Project status reporting – what’s worth focusing on?

One of the necessary evils for a project manager is to provide stakeholders with regular status updates.  There are likely as many variants on project status reports as there are deadly sins of project management, but are there some good practices that you can follow if your organization has not instituted standards for project status reporting (which I think is an issue but that’s a discussion for a future article!) ?

Here are some ideas to start with:

1. Think like your audience – this requires that you’ve done some reasonable quality stakeholder analysis to understand the PM maturity, “hot buttons” and level-of-detail needs for your stakeholders, but assuming you can draw on this data, use it!  If you are going with a single status report for all stakeholders, structure it to appeal to a broad audience – perhaps start off with an executive summary on the first page or section and then dive into the gory details later on.

2. Think in terms of yesterday, today and tomorrow – the status report should remind the audience where you’ve been, what has transpired in the current reporting period, and your forecast for the future.  For key performance indicators such as schedule, cost, quality or customer satisfaction variance, consider having three data points – performance in the last period, performance in this period, forecast for the next period.

3. Provide both objective & subjective information – while you can easily drown your audience in a variety of quantitative metrics (e.g. CPI, SV, CV, # of unresolved critical issues, burn rates), there is equal value in a good subjective description of the current state of the project.

4. Be consistent with subjective stoplights – remember that one person’s troubled project is another person’s healthy project.  Work with your stakeholder to define a consistent, objective approach for setting stoplights and provide a legend at the bottom of each status report so stakeholders don’t forget.

5. Focus on the rule of 10 and don’t overwhelm the audience with minutiae – report on the top 10 issues, risks, milestones and so on.

6. Use a business context for all content – present issues, risks and status updates in the context of customer deliverables or business value/impact.

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