“Do you want me to deliver stuff or report on delivering stuff – I don’t have time to do both!”
Only “stuff” is not the word they usually use to describe what they are being asked for (you can use your imagination and supply your own alternative).
Whilst good project managers are usually pretty busy, they are usually busy in a controlled way and a proper balanced status reporting process is something they are both used to and bought in to. After all, if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. However, if the status reporting process is overly bureaucratic or burdensome, that same project manager will push back and resist meeting needless demands. Only those out of control or struggling with control will have issues.
So what represents a sensible balance of reporting verses a bureaucratic nightmare? I think it’s helpful to start by looking at the objectives of the status reporting process. There are two linked objectives, one internal to the project and the other external to the project. The internal requirement is so the project manager can track progress and exercise control over delivery of the project by the various teams within the project. The external objective is to demonstrate and substantiate progress to stakeholders. Clearly the intenal reporting provides the evidence to support the external objective.
Many organisations will have a standard project status reporting template which will cover the key subject areas:
- Status summary
- Key achievements for the period
- Key activities for the next period
- Budget and actuals statement
- Key milestone status – with commentary for any under threat or reporting late/forecasting late
- Key risks and issues
This is great for external stakeholder reporting as it gives a comprehensive, rounded assessment of the current state of the project. But should you get every team in the project to produce a similar report for their component? In a programme, should you get each project to produce the same level of report and then each sub-project, and each team? How about individuals? Whilst such an approach would guarantee uniformity of reporting and supporting ‘evidence’, it can also lead to bureaucracy running rampant.
How rigid a system of status reporting you put in place should be a function of two things:
As a project or programme manager you need to understand what is required to report to your stakeholders. Thereafter you should put in place whatever process or structure you feel is appropriate to give you the evidence you need to meet that external reporting requirement.
So, starting from the bottom up, I would expect individual team members to be providing a status update to their team leader at a task and milestone level. Are they on track? What is the forecast completion date. Are their any risks to delivery and if delivery is being impacted, what are the issues? IF there are risks or issues, have they been recoded in the RAID log at the appropriate level. What support do they need to enable them to deliver. These updates could be written by way of milestone commentary by the team member.
Now the team leaders should summarise the reports or milestone commentaries from their team to report to their sub-project leader (or the project manager for smaller projects). This could talk the form of a written summary and/or milestone commentary against the higher level sub-project milestones. Again risks or issues should be called out and recorded at the appropriate level. This is repeated up the various levels of the project or programme, enabling the project or programme manager to complete a credible stakeholder status report with the ability to drill down to the detail that supports either individual deliveries or the risks and issues potentially impacting delivery.
I believe in giving project managers as much freedom and flexibility to deliver effectively and efficiently. There should be a strong assurance function to ensure that trust is not abused and to support the less experienced. Don’t crack the reporting nut with the sledgehammer of bureaucracy.