The status report is crucial to the successful governance of any project. Done right, the status report is written with the purpose of engaging the audience. It not only describes progress, it supports informed decision making and urges action. More importantly, this is an opportunity to control the narrative around the project, ensuring the status report is the “go-to”/central source for key project information.
At a basic level, it seems easy to jot down the facts, variances, analysis and next steps. Then again, in the midst of busy meticulous day to day project work, it can be difficult to pause, take a broader view, and articulate a meaningful status. Sometimes it helps to remember why the status report is important. Read on for a few of my chosen reasons.
Often, it is the only record summarizing the ongoing work of the team
When a project begins, stakeholders and team members are introduced, roles and responsibilities are assigned, the purpose, objectives and approach to work are agreed upon. Work begins, setbacks are overcome and challenges are creatively worked through as progress is made. As the weeks draw on, it becomes more difficult to recount the precise detail of the effort to achieve the hard-won results delivered at each milestone. So why not record the challenges encountered and celebrate the wins of the team throughout the project? As a bonus, by project closure there will exist a neat historical record of the life of the project with invaluable information to contribute to “Lessons Learned” and trend analysis.
Serves to keep stakeholders focused on the “end game”
Project distractions abound. It is the job of the project manager to sift through the “noise” and identify the facts that do - or might - impact project objectives, and clearly communicate these to the team and stakeholders. The status report brings attention to tangible progress made, as well as risks and issues that could derail progress. Remembering the agreed purpose of the project is central to giving due consideration to the probability and impact of perceived risks, along with assessing the severity of issues.
Proactive and pragmatic communication with stakeholders
Stakeholder engagement is imperative to project success. The status report is just one tool that can be used consistently to communicate with stakeholders. However, the information must be relevant, complete and current. If not, the report is meaningless. To that end, align the purpose of the status report with the audience and their respective roles and responsibilities to the project. There should be no ambiguity about progress, issues, risks, their impact, and respective mitigation strategies in place. Further, each respective action required must have accountability assigned. It should be clear which actions and/or decisions are required, why, by whom and by when. Further, it may be tempting to omit seemingly minor concerns from the status report. Yet, how many times have you worked on a project when a seemingly small concern, identified quite early on, unexpectedly manifests itself at the most inconvenient time? This usually results in “fire-drills”, overtime for the team and far too many uncomfortable, unpleasant discussions with stakeholders. A well-considered status report will go a long way to avoid such scenarios.
The above and many other reasons for status reporting have been extensively written about, including contributing to internal project portfolio and risk management.
To communicate the crucial and most relevant facts about a project, without diluting the message with superfluous information or worse, omitting or underplaying real concerns or overstating success, is a fine art. However, the potential rewards of doing so consistently throughout a project far outweigh the inconvenience of preparation. Ensuring that the project team and stakeholders remain focused on the purpose, the key message and immediate priorities, is paramount to spurring action, when required, to help overcome challenges and achieve overall project success. I trust the reasons described inspire us to persevere towards reaching a higher standard in the quality of project reporting.
Claudia Rassalski, CA, PMP, PMO-CP