The Art of Project Status Reporting

Updated:  June 23, 2013

What is project status reporting?

Project status reporting is a standardized management practice, utilized as part of project oversight, to ensure that projects are completed on time and as planned. As projects are executed, it is vital to have accurate information regarding “where things stand”. Status reporting is the means by which “progress” is quantified and documented, providing the basis for informed decision making as the project unfolds. And that’s the key to effective status reporting – using the information reported to make decisions, solve problems and keep the project moving forward in a positive direction. Within the project management lifecycle, productive status reporting serves seven (7) key goals:

1. To maintain a timely, consistent flow of information relating to project progress and performance.
2. To raise issues, problems and delays in a timely, actionable fashion.
3. To provide sufficient reasoning and rationale for changes and adjustments to plans and strategies.
4. To monitor and track project costs and budget utilization.
5.  To lay a solid, practical foundation for informed decision making and creative problem resolution.
6.  To acknowledge individual and team accomplishments in a timely, organized fashion.
7.  To provide a standardized mechanism for communicating “status” to project stakeholders.

Producing Status Report Deliverables

Download the Quick Tools project templates collection.Status reports are most efficiently produced using standardized procedural and production “templates”, designed to save time and set realistic expectations regarding report timing, frequency, content and formality. Truly actionable status reporting will convey “where you are” in comparison to “where you planned to be” and “where you need to go”. It’s about quantifying work completed in measureable terms (typically percentages) and comparing that data to established baselines, all to determine whether the project is on track (and to take immediate corrective action if not). 

In order to ensure that all key goals are met, status reports must provide the following types of information:

Facts:  Milestones, planned accomplishments, schedule utilization, budget utilization, resource utilization and related variables.

Variances:  Measureable differences between planned and actual status (e.g.  are we on plan, ahead of plan or off plan, and if so, why?).

Analysis:   Reasons for and the impact of any identified, measureable variances (e.g. why is the project ahead of schedule or behind schedule?).

Next Steps:  Actions to be taken to respond to variances and resolve problems, as well as expected accomplishments for the next reporting period.  [Download free Status Report Template].

Use Status Reporting to Control the Project Narrative

Projects do not occur in a vacuum.  There is always an underlying “narrative” that determines how a given project will be perceived – from both a progress and “probability of success” point of view.  As a project manager, you can either take control of the narrative, or you can let the narrative control you.  It’s easy to guess which is preferable.

In order to take control of the project narrative (and to hold on to it as the project proceeds), status reporting must go beyond steps and templates to communicate actionable status information that is both timely and in context.   What makes status information “in context”?  Usability.   To serve its intended purpose, project status reporting must keep stakeholders informed in a meaningful way – to make relevant decisions, take appropriate action and fulfill project roles and responsibilities.   To “report” is to communicate, and project communication without purpose lacks productivity and value.

The key to timely, “in context” status reporting is to match reporting “means and methods” (i.e. status reporting procedures and templates) to stakeholder needs and interests.  This is achieved through a four (4) point analysis:

1.  Who are your “status report” stakeholders (to receive status reports)?
2.  What are their respective project roles and responsibilities?
3.  How will they use status information to fill these roles and responsibilities?
4.  Are they considered “active” or “passive” participants for status reporting purposes?

This is where the art of status reporting truly kicks in - matching status reporting practices to stakeholder needs and interests (which can and do vary).  In all likelihood, multi-layered procedures and template formats will be required to address varied needs with regard reporting frequency, level of detail, and related format possibilities (i.e. software produced reports, simple forms, formal documents, presentations, etc.). 

Status Reporting Tips

*Be on time - if status is not timely, it is meaningless.
*Be accurate - nothing is more damaging to credibility than inaccurate (or partial) information.
*Don't hold back - if the news is bad, be open and upfront about it.
*Don't be shy about good news - tout accomplishments (status reporting is also marketing).
*Always be prepared to explain variances and trends (whether you are ahead or behind).
*Anticipate interests - look at status from the "other side" and try to meet information needs.
*Be aware of the politics - and respect the information hierarchy.
*When in doubt about reporting, ask - don't let your manager be caught by surprise.
*Know your audience - make sure your status reports are always relevant, concise and to the point.

Also Remember: Status reporting has its downsides.  If not properly sized, it can increase administrative overhead, it can lead to "information overload", and it might be perceived as "micro-managing". The art to productive status reporting is to minimize these downsides so that all true benefits can be realized.  In actual practice, these downsides will only be a factor when appropriately sized "status reporting" standards aren't clearly established and followed.

WHERE THERE'S A NEED AND A STEP THERE'S A TOOLKIT!
The Project Committee Toolkit is a practical, comprehensive resource for managing all types of project committees - steering, planning, finance, audit, task force and more.  You get steps to standardize and tools to act - for committee organization, operation and evaluation.  With this one package, you can fill all the essential committee management needs, including how to select members, prepare charters, run meetings, act by motions, track follow-up actions, and more.  Want to learn more?  Take the tour and download "Chapter One - The Committee Concept".

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