PMOs often take an active part in project status reporting. They consolidate reports from project managers, chase project managers for updates and it can feel like managing reporting it a huge time drain.
But are you actually getting anything of value out of your project reports? Are managers are still asking questions you think they should know the answers to? Are project managers are always late with their reports? If you’re spending far too much time producing bespoke reports for your stakeholders, then maybe you have a problem with reporting.
In this article, we’ll look at the symptoms of ineffective project status reporting. Then we’ll share three simple steps for getting back on track.
Symptoms of Poor Status Reporting
First, it’s important to recognize that you have an issue with poor project status reporting. If you do, you’ll be seeing signs like these.
- The PMO team will find it difficult to obtain a clear statement about the situation on each project.
- The easiest way to find out the status of a project is to have a chat at the water cooler, the smokers’ area or in the staff kitchen.
- There are no guidelines about what status reporting should look like, so any that do exist are in different formats and on different templates – some of which change every month at the whim of the person managing the project.
- There are no guidelines about what statuses mean, so each manager reports with a different interpretation of progress.
- There is duplicate reporting on the same project as each division updates its management hierarchy about their involvement in the project, but there is no holistic project report covering the work of the cross-functional team overall.
- There might be plenty of data in reports, but there’s very little information.
Sound familiar? Don’t despair: you can get your project teams reporting meaningfully and effectively. Here is a three step approach to doing just that.
Step 1: Fix Project Reporting
First, you’ve acknowledged that there is an issue with project reporting. Now, it is time to look at what you can do to correct that.
The simplest thing to do is to provide project status reporting templates. Set the expectation that the templates need to be completed regularly and decide what “regularly” means. It could be once a month, once a week or on a different schedule. It might mean something different for different categories of project. Agile projects, for example, may need a different approach to reporting to a slow-moving infrastructure project where monthly project reports are deemed adequate by everyone involved. If you need different reporting requirements for different types of project, document these so that everyone has the same understanding of what they need to do.
Once you have been using project reporting templates for some time, you can move on to tailoring them for the audience, making sure that they focus on the information different stakeholder groups find most relevant.
Step 2: Embed Project Reporting
It does take time for project managers to get into the habit of completing new templates to the standard you expect, but provide support and positive reinforcement (and send back reports that don’t make the grade or missed the deadline).
In this step, you are carrying on the cadence of project reporting, showing that the reporting heartbeat is alive and well. You are aiming for consistency.
You can also look at using software to produce reports. Your initial project reporting template is likely to have been something put together relatively quickly in Word or equivalent. But you’ll get much richer data, with lower involvement from the project team. And reduce the likelihood of errors if you can draw the data direct from your enterprise project management tools.
Primavera P6, Microsoft Project and other tools all enable you to either use in-built reporting functionality or to connect to other systems to provide that.
This is also a good time to standardize what it means to report something as Red, Amber/Yellow, or Green. Set some parameters around the indicators so that people start to harmonize their views on what they mean. This should be easier to compare the performance of projects across departments, as everyone is using the same scale.
If you think a project manager has not reported the right color status, challenge them. Too often project reports paint a picture of a project in trouble in the narrative, and then summarize progress as Green. That isn’t accurate. So if you come across reports like this, call the project manage. You should talk through their logic for reporting status in the way that they did.
Step 3: Mature Project Reporting
Once your project managers and teams have got into the habit of reporting, you should be able to build on that. When there’s a solid expectation for project reports and a clear understanding of what they mean, you can start to use them as management information.
You should be able to consolidate (“roll up”) project reports by project category, department or in another way to help executives see the big picture for their area of responsibility.
Continue to coach project managers in what is required and help them make their reports better.
The key point here is that the reports should help readers understand what they need to do next or what decisions need to be taken. Lists of things like how many change requests were recorded on the project this month don’t add any value. Without knowing whether the changes were approved or rejected and why, or what impact they have on the project, a simple number of change requests means nothing. Stay away from this type of reporting and continually question why the information is required and what people will do with it.
Assessing the value of project reporting should be part of your regular PMO health checks. This will ensure that standards are being adhered to, and that your teams still know what is expected of them.
Over time, project reporting like this will become simply “the way things are done”. You can still keep your processes under review and build in best practices where you can.