The Art of Project Status Reporting
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.
Status reporting is your “go-to” method to obtain and keep control of project narrative, particularly within fast tracked projects. When it comes to fast track management, status reports are considered a “must-have” process deliverable, produced and utilized as part of the project oversight activities. (Download our free Status Report Template here).
FAST TRACK TIP: What makes a deliverable “must have”? A must-have deliverable fills an indispensible management purpose (i.e. the risk of not having the deliverable outweighs the overhead burden to produce). Status report production is an must-do oversight obligation, used to ensure that project “status” is properly monitored, analyzed, communicated, and utilized. Fast track status reporting seeks to control the project narrative in the most efficient and productive manner possible, to save time and minimize administrative overhead.
Status Report Content and Workflow
Status reports are most efficiently produced using standardized “procedural 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).
When a project is fast tracked, the resulting status reporting workflow is streamlined to focus on information sharing and follow-up action:
Taking Control of the Project Narrative
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
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? (learn more about how to identify stakeholder interests and influence.).
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.).
As you work through these questions and evaluate your status reporting needs, here are a few practical tips to follow:
*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.
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