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Project Management Blog
You all know the drill. You are juggling managing a project, solving problems, providing leadership to the team, and trying to get all the work done on time and within budget. However, when your manager or your customer asks how the project is going, you simply reply “fine”.

Many project managers try to communicate with the minimum possible effort. Part of this hesitancy is a lack of comfort with written and verbal communication in general. It could also be that most project managers simply do not understand the value that proactive communication provides on a project.

Like it or not, communication is one of the core project management processes. However, the communication process can be scaled based on the size of the project. For small projects, the level of communication might be as simple as making sure the business customer understands that the work has begun, and notifying them when the work is completed. Nothing fancy there.

Status Reports Satisfy Basic Communication Requirements

Problems can occur when you apply this small project model to much larger projects. As you get into larger projects, you will need to get into status reporting. Status Reports provide information to the key stakeholders on the current status of the project and what work has been completed since the last communication. These are also forums to discuss outstanding issues, scope change requests, risks, etc. The main purpose of the status reports is to manage expectations and make sure there are no surprises. Delivering bad news is not a communications problem. Not effectively managing expectations is a problem. Lay it all out in the status report, and don’t surprise your stakeholders.

Create a Communication Plan for Large Projects

On larger projects, especially those that impact a wide variety of people, the basic status report is no longer enough. The communication needs to be proactive, multifaceted and targeted. This is the time for establishing a formal Communication Plan. In a Communication Plan, you think about your major stakeholders, their information needs, and the best way to satisfy those needs. Then, you can tailor specific types of communication to meet the particular needs of each audience. In a Communication Plan you identify and plan for three types of communication:

Mandatory communication such as budget and status reports.

Informational elements such as an online repository of project documentation, lunch and learns, and frequently asked questions.

Marketing elements such as pep rallies, success stories, testimonials, and posters to display in the company lobby.

Communication - Just Do It!

Project managers must get over the fear and reluctance to communicate proactively. There are some projects where the project manager thought he had done a good job, but the client was not satisfied because he or she did not know what was going on. There are also projects that went badly overbudget and deadline, but were still viewed as a success because the client knew what was going on and the expectations were managed well.

You have all heard the simple saying, “communicate, communicate, communicate.” Project managers should take this to heart. There are many aspects of a project that are not totally within your hands. Communication, however, is something that is directly within your control. You might be surprised how smoothly your project progresses when you communicate proactively to the team, customers, and stakeholders.

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
One service that is typically associated with a PMO is reporting on the status of all the projects being executed within the organization. This concept can be extended so that the PMO tracks a complete, portfolio-wide view of all active, pending and historical projects.

On the surface, this might seem simple. However, it can be quite time-consuming. First, the PMO must work with the management stakeholders to define what is in the consolidated status report. Some organizations like to keep each project to one line, with some type of overall status indicator such as green (okay), yellow (caution) or red (trouble). If the reader wants more information, he can follow up with the project manager. Other organizations like to see a full status report on each project. If there are questions or concerns, the status report may contain the answers so that additional follow-up is not required.

Problems Gathering the Status

The PMO needs to collect status information on each project, consolidate it and report it. However, like all activities that rely on people, this can be easier said than done. Your PMO will probably encounter the following challenges:
  • Timeliness. First, chances are that all of the project managers will not send you the required status information within the timeframe you need it.
  • Accuracy. In many cases, the information will not be accurate. For instance, the project manager may make his or her project appear to be on schedule, even though not all scheduled activities are completed. The rationale is that the team will make up the activities in the next reporting period. You may spot this if the accomplishments for the previous period do not reflect the same work that was supposed to be completed according to the prior status report.
  • Completeness. In many cases, the information on the report is accurate, and it may also be timely. However, you may find that it is not complete. For instance, the information provided may be very brief and may not provide a real sense for the status of the project.
Overcoming Status Reporting Problems

Of course, these problems need to be overcome. The PMO can address these types of chronic problems through activities such as the following:
  • Explain who is requesting the information and what it will be used for. This is a key aspect of consolidated reporting. People do not like to spend the time to provide information if they don't feel it will be used. If they understand who is requesting the information, it might become a higher priority for them.
  • Be clear on the information you need and use what you are requesting. You want to be clear on the information you need and how it will be used. Make sure that you do not ask for status information that you don't need for consolidated reporting.
  • Clearly communicate when the Status Reports are due. The PMO will have difficulty gathering status information from some percentage of project teams. Make sure that you do not give anyone the excuse that they did not know when it was due.
  • Follow up with project managers on items that need further explanation and clarity. If you receive status information that does not contain the content or format you need, make sure you follow up with the project manager. This follow-up is designed to make sure that the project managers know what you need, with the hope that they will provide this in future Status Reports.
  • Use the governance process if necessary. If you find that the PMO is spending too much time running around for the information every month, you are going to have to go to the Sponsor for backing. Senior managers need to be held accountable if project managers in their organization cannot get the status reports in correctly and on time.
Consolidated Metrics

There are a number of places where the organization gains value with the implementation of project management. If the PMO does not attempt to track and quantify some of these benefits, the organization will have no idea what value has been provided. In general, the metrics associated with project management value are also indirectly indicative of the value of the PMO. For instance, if more projects complete within expectations, it would indicate the value associated with project management, and would also point out the value provided by the PMO.  

Organizational Metrics

One of the most difficult items the PMO will be asked to work on is determining the value of project management. It is one of the most fundamental questions for your sponsor and senior management to ask, and yet it is also one of the most difficult to successfully answer. There seems to be intuitive value in implementing a standard project management methodology, but if you try to quantify the value, you will quickly become stuck. There are a few approaches to these organizational metrics. One is to rely on industry research and look for companies and case studies that are similar to your organization for comparison. The thought is that if someone else was able to measure value and you are a similar company implementing in a similar way, you should be able to claim similar value.

The second method is to actually try to calculate the value associated with using a methodology. For instance, the PMO can work with project managers on different types of projects to determine the cost savings associated with maintaining good scope change procedures, managing risk proactively, and managing client expectations effectively. As you continue to interview a subset of the project managers, you should start to see some trends that you can apply to the rest of the projects in your organization.

You could also look for the reuse value associated with using a common project management process. Again, this approach asks project managers to estimate the savings associated with using similar processes on multiple projects and getting their estimate of the cost and time savings associated with reusing the common processes on an ongoing basis.

There are some areas of service where the PMO does not already have a sufficient level of expertise. Metrics could be another one of these areas. Many companies do not know much about defining and capturing a good set of metrics. Some consulting firms have a strong expertise in this area that could be leveraged to make sure you start off on the right foot.

Summary

The PMO is in the unique organizational position of being able to view all of the projects going on in the organization. Therefore, the PMO is the logical organizational entity to define and collect a common set of metrics, and it is the logical place to collect common project status information for consolidated reporting. These activities can be simple if all the projects collect metrics and report status as requested. However, this is rarely the case, which makes these valuable services a couple of the most time-consuming services the PMO performs.  

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
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

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