Project Status Reporting – A Radical (?) Approach

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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


Transparency – Applying the ‘Price Tag Approach’

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A valuable guiding principle in business (particularly in technology) is to never “protect” your business partners from the consequences of their decisions.

I’m a big believer in what I’ll call the “price tag” approach and it goes something like this.  Suppose you’re a sales associate at the local Jaguar dealership.  If your customer is a first-time Jaguar buyer, it’s probably a good idea to explain that purchasing a Jaguar loaded up with options is also a purchase of more expensive service calls, oil changes, repairs and of course an increased risk that some kid will snap the cat off your hood.  This way, 3,000 miles later, you don’t have an angry customer complaining about the $100 oil change he just paid for.  All you’re doing is setting expectations by helping your customer understand the consequences of his decision – something he may not know and may not ask.

Too often we assume that upper management already knows and understands all the implications of their decisions and requests.  After all, they ARE management.  However, this is almost never the case.  Management relies on the thought leadership of their teams to ensure that they have every opportunity to never make a bad business decision.  Therefore, consider applying the principles below in establishing your own strong brand of transparency within your firm:

  • Understand The Request: Fully understanding the request itself isn’t enough.  More important is understanding the desired business outcome of the request.  Your CIO wants X, but for what purpose?  WHY does she want X?  Understand the business problem that needs to be solved and not just the specifics of the tactical request.
  • Understand and Surface ALL Costs: This includes not simply the financial costs but also the impacts to other initiatives and stakeholders.  While the request may come from your CIO, there may be implications that span a broader area than the CIO’s scope of responsibility.  Think in terms of impact to the business, holistically and not simply within your silo.
  • Identify Risks: Make sure you identify and clearly communicate any risks associated with fulfilling the request, providing mitigation or avoidance options where available.
  • Document & Deliver Options: With the desired business outcome in mind, communicate what options are available, listing pros and cons for each and documenting them in a brief but clear email with all appropriate stakeholders cc’d.  Include risks and mitigation/avoidance strategies.
  • Make A Recommendation: Always deliver such information with a recommendation by you and your team.  Dumping a problem on the bosses desk is bad.  Delivering a problem with options is better.  Informing your boss of the options and making a recommendation is optimal.  What do you recommend your boss do and why?  Help make her successful.
  • Follow Up: Respectfully and reasonably follow up to ensure a decision is made, that the “full price tag” is understood and accepted, DOCUMENT THE FINAL DECISION and then execute.

Transparency is a great buzz word that we all like to use – me included.  However, transparency is a two-way street.  Applying the ‘price tag’ approach to transparency will help ensure that you and your teams provide your boss and your business partners the valuable opportunity to never make a bad decision.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese