by Peter Taylor
If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.— Marcus Tullius Cicero
Everyone needs clarity
Wise words indeed, and something that project managers would all naturally aspire to, but there is the reality of time pressure, and an ever-increasing demand on reporting, that means some degree of standardization in such reporting is a necessity.
From the alternative perspective of those who are in receipt of such project reports, there is an even higher need for a common look and feel to such reports to make them consumable.
As I noted in my book, The Lazy Project Manager, ‘Good communication is comprised of more than how the message is delivered. The information itself, the method used, and the timing with which it is delivered all contributes to effective communication.’
Communication on a project is a two-way process. You are communicating out and you are receiving communication back at you and the usual complexities of filters and noise typically confuse the process of giving and receiving clear, accurate and understandable information.
Communication is also sequential, often communicated through chains of people, which will add that ‘Chinese whispers’ effect – either intentional or accidental. The report you put together as a project manager may not be directly delivered by yourself but through third parties, and then how ‘successful’ will the delivery of the message be?
Everyone is busy
Let’s now add into that mix the other, obvious, truth that everyone is super busy. The project manager (putting the report together), the project team (providing the data), the sponsor (trying to understand progress, challenges, actions), and so on.
But the answer is not cramming every piece of data in to one common output. I know I argue for the ‘Lazy’ approach, but it has to be also ‘productive’, and this approach is simply not.
Putting together fantastically accurate and detailed reports and sending them to anyone and everyone, is most definitely not communicating. They won’t be read, no one has the time or interest to do this, and they won’t be valued and worse, when they do contain project critical information, they will be ignored. You are wasting your time.
A well-known project management law, Cohn’s law, states the risk of going the other way, in producing the perfectly tuned report for each and every single stakeholder. ‘The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything. Stability is achieved when you spend all your time doing nothing but reporting on the nothing you are doing’.
The answer is standardized reports
Standardization promotes productivity by eliminating inefficiency and providing a common framework of data provision for recipients to consume and understand swiftly and accurately.
Let’s explore, what I believe, are the top five reasons for following this suggestion:
1. Ease of understanding
Project executives oversee many projects and therefore, when presented with updates from multiple projects, there is the need to ‘see’ data in a consistent way to both understand the project status, and make good decisions.
2. Quality is assured
The data presented, as well as being delivered with clarity, must also be also be accurate (and this mean up to date).
3. Clarity and accuracy enables trust and, in turn, productivity
It is simple, accurate presentation with clear information fosters trust which in turn delivers real productivity in the stakeholder partnerships.
4. Appropriate action outcome
As a result of rapid understanding and insight, executives can (reasonably) be expected to take the relevant action to aid the project manager, rather than spending all the review time on trying to understand the data presented.
5. Consistency is The Key
The creativity in project reporting can come from the knowledge of the project manager, but the consistent representation of project information allows recipients to understand, engage and respond.
Standardized reports are critical
I believe that the #1 way to improve the success probability of your project is to nail stakeholder buy-in. And the #1 way to nail stakeholder buy-in is to give them uncomplicated visual project updates so they actually understand your project.
And this is exactly what Office Timeline delivers. As a user of this neat PowerPoint add-in, along with all of the project managers under my most recent PMO, I can vouch for its ease of use and its power of presentation. If you would like to try it out for yourself, you have the option to download and install a free 14-day trial.
Office Timeline is attempting to cut in half the amount of time teams spend on reporting, while doubling the attention VPs and executives give to their projects. Built for PMP® holders, the Office Timeline Pro PowerPoint add-in turns complex project data into simple slides that clients, VPs, and steering committees will easily understand.
About Peter Taylor
Speaker, Consultant, Trainer and Coach, Peter Taylor is the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’. He has built and led some of the largest PMOs in the world with organisations such as Siemens, IBM, and Kronos. In 2020 he was awarded the PMO Global Alliance ‘PMO Influencer of the Year Award’.