need to turn in a status report, drop off the completed tasks. This makes the report easier to read and ensures it focuses on the key things that the project sponsor needs to know now. While it’s great to show them that tasks are getting completed, they don’t need to see a full history of the dates when every milestone was achieved. If they do want to know that, they can ask for it!
4. A Current Budget Forecast Sponsors are really keen to find out about is how much money you are spending and whether this is in line with what you thought the project would cost. When times are tight, project sponsors want to know that their money is being spent wisely, and they want ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
early notice if a project is going over budget. Equally, if the project is going to come in under budget, they will want to know that they can use some of the funds to do other things. Tying up money on projects where it isn’t needed doesn’t make good business sense. You don’t have to provide lots of detail. Just give your overall planned budget and the latest forecast. If these two numbers are different, add in a short sentence that explains why there is a difference. Make it clear if you are expecting the project sponsor to approve this change in budget.
5. A Red/Yellow/Green Status Make it easy for the people reading the report to see if your project is on track or struggling. A Red/Yellow/Green (also known as Red/Amber/Green, or RAG) status indicator allows you to demonstrate the overall status of the project graphically, so that people can easily see the status using traffic light indicators. You can do this by including a small box at the top of the report or dashboard that shows the status indicator color. Or you could change the color of the project name to reflect the status. Your Project Management Office may have guidelines about what makes a project Red, Yellow or Green, so you can follow those to choose your status. An easy, alternative way of choosing a status is to use the following convention: Red: the project needs management attention and is not going to hit its published budget, deadline or quality criteria. Yellow: the project is in danger of not meeting its published budget, deadline or quality criteria. Green: the project is on track and will meet its published budget, deadline or quality criteria. Essentially, your project status report is a way of making sure that you have brought all the key problems and actions to your sponsor’s attention. It’s a way of making them aware of areas where they may need to step in, and of getting them to act on issues when they need to. Think of your status report as an opportunity to ask your sponsor for help when you need to, or reassuring them that you do have everything under control.
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4 Words That Should Never Show Up on a Status Report Project management is about results, not activity. You can be very active on your projects and not make any progress at all. I compare it to being stuck in the mud—your wheels are spinning but you’re not going anywhere. Find out if you are stuck and what you can do to make sure your projects keep moving forward.
Passive Project Management vs. Active Project Management Passive project management is sitting at your desk and expecting the rest of the company to come to you. You feel that having direct reports affords you a high level of respect. That’s true, as long as you have earned that respect. Passive project managers will sit at their desk and fire off email after email to individual team members, demanding status updates, or to tell a resource how behind his or her deliverable are. They forward emails to other people on the team in spite of barely reading the emails themselves, and certainly do not add any value to them. Then, they will include “I sent an email” on their own status report. This is their way of feeling they did their job as a project manager. “I know the deliverable is late, but I sent an email,” they say, as if this abdicates them of their responsibility to follow up and come up with a creative way to get it back on the schedule. An active project manager will get out from behind their desk and pursue information. They will meet with their resources face-to-face. It’s rare that they’ll even have to ask for status because they innately know what it is, based upon their ongoing and multiple conversations and meetings. Do they send an email to remind their team members about certain deliverables on their project? Absolutely. But, that will NEVER show up on a status report. If they don’t hear back from a resource, they’ll walk down the hall and find out what’s going on. They’ll develop a plan with the resource to get their deliverable back on track and then include that plan on the status report. Why “I Sent an E-Mail” Is Unacceptable for a Status Report There are a number of reasons why “I sent an email” or “I left a voice mail” is unacceptable on a status report. For example: ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Project Management is Black and White – Yes, there are many grey areas in project management. It’s an art to know when to escalate an issue, or how to deliver bad news to a client without upsetting the apple cart. However, project management is very black and white at its core. The bottom line is that you need to know the answer to these two questions: 1) is it done? 2) Is it not done? That’s it. You can’t get any clearer than that.Your status reports should reflect that black and white reality. “I sent an email” doesn’t reflect anything but your unwillingness to dig deep. You need to report out on the fact that the deliverable is complete or when it will be complete. Project Management is Results Oriented – In the spirit of communicating in black and white, each task on the project plan should be results oriented, meaning a deliverable is able to be reported as finished, researched, installed, implemented, solved and other action words that end in –ed. You should NEVER have activities on your project plan that end in –ing as it doesn’t express results, such as finishing, researching, installing, implement, or solving a problem. Do you notice a difference? The latter only expresses activities that cycle around in perpetuity, i.e., sending an email. It perpetuates this endless cycle of things not getting done. Project Management is About Tangible, Solid Steps Forward – There’s the private life of a project and then there’s the public life. The private life is everything that occurs between PMO meetings, i.e., from Thursday afternoon to the following Thursday morning. This includes all of the drama, disappointments, setbacks, breakthroughs and victories. The public life is what is discussed each Thursday morning. The net of all of the drama, disappointments, setbacks, breakthroughs and victories should equate to tangible, solid strides forward in the plan. Clearly, “I sent an email” does not fall into the category of a solid step forward.
What If The Client Isn’t Responsive? “But,” you may protest, “what happens if I sent an email or left a voice mail for a client that is on the critical path, and they are not responding?” A great example of this could be that you need sign off on a particular deliverable before moving forward. Or, they ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
may have to finish some IT work on their side before you can integrate your system into their system. It may sound reasonable to excuse your lack of action on an internal project for this reason, but there is a better way to handle this situation: Let the Account Manager Know What You Need – Typically, there will be an account manager or account executive that is responsible for managing the account relationship. Let the account manager know the situation. Make sure they are aware of the downstream impact of a late deliverable from the client and that you need their help to keep the schedule intact. This is, of course, after numerous attempts on your part to get what you need from the client. Include a Special Status Indicator on the Weekly Status Report – Even the account manager won’t be able to make or force the client to do something they don’t want to do. There are all kinds of reasons why clients fall behind on project tasks. Maybe their resources are too busy to work on the project or they are just plain losing interest. Regardless of the reason, your company needs to know the cause of the delay. Report on the status with a special indicator that communicates the team is “waiting on client.” Make it red and very prominent for all to see. This will eventually capture the attention of management, who will want to resolve it. Put the Project on Hold – Another option is to let the client know that the plan was developed around the assumption they would turn around their deliverables by a certain date. You have other projects waiting in the wings, and when this project’s estimated completion date arrives another slot opens for the next project to begin. Unless deliverables are completed in a reasonable amount of time, the client may lose their slot and the project could be MUCH later than the delay they have caused. Make sure you have invoiced them for the work that has been done up to this point as well. You need to help them help themselves and get their project done. The bottom line is that you should never succumb to a perpetual cycle of passivity. Don’t submit “I sent an email” as a legitimate update on your status report. This passive approach to project management will certainly backfire in the long run. Rather, focus on doing everything within your power to complete each project and you’ll really enjoy your Thursday morning PMO meetings! ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Writing the Project Management Status Report for Management A project management status report for management needs to be written in a different language than what you may use with your regular project team. Understanding your strengths as a project manager and the value you bring to the organization will help you prior to putting together your project management status report for executives. For example, you are: A Conduit of Clarity: It’s hard to really know what is going on in an organization with the ambiguity, uncertainty, and even chaos that plagues so many companies. Executives are far removed from day to day details, or are told only what their reports think they want to hear.Your unique skill is being able to cut through the static and get to the points that really matter. The project management status report is a great opportunity to convert ambiguity, uncertainty, and chaos into clarity for those around you. A Voice of Reason: When people become entrenched in their own viewpoints, positions, and opinions they can become emotionally attached and unreasonable in the decision making process. You have the ability to serve as an objective voice of reason that can influence decisions to go down the correct path. A Compiler of Facts: You are not just a compiler of facts, but an important aggregator of facts. There may be scores of people involved in projects and hundreds of conversations going on about your projects at any given time with e-mail, spreadsheets, documents, and other electronic media flying all over the place.You know how to take this massive swirl of information and find trends, patterns, and other meaningful information to make your project management status report useful. A Bottom Line Person: The ability to net things out is your biggest asset to the organization. You can take all of the ambiguity, swirl, and information around a project and come up with a pithy, relevant, and actionable piece of information that executives can digest. This is the type of content that needs to appear on your project management status report. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Communicating with Executives Using your Project Management Status Report The above skills are all for naught if you can’t translate information into something an executive can understand on the project management status report. The following are some suggestions when speaking their language: Be Clear, and Concise: One of the first lessons in successfully communicating with executives is to be extremely precise and clear. Don’t leave room for interpretation. Ask for their help if you are bogged down and can’t move a certain part of the project forward. Don’t infer you need their help, or leave it up to them to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Use Bullets and Not Narrative: Capitalize on your ability to net things out on your project management status report with quick, “to the point” bullet points that tell execs what they need to know in mere moments. Executives don’t have the time or interest in reading narratives about the project. Bullet points should never be longer than two sentences. A paragraph, or heaven forbid, paragraphs of text explaining the status of the project will be almost guaranteed to fall on deaf ears. Be Objective: Just report the facts. Don’t fall into the trap of editorializing or providing your personal opinion on the project management status report. It’s not that you can’t or don’t have an opinion, it’s just that the project management status report is not where these opinions should see the light of day.
What Should Be Included on your Project Management Status Report? The project management status report can really be as simple as a one or two page document that includes: Overall Project Health: This is your summation of netting the project out. Use some type of indicator (green, yellow, red for example) to indicate the overall health of the project. The executives won’t have to give a second thought to areas that are green, but will need to be all over the details if the status is red. Milestones: Include the most recent milestones that have been achieved on the project as well as those in the immediate future. This will provide a sense of trending and project velocity. Issues: Net out major issues that are surrounding the project. There may be 10 or 20 issues actively being worked through, so don’t dig into too much detail. Rather, break ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
them down into how many critical, semi-critical, and non-critical issues are on the table. Then, include your plan for how the critical issues will be addressed. Following the above principles for your next project management status report will prevent you from having to speak LOUDLY to your native executives. Understanding their language will allow you to communicate effectively and run your projects more smoothly.
5 Ways to Keep Your Project Management Status Report out of the Trash Chances are your project management status report is not receiving the attention you feel it deserves. What can you do about this? The following are 5 things you can do to keep your project management status report out of the trash:
1. Keep It Short This is not the time to pontificate and editorialize. You are not a person that is sitting around the house all day with little more to do than write Op Ed pieces to the local newspaper in hopes of them being published. No, you are an extremely busy project manager that has a million things going on at one time. Also, your audience is in the same boat as you. They are not sitting around all day reading the Op Ed pieces that have been published in the local paper. In other words, keep your project management status report short…ideally one page. Capture the most vital aspects of the project in as few words as possible and get right to the point.
2. Keep Reports Consistent Project management status reports are not the reports you want to use to explore your creative side. How does this happen? Well, this week includes a nice color coded chart that provides some very meaningful information about the project. It’s in the upper left corner and really stands out. Next week you decide you don’t like that so much and move it to the bottom right corner. You also decide to change what the report is measuring and add another section with some discussion points that came up over the week. The following week you move the chart around again and then lose the discussion ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
points. Keep your reports consistent. Is there room for change every now and then? Yes. But, it should be infrequent, it should be after discussion with the users of the report, and the change should be clearly communicated.
3. Make Your Reports Actionable If you don’t want your project management status reports thrown in the trash then make them actionable. What does this mean? It means that somebody who is reading the report can clearly see what they need to do next.
4. Keep Your Reports Simple The higher up the corporate food chain your project management status report goes the simpler it needs to be. Executives in a company are not dumb. Otherwise, they would not be in the positions they have attained. But, neither are they experts in the details of the projects you are managing. The art of project management is being able to take something that is incredibly complex and break it down into something that is plain and understandable. You’ll get more buy-in and support from the execs. Plus, it forces you to deeply understand the issues in order to translate them into everyday speech.
5. Follow-Up Want to make sure your project management status report wasn’t just thrown in the garbage? Get in the habit of following up. Walk around to team members and ask if they have any questions about the report. Talk to upper management and make sure everything made sense. Ask for ways the project management status report can be revised to be even more meaningful to those who use the report. Once people realize that “there’s a test at the end” they will at the very least take a glance at your weekly project management status report.
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8 Ways to Create Simple Project Management Reports The following 8 tips will help you make a simple project management report that you will love putting together each week
1. Use Project Templates Once you have fastidiously developed the pristine report that you fell in love with, save it down as a generic template that can be reused and repurposed time and time again.Thereâ€™s no reason to start from scratch each time. Or to feel as if every time you dig into the report, its format has to be just a bit better, or more sophisticated, or more telling than the last version you put together. This has a two-fold benefit. First, it makes it much easier for you to put together on a weekly basis. Second, people that use the report become familiar with what they are looking at and know exactly where they can find the information that is designed for them.
2. Donâ€™t Pontificate Unless specifically requested, there is no need to editorialize, share your opinions, and comment on every detail in the report. Project Managers have a tendency to do this from time to time, feeling as if this is a value-added activity. It may provide some value, however, the same value can be derived from discussing the report in person or at the next project status meeting. Coming up with comments and opinions about everything that is on a simple project management report is time-consuming. It can also get a well-intentioned project manager into unnecessary hot water by not having all the facts straight before rendering an opinion on a tight weekly schedule.
3. Keep the Language Simple NO Three-Letter Acronyms. If you want your simple project management report to be meaningful for everyone, then stay away from jargon and technical-speak as much as possible. This is especially important if this is a client-facing report. Your poor client has no idea what language you speak internally and will just be confused after they read your report. This in-turn prompts a phone call to you which consumes even more of your precious time. ProjectManager.com ÂŠ 2013 All Rights Reserved
4. Provide the Ability for Anyone to Follow-Up Keep your simple project management reports short, to the point, and designed to provide facts. If you know there is information on the report that will elicit a number of questions or may be somewhat confusing, you can include the contact information of the person to speak to, directly for follow-up. This will remove you from the loop of spending an inordinate amount of time on one or two sections in the report that may or may not be of interest to everyone. Those that are interested can follow-up directly with the person who provided the information and dig into further details.
5. Make them Actionable A key to making a simple project management report worth doing every week is to make it actionable. What do you expect or need the reader of this report to do? Is the request for their assistance crystal clear in the report? Do they have all the information they need in order to follow up, such as a clear next step or which person they need to contact? I’ve seen it too many times that a report is thrown over the fence just for the sake of doing a report and nobody knows what to do with what has been provided. This is a waste of everyone’s time, especially yours.
6. Trust but Verify Pick out one or two key points that are in the report that you need to make sure were brought to everyone’s attention and have a conversation about them with the recipients. You’ll quickly get a sense of whether they’ve read your report or not and can make sure they understand the key point that was being made. Some may not think this is the job of a project manager to follow-up on adults to read their reports. However, I’ll follow up all day long on top executives and upper management that are responsible for the success and funding of one of my projects. Respect the fact that they are busy and it’s up to you to provide them with the information that will make your job easier.
7. Get Someone Else to Put the Report Together This is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but also very real at the same time. You may fall into the trap that you are the only person in the world that could put a simple project management report together. Nobody can do it like you and it will take you longer just to train them. You need to dispel that thinking right now! Find someone on your team, or someone else’s team for that matter, that has some bandwidth and can you put these routine reports together. They’ll be glad to have something to do and you’ll go back to loving this report every week. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
8. Keep Them Short If possible, keep it to a page or less. Why? Do you see how nice this tip was compared to the other 7 tips? Reports are a necessary part of our existence as project managers. They keep everyone on the same page, remove surprises, and get people moving forward. It’s up to you to make sure you continue to love the reports you generate. Following the 8 Tips above will move you in that direction!
The Ubiquitous Program Management Report A program manager needs to keep up with a considerable amount of information, to ensure their program makes it from point A to point B and delivers the value that was promised. Here’s the problem. It’s very hard to aggregate, assimilate, and distribute all of this information in an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand format that benefits the program stakeholders. There have been countless methods and systems for putting together a perfect program management report. However, experience shows that the program management report is dreaded by both producers and users for the following 3 reasons:
It Takes Too Long to Compile You will be amazed at how quickly a week will pass when you are tasked with putting together a weekly program management report that updates everyone on the status of the program. You will have just finished one program management report to be turned in on a Wednesday and the next thing you know you’re creeping into Tuesday afternoon one week later.
It Takes Too Long To Read Take comfort…the person on the receiving end of this program management report feels as if it takes too long to read as well. There are so many details included and
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meaningless facts and figures that their eyes glaze over the second they see this program management report pop into their inbox.
It Doesn’t Net Things Out The program management report is many times a disparate collection of semi-loosely related items and activity that are hard to pull together into one cohesive message. As such, it leaves a lot open for interpretation and room for confusion by the reader. It’s up to the reader to connect the dots to truly understand the current status of the program. And, to add insult to injury, you would be amazed at how many people don’t read the program management report that comes their way. Don’t believe me? Try this…stop sending your weekly management report for a week or two and see how many people even ask what happened.
How to Make Your Program Management Report Meaningful Do you want your program management report to take less time to put together, meaningful to the receiver, and ultimately read? We all do. Then focus on making sure just these four questions are answered on your weekly report. What Happened – Have one section on your report dedicated to what happened over the prior week. You can do a brief recap of some of the highlights that occurred, meetings that took place, or milestones that were reached. This section provides just enough information to show that progress has been made and that there’s a certain momentum and life to the program. What’s Next – After you’ve spent a couple of minutes putting together what happened over the previous week, focus on those items that are coming up over the next week or two. Again, you don’t have to include a lot of detail, but an executive overview of those major events that are planned in order to keep the program on track. This could include a project being complete, or a review of open tickets, to completing a plan for better handling customer complaints. What May Get in the Way – You will next want to answer the question about what may get in the way of the “what’s next” section. This is the area where you briefly discuss risks to the program or even issues that have already occurred. Be sure to have some element of what you are doing to mitigate a risk from occurring or how you are resolving a risk that occurred and turned into an issue. Indication of Trends – Finally, you should include some type of trend indication in the form of an easy to understand chart or graph that shows the momentum of the ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
program in general. You don’t need a lot of Key Performance Indicators here. Just pick out 3-5 very relevant and very meaningful indicators and make sure they continue to go in the right direction. It may be that you want the number of trouble tickets to go down, or customer satisfaction index to go up, or the amount of uptime for the system to stay right where it’s at. Whatever you and the users of the program management report deem to be important is what you should include in this section.
Two Principles to Keep in Mind for an Effective Program Management Report Over the years I have seen more program management reports than I care to remember. I’ve also worked with scores of program managers and their bosses who literally obsessed ad nausea over how impeccably perfect these reports needed to be (for example, the period after one sentence is 12 point and the period after another sentence is 14 point…not kidding.) Stop the madness and focus on these two principles: Keep It Simple – Your program management report needs to be simple to put together, simple to read, simple to understand, and simple to update week after week. Nobody has time anymore to get bogged down with putting a report together that will be glanced at for a matter of a few minutes. Keep it Relevant – Since people only have a few minutes to read your program management report, keep it very relevant. Ask people what they want to see on the report. More importantly, ask them what they don’t care about or don’t need on the report.
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