It's a given - or it should be - that we keep our project clients and team well informed of project status, issues and next steps throughout the engagement. The status report and revised project schedule should be what drive the project on a weekly, if not daily, basis. What about the rest of the stakeholders? What about those at the top of our own organisation who may not know that much about our individual projects, but certainly care about their outcomes. On the very high visibility, or mission critical, or high-dollar projects, they probably care very much about the outcome of these projects.
Project management success depends on your ability to track project status and communicate it effectively.
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I realize that project management and project delivery can – at times – seem like it’s all about detail. Detailed requirements are needed to document a proper scope for your engagement. Without good, detailed requirements you could end up delivering an end product or solution that your customer doesn’t want and their end users can’t use. Detailed communication is necessary to properly convey critical information to team members and to project clients. If we miss the mark on effective and efficient project communication we may send project team members down the wrong path on their assigned tasks, costing the project valuable time and money that can’t afford to be wasted.
Likewise, detail on project status reports is usually desirable as those project status reports are commonly the most distributed and observed piece of project data and information week in and week out. If we aren’t producing detail in our status reports, how will customers and key stakeholders be made aware of what’s happening on the project, what the financial health of the project is, where the project stands in relation to it’s anticipated delivery schedule, and what issues are being dealt with at any given point in time?
Oh the project client who always wants the latest and greatest status. Asking for more info like you're holding something back. The same is true for your senior leadership. Either they just don't believe your reporting or they are too lazy to read anything and want to hear it from you...which may be the case - especially if they have an agenda and some questions in their head that they must get answered.
In the long run, of course, it's best to always have almost up to the minute accuracy in the project status report. I realize that's nearly impossible - and completely impractical. But what we can do is make sure that the status report - and project schedule - is updated every week and that both contain as much accurate and up to date detail as possible when we walk into that weekly project status meeting with those two things in hand ready to drive the meeting forward.
Projects are complicated beasts – there is no question about that. Tracking everything from issues, to outstanding tasks, to change orders, to risks, to financials, and everything in between…it’s enough to drive any project manager up the wall if he’s trying to do it all in his head, on paper or in a spreadsheet. It just isn’t possible, nor does it have to be. In the landscape where there were really only a couple of offerings 15-20 years ago, there are now literally hundreds of desktop and web-based project management tools designed to help the project manager organize just about anything he can imagine. And nearly everyone of them can do most of what any PM needs: track tasks, track progress, manage financials, track resource usage, handle task dependencies, identify the critical path, and roll several projects into one manageable portfolio as well.
And most can do a pretty good job at reporting…something that I consider to be at the heart of project management. Why? Because a smart project manager can use reports that come out of your chosen project management tool to do most of the project status reporting for you.
While the paperless office may finally be here, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the trees. Paper demand hasn’t slackened, a 2012 study by The Economist found that usage had actually increased by 50% over the last 30 years. The report determined that “the average American uses the paper equivalent of almost six 40-foot (12-metre) trees a year.”
But for many organizations, paper’s time has come. The advantages of paperless systems are clear. The University of California, Berkeley, utilized several different time reporting and payroll systems across the units in its sprawling campus, then they replaced it all with a single, simple Web timesheet system. The appeal of Web based applications is calling to HR departments as well - a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found "Expanded use of the web for delivery and utilization of HR applications on a service basis”. Considering how much easier it is to manage and search an online employee database as opposed to cabinets of employee folders, particularly for larger organizations, the move isn't at all surprising.
What are a few other things that could benefit from going paperless?
The project status report is the project manager’s billboard to the world as far as how things are going on his project. It starts clean at the beginning of the project, full of optimism predicting the future of the engagement and indicating what’s coming up in the coming days and weeks. Everything is reset to zero, everything is on time, everything is on budget, and there are likely very few if any issues to be attacked. All is quiet…all is good.
So, you’re ready to move forward with your brand new project. What do you include on the status report? Is it your call? Is it up to the customer? Is it up to policies and procedures in your project management office? Does your executive management mandate what you can and cannot include? I’m guessing it’s likely a combo of one or more of these.
Author: Brad Egeland