Project Management

How Leading Experts Gauge the Health of Projects

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One of the many challenges of project and resource management is viewing the up-to-the-minute health status of projects from multiple angles. We turned to a roster of resource management experts to weigh in on some best practices.

This roundup includes responses from five experts on the most effective ways to report the current health of a project, as well as things to avoid. Here is a compilation of what they had to say:

Peter Taylor

In the past 4 years Peter Taylor has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today. His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to work smarter and not harder and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

Website | Twitter

What are your top tips for effective status reports and/or reporting on projects?

I was taught a truth in my early project management days – reporting is not communicating! The fact that the critical facts and important truths are buried somewhere in a beautiful sixteen page report, with graphs and charts and diagrams and wonderful fonts in pretty colors, and that every single piece of project data is included, and that report has indeed been sent to all of the right people, plus their best friend, does not, in any way, mean that they have received the message. There has been no communication, at least not in any sensible meaning.

Effective communication is about isolating the critical information, utilizing the optimum communication method for the person (or people) that you need to communicate with, and delivering that information at the appropriate time. I would also add that to ensure that you receive the right information back to you then you need to educate people on what information you need, how you would like to receive that information and when.

Simply put: The right information at the right time delivered in the right way to the right person.

What are your recommendations regarding what to avoid with status reports/reporting, along with some lessons learned?

My top five tips on being ‘productively lazy’ (well, I am The Lazy Project Manager) when it comes to communication are:

  1. Understand how people, individuals, each want to be communicated with and adjust your style to suit them.
  2. Explain to people how you yourself want (need) to be communicated with (and why and when).
  3. Prioritize communication targets (if you do get temporarily overloaded reduce your communication to this list).
  4. Validate that the communication you are providing is working for the receiver – in particular for critical information, does written communication need to be supported by your spoken clarification?
  5. Keep your communication plan up to date. Don't do it once at the start of the project and forget about it, it needs to be relevant and accurate.

 

Ken Dobie

Ken is the founder and principal of Skyemar Consulting, specializing in strategic planning and project portfolio management. He facilitates the development of strategic priorities and translation into near term goals in conjunction with senior management. Prior to Skyemar, Ken was director of corporate planning and portfolio management at Illumina from 2007 to 2016, where he led the development of the annual strategic, operating, and portfolio plans, as well as resource management across 200 projects and 1,500 resources.

Website | Linkedin

What are your top tips for effective status reports and/or reporting on projects?

It depends on the purpose of the report, but the following applies to high-level reports for senior management with the purpose of managing a product development portfolio, for example.

First, meet with key opinion leaders in your organization to explain the purpose of the report and determine what metrics they care about. Then draft a set of metrics and arrive at a consensus for what will comprise the report. I find that less is more – keep the report simple and high level and yet ensure transparency to underlying assumptions when more detail is needed.

Development and utilization of a standardized template ensures a more systematic approach and apples-to-apples comparison. Develop an appropriate forum for review and discussion of the report with the right stakeholders. Refine the report based on the meeting needs, if necessary. Lastly, while compilation of the report material can (and in some cases should) be coordinated by a centralized function, presentation of the metrics should be distributed to appropriate business area leads.

What are your recommendations regarding what to avoid with status reports/reporting, along with some lessons learned?

Avoid overly complex reports – the more complex, the more challenging they are to prepare and review. Where possible, have an associated meeting to review and discuss the report to make it useful and actionable. If the report is simply being published by email it runs the risk of being lost in the noise and almost certainly is less impactful.

Having a forum to review and discuss the report also justifies the effort to create the material. Ensure the right people are at these meetings and avoid too large a group. Have the data owners present the material in the reports. Have good meeting minutes published summarizing key takeaways and action items to avoid uncertainty about meeting decisions.

 

Susanne Madsen

Susanne Madsen is an internationally recognized project leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the author of “The Project Management Coaching Workbook” and “The Power of Project Leadership.” Working with organizations globally, she helps project managers step up and become better leaders. Prior to setting up her own business, Susanne worked for almost 20 years in the corporate sector leading high-profile programs of up to $30 million for organizations such as Standard Bank, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. She is a fully qualified corporate and executive coach, accredited by DISC and a regular contributor to the Association for Project Management (APM).

Website | Twitter

What are your top tips for effective status reports and/or reporting on projects?

Well, first and foremost it’s a simple report, preferably on one page, which adds real value by providing an overview of milestones, risks, issues and budgetary information at a minimum.

Examples include:

  • Do include the top 5 risks and issues, including owner and mitigating action.
  • Do include information about the budget and how you are tracking to it.
  • Do include an overview of the major milestones, their planned dates and a RAG status of each.
  • Do list key successes and achievements from last period.
  • Do list any earned value metrics you may have, but keep it simple and graphical.
  • Do make it clear what action you want people to take; is this report just for information or do you require a decision from anyone?


What are your recommendations regarding what to avoid with status reports/reporting, along with some lessons learned?

Some of the classic mistakes that project managers make is that they include too much static information and not enough about what the real project issues are. In that way the report is not a true reflection of what is really going on. If you just write about what happened during the last reporting period and what you will do during the next reporting period, without mentioning how that compares to the plan and what the real risks and issues are, there is no incentive for executives to pay attention to it. In many cases the report is even attached in an email without any context or description, meaning that executives who rely on smartphones are unlikely to ever get to the information.

Examples include:

  • Don’t include too much static information about the background of the project.
  • Don’t send out the report via email without providing any context in the body of the mail. Executives may never read the report, so provide a summary in the email itself.
  • Don’t send out bad news in a project report without speaking to people first. You don’t want your sponsor to read about a major issue without being there to explain the situation.

 

Lauren Maffeo

Lauren Maffeo writes about technology for GetApp - the Web's largest online marketplace for SaaS products - and earned a certificate in Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy from MIT Management Executive Education. She also serves as a speaker in Washington, D.C.'s local tech scene and helped organize Europe's largest venture capital competition for women-led startups. In 2017, she was named to The Drum's list of 50 Under 30 women worth watching in digital.

Website | Twitter

What are your top tips for effective status reports and/or reporting on projects?

The top tip for making effective status reports is to create a template for a status report checklist that you can update and share with your stakeholders each week. It's equally important to manage your status reports using project management software that your project team members and stakeholders can access. When everyone involved in a project uses the same tool, transparency increases and project risk decreases.

To leverage technology, shop for cloud-based project management software with dashboards that update in real time. Your software of choice should also include visual reporting options (like Gantt charts) to visualize milestones.

What are your recommendations regarding what to avoid with status reports/reporting, along with some lessons learned?

Poor communication is the culprit for one-third of project failures. To avoid the same fate, designate a clear leader to own the status reporting process. Even small project teams can slow down when disagreement kicks in. So, it's important for team members and stakeholders to know who will deliver the status reports and when.

 

Andrew Tarvin

Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first Humor Engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Through his company, Humor That Works, Andrew has helped more 25,000 people at 250-plus organizations—including P&G, GE, ESPN, Microsoft, the U.S. Navy, PepsiCo, and the International Association of Canine Professional—learn to be more productive, less stressed, and happier. Combining his background in business with his experience as an international comedian, his programs are engaging, entertaining, and effective.

Website | Twitter

What are your top tips for effective status reports and/or reporting on projects?

One of the most effective tips I learned for status reports is perhaps one of the most surprising: include humor in them. I started adding jokes to the end of my status reports, mostly as a way to keep myself entertained. Over time, people started responding to tell me when they liked one of the jokes or if they thought it was groan-worthy. What that told me is that at least people were reading the reports.

What are your recommendations regarding what to avoid with status reports/reporting, along with some lessons learned?

When presenting status reports on a regular basis, avoid feeling the need to always use the full time allotted for the meeting. Sometimes you'll need 30 minutes to give updates and get things back on track. Sometimes the meeting can be five minutes long to say, "Things are on track, here's what's next, let me know if you have questions."

 

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