Business sponsors know what they are “expected to expect” from a project status report. Likewise, most project managers know what is “supposed to be” in a status report. While much of this standard information is relevant, oftentimes status reports can be less about “information I need to do my job” and more about “information that, by God, is just supposed to be in a project status report!” (optional ‘harrumph’). We don’t produce status reports to satisfy the Gods of Project Management; we produce status reports to communicate information relevant to the business sponsor.
With that in mind, I’m going to propose something radical here. Rather than start with a template approach, I’m going to propose that the project manager sit down with the business sponsor and ask a few simple questions, such as:
- After you read the status report, what do you need to be able to do?
- What information do you need at your fingertips to effectively communicate with your peers and your own management?
- Help me understand how you are going to use this data.
- What do you need to be able to do AFTER you read the status report that you simply cannot do BEFORE?
- What are your major concerns about the project from a business perspective?
You get the idea. Your goal is to understand your specific desired outcomes your business sponsor may need to engineer using the data in the status report. You also want to understand what information she needs in order to do her job and how she will use this information. In a word, you want to understand what she needs in order for her to be successful.
One size fits all isn’t necessarily the best approach and long, busy status report may end up providing lots of data that is of no use to your business sponsor. The result is extra work for you, status reports that aren’t always read (resulting in frustration for the project manager and the team) and ultimately, poor transparency and communications from the project up to the business sponsor. A good status report is lean, clean and content-rich making it a quick read and a powerful, complete and effective tool to communicate key data points your business sponsor needs.
So my radical proposal is simply this – identify and keep the end goal in mind before you determine the best way to communicate status toward achieving that end goal. This way, you can make effective use of both your and your business sponsor’s time in communicating status while significantly improving the chances of your mutual success.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese