But one of the portfolio managers was busy. He couldn’t spare the time. So he sent Fred – the head of the PMO.
Now Fred is a nice bloke and a good administrator and organiser.
But he’s not a programme manager.
And he didn’t know the detail of the programmes in the portfolio.
So he couldn’t answer the questions raised by the committee.
He couldn’t answer why the individual reports didn’t articulate the reasons why they were delayed or what the real impact of the delays was.
“The milestone is going to be late” is not the impact, it’s a consequence.
We are going to miss £100k in benefits is an impact
The portfolio manager had abdicated his responsibility.
He failed to take ownership and accountability.
Instead he fed an ill prepared and equipped PMO lead to the “committee wolves”.
That was bad for everyone.
The PMO lead was left feeling inadequate, despite assurances it wasn’t his fault.
The portfolio manager lost credibility for:
- Not bothering to turn up
- Not sending a credible deputy
- Feeding his PMO to the wolves
- Not having a set of reports that told the story of progress and status
The committee was left with unanswered questions, top of which was “is the portfolio manager up to the job?”
Reporting – the necessary evil
The days when a project was approved and the project manager and team were left in a backroom somewhere until, viola, the project is delivered are long gone.
The volume and scale of change in today’s organisations is both too great, and too critical to the success of the organisation to allow that.
Successful delivery required effective communication throughout the life of the project and the progress report is the staple tool for that.
The progress report demonstrates adherence to governance.
It demonstrates progress towards the goals.
It provides the opportunity to highlight risks and issues and seek the assistance of the organisation to resolve them.
Properly used, governance and reporting protect the project manager and the organisation.
Getting project reporting right
It’s not hard to get project reporting right in the sense that it is not difficult.
It does take some time and effort though.
Effort that many project managers misguidedly think is wasted.
Let me assure you, it isn’t wasted.
Good progress reporting saves time:
- It answers questions before they get asked
- It avoids having to go back and answer questions you missed
- It avoids having to repeat unwritten answers
- It helps you identify issues before someone else points them out
- It forces you to face facts and deal with them – NOW
- It builds confidence in the team’s ability to deliver
- It builds credibility
- It achieves buy-in
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
Good progress reporting starts at the bottom of the chain and before the first progress report is even contemplated. It starts with clearly defining what you are reporting progress against. So you need a good project initiation document and business case supported by a sound plan.
Let’s assume they are in place.
Start at the lowest level of the project.
Each team lead needs to get progress updates form their team members. Are tasks on track? Are there issues or risks they need help with? What successes have there been?
Take care of the detail and the summarisation becomes easy.
Team leads might roll up into sub-projects, then to projects, then to programmes.
At each level you are summarising the level below so that no particular level get’s overwhelmed by details, yet there is traceability should anyone need to drill down into the detail.
Reporting to a project committee or board will probably have a level of technical detail. That’s ok because that body will be closer to the project. When projects get combined into a programme report, that technical detail needs to be turned into business speak. Programmes are all about delivering business outcomes so reporting needs to reflect that.
It’s about considering your audience and writing it for them and answering the questions that might have.
So at each level the person doing the reporting explains the progress to the recipient.
- Team member to team lead.
- Team lead to project manager
- Project manager to programme manager
- Programme manager to programme board/portfolio manager.
Notice I didn’t mention the PMO in there once. It’s not their responsibility. Ever.
PMO can and often do perform some of the reviewing on behalf of the recipients. They check last month or last week’s promises have been met. They check if there are any common or systemic risks or issues. They challenge excessive jargon or ‘tech speak’. They challenge that the reporting is appropriate for the recipient. They provide the QA.
But it is the recipient’s responsibility to ensure the report is accurate and appropriate. The recipient is accountable for accepting or challenging what the receive.
So my portfolio manager in the example should have had the confidence that all his progress reports were at the right level and imparted all the answers needed. Fred should only have had to take note of actions or questions arising from cross-overs to, or interactions with other programmes.
Now good PMOs will help lesson the burden on all those involved in reporting. They will provide guidance and support and often write the summary reports for the project or programme manager to review. But it is the latter who has responsibility and accountability. That cannot be delegated and should never be abdicated.