If you ask a number of project managers on their thoughts about project status reports, while a number will be very supportive and see the value, there will be a high number who do not! Those who do not will probably describe status reporting as:
- Waste of time
- Takes focus from valuable delivery work
- Form filling exercise
There will be many more. For some reason, status reporting is seen as a administrative function that is not high value that is demanded by a project management office. For this reason, the report is often completed by a junior member of staff and more often then not is not that useful. This only goes to reinforce the position that the report is a “form filling exercise” that needs to be done to tick a box.
However, a good project manager understands the power of a good, well written project status report.
The process of producing a status report is a great opportunity for the project manager to reflect on:
- What has been achieved
- What has not been completed
- What barriers are stopping progress
- What needs to be completed in the next period
The simple process of thinking about the project against these headings allows the project manager to take stock. By setting aside 30 – 60 minutes each week, the project manager can pause and truly reflect on the status of the project. This discipline is very useful when the project is busy.
The process should help the project manager identify emerging themes that may impact the project. The earlier they are identified, the more chance that action can be taken to get the project back on track.
The project status report is a very good tool for the project manager to communicate to key stakeholders. This is very important if the project manager does not have the opportunity to engage with all stakeholders.
As the project manager is responsible for writing the report, it means that they have the opportunity to present the key messages. This is extremely useful for communicating the successes of the project. Word of caution, the status report must be an accurate record. Do not over embellish what is going well as may lead to the credibility of future reports to be questioned.
The report should be used to advise where there are challenges and what is not going well. This should be done in a way that does not result in unhelpful re-action. It is advisable to speak to the sponsor before the report is submitted so they are not caught unaware.
- When writing the report, aim to use language that can be understood even by those who are not close to the project. Remember, you may not be there to explain points when the report is being reviewed.
- Avoid using unnecessary words or adding unimportant updates. The review time for a report will typically be brief so make sure all of the points are worth reading.
- Peer review. Get a member of the team to review the report to make sure it makes sense and is of suitable quality. It is surprising how many mistakes are missed when you review your own report.
- Where possible, review and agree with the sponsor before submitting. That will allow any adjustments to be made in the message and keep the sponsor happy.
The project status report is a powerful tool and, used properly, will help the project manager.