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Project Management Blog
Why is it that most of us don’t have a problem working 70 hours a week taking care of our customer’s needs, and yet we have difficulty writing a decent status report? There are two major problems. First, some people do not have great written communication skills, and they are not comfortable writing. However, in most cases, the problems with communication are not a lack of skills, but a lack of focus. Many project managers do not appreciate the value of communicating proactively. When they do communicate, it tends to be short and cryptic, as if they are trying to get by with the minimum possible effort.

Keep the Reader in Mind

The key to communicating is to keep the receiver as the focal point – not the sender. Try to think about what the receiver of the communication needs and the information that will be most helpful to him. If you are creating a status report, put in all the information necessary for the reader to understand the true status of the project, including accomplishments, issues, risks, scope changes, etc.

In many organizations, the project manager needs to communicate with people at multiple levels. If so, remember that a one-size-fits-all approach may not apply to communication. You may need to modify the communication content between managers and executive managers. For instance, you may send a one-page report to your direct manager and major clients showing the project status and financial situation. This may be summarized to a half-page or even one paragraph for executive management.  

Include Useful Information - Not the Mundane

Try to focus the status reports so that the information in them can be used in the decision making process. Ask team members (and yourself) whether the information on the status report is there to communicate something valuable, or if it is just taking up space. With that in mind, what types of information should be included?

Typically the status report should include the following information:

  • Project name / project manager / time period / project description: This is all basic information that needs to be included each time so that people know what they are reading.
  • Overall status indicator: Typically there is a very short indicator that reflects the overall status of the project. A common way to express this is with color codes such as green (on track), yellow (caution), or red (problems).
  • High-level status summary: The top portion of the report should provide summary information regarding the overall project. Make sure that the questions are worded in a way so that a project that is on-track will answer either all 'yes' or all 'no'. Notice that the questions are focused on the present and future state of the project – not the past. For instance:Comments: Provide more information for any questions above that were answered negatively'.
    • Will the project be completed on time?
    • Will the project complete within budget?
    • Will the project deliverables be completed within acceptable quality levels?
    • Are scope change requests being managed successfully?
    • Are project issues being addressed successfully?
    • Are project risks being successfully mitigated?
    • Are all client concerns being addressed successfully?

Significant accomplishments this period: List major accomplishments from the previous reporting period. If the planned accomplishments from last period were not completed this period, the project manager should provide reasons as to why.

  • Planned accomplishments for next period: List major planned accomplishments for the next reporting period.
  • Additional comments or highlights: Describe any other comments that the reader should know that would not be reflected in the status report in the previous fields.
  • Attachments: There are many other project management reports that might be of interest to the reader. Again, make sure to remember your audience. For instance, the project schedule might be of interest to some of your readers, but is probably too much information for everyone. Likewise, your readers are probably interested in summary financial information, but not at a detailed level. Other potential attachments include the Issue Log, Scope Change Log, project metrics / statistics, earned value reports, and any other reports required by your company.
Focus Forward

If you are on a support team, your status reports are going to focus on the prior period up to the present time. That is because support is typically reactive and it is hard to know what you might encounter in the future. However, a project status report should focus more on the present and the future. Prior deliverable accomplishments are of some interest to the reader; however, they are more interested in what it will take to complete the project.

Summary

Writing good, effective, and objective status reports requires focus and diligence on the part of the project manager. The purpose of the status report is to communicate the true nature of the project – not how you wish it was. When you write a status report, include information that is of value to the readers and will help them understand what is going on. If there are issues or risks, they should be communicated as well. If your status report is too short, or at too high a level, the reader will not fully understand the status and may have to ask follow-up questions. Creating your status report allows you to keep everyone informed about the true status of the project at a particular point in time. Make sure that you communicate effectively so that the readers have an accurate understanding of the project.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at admin@TenStep.com.
Published in Blogs
Friday, 13 April 2007 14:06

The Author and the Project Manager

Being a project management author, I probably get asked as many questions about the process of writing a book as I do about the book itself, or even project management. It got me thinking about the parallels between being an author and a project manager.

Published in Blogs

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