According to 2016 PMI’s Pulse of the Profession, “74% of PMO Directors believe their senior management understand the value of project management” and yet 33% of projects still fail because of a lack of involvement from senior management. In my role as CEO of Project Portfolio Office (PPO), I often perform the role of executive sponsor on some of our projects so this really got me thinking about how I can contribute to changing these disturbing statistics. Based on this information it’s clear that executives are committed to the journey but project managers are still managing to push them away and I wanted to understand why.
Being approached by Project Management South Africa (PMSA) to speak at this year’s National Conference came at the right time and I jumped at the opportunity to share my views on how we can bring project professionals closer to their executive counterparts. It didn’t take me long to decide that the best place to start to get executives engaged, was via Project Status Reporting.
Whilst some might not see the status report as essential to a project (since you’re obviously speaking to your owner and sponsor regularly), even on the smallest project, this single document is the regular pulse check of the project. It answers the 4 simple questions that your stakeholders really want to know about your project:
- Does each team member know what’s expected of each of them?
- Will we achieve our goals and benefits?
- Where are we now and what can I expect in terms of forecasted final costs and completion date?
- How can I help the project?
If your status report is not answering these questions then you’re missing the mark. Trawling through the archives of project status reports I’d seen over the years, I’ve identified five simple changes that will help project managers to start producing project status reports that their stakeholders actually want to read…
Step 1: Simplify
Projects are complex but it’s your job as a professional to simplify the complexity and jargon for the senior executives. Focus on the outputs and achievements and not the work done. Your stakeholders don’t need to know or care about each step, each dependency or every issue. Within the first 60 seconds, the audience should have a good idea of the overall status, health, next steps and decisions required for the project.
Step 2: Apply a Standard
Your report is just one input to the executive’s world. He or she needs to use this information to consolidate it with input from other projects to make strategic decisions for the business as a whole so make sure you have a standard definition and clearly defined criteria for what RED, AMBER and GREEN (RAG) indicators mean or what % Progress means. More importantly, once you have a standard, get your stakeholders to understand the standards being applied so they are clear on how things are calculated and thus reported on.
Step 3: Be Consistent
If the status is not timely or in a format that that your audience understands, it is meaningless! Status updates should never be erratic. Get a format that works for you, educate the audience on the report and then stick with it, don’t keep changing it every week. Then also deliver it consistently on a regular heartbeat, for example every Thursday for team reporting and the 2nd Friday of every month for SteerCom reporting. Once stakeholders get the hang of it, they consistently know what to expect and when.
Step 4: Add Context
It’s easy to list a thousand accomplishments in your status report, but if the executive has no context for what they mean, you’re wasting time for both of you. Figure out a clear way to tell them, “Here is where we are. Here is where we should be, specifically when reporting on time and cost. The key is to provide commentary to support your RAG indicators as without this, stakeholders are left with more unanswered questions. Let your stakeholders know why (and to a lesser extent how) you’re moving the project forward and I can guarantee that this information is far more useful to the stakeholders involved.
Step 5: Provide Information not Data
You’re probably asking yourself what this actually means and is there really a difference? And yes, there is, data are the facts or details and for data to become information it needs to be put into context. Projects produce a large volume of data and the role of the project manager and the team is to filter this information into a concise message e.g. we have evaluated 6 solutions and meet with 4 of the vendors vs. the team has selected product ABC to deliver the workflow component required.
Project status reporting enables a proactive forward looking view of a project, programme or initiative and it’s the project manager’s opportunity to control the project narrative. Instead of treating it as the necessary evil that takes up your time to check it off your list, see it as your chance to keep stakeholders informed of the project’s progress and keep them actively involved in the project. Use the time to reflect and refocus on the project, point out challenges and ask for their help when required.
These steps will help you create valuable status reports that executives will review. If you need a little inspiration on how to structure your report, here’s a handy project status one pager template for the project team and one for the SteerCom.