Project reporting: be brief, be brilliant and be gone.


Less is More

I was once given this advice when preparing executive business reviews at a large corporation, “be brief, be brilliant and be gone.” I took me several years and my first management role, before I truly understood the wisdom of that advice. In enterprises, reporting flows uphill from the trenches all the way to the exec corridors. For this flow to happened, at each point along the way, reports need to be distilled, consumed and the regurgitated up to the next level.

When it comes to reporting your project to management and execs, many project managers fail to understand this perspective as they prepare project status reviews. The biggest mistake we make is to create reports with too much detail. Since our day-today work is detail-oriented we tend to think that our managers want to see this same level of detail too, and there lies the most common mistake in project reporting.

Our managers are under pressure to keep their executives informed about all the projects under their watch. To do this they depend on timely project status reports from around the organization, and they need to quickly consume them so they can keep their bosses informed and current. Your manager may only have allotted between 1 – 2 minutes to review your report and may become frustrated if it does not give them a sense for the overall health and progress of the project in that short amount of time.

Key Data Only

Your status report need to be succinct and concise so it can be consumed without much effort. It should be prepared in three levels. The first and most important level of reporting should immediately provide your manager a sense for the healthiness of the project. They should be able to assess this quickly based on a few key data points. This data should include:

  • Your rating of the project’s status:
              - Red: Project forecasted to be delayed.
              - Yellow: Project has potential problems which may cause delay.
              - Green: Project on schedule.

  • Actual % complete of the project at the time of your report vs. the planned % complete
  • How many days, weeks or months the project is ahead or behind the plan
  • List of top 3 critical issues the project faces

The second level of reporting should provide your managers more progress data on the plan, if they want to drill-down a little further. The best way to do this is to provide a high-level project schedule where you can break-out the progress of the key tasks. This will include:

  • % complete for each of the key tasks
  • Actual start date and finish date vs. the planned start date and finish date for each task
  • Flagging the critical milestones

The final level of reporting should provide your manager additional data on the key issues you have reported. They should be listed in order of priority with the most severe issues listed first. This part of your report should still be presented as data points or very short sentences, and not paragraphs, so it is simple for your manager to consume quickly. It should include:

  • Owner of each issue
  • Ageing report showing how long it has been open
  • Estimated time of resolution
  • Action report

Best Practices

There are several best practices with regard to status reporting. The first is to minimize your content by reducing it down to data points wherever possible. Doing this can be challenging particularly as you may assume management wants to see a narrative covering some of the details and nuances of the project. Avoiding long sentences or paragraphs in your report will help scale it down to the raw data, which will make it easier for management to consume. Train yourself to think about presenting just the most important data points, like a scoreboard, rather than writing a story.

Using charts, tables and visuals is a good way of distilling status reports down into something that is easily consumed by management. Presenting reports in a visual way makes it easier for managers to digest your project information quickly. It also provides them something they can share with their bosses or roll-up into their business reviews. Creating a single PowerPoint slide which can be shared or presented or included in other slide presentations is a good technique for communicating with managers in the enterprise.

Being consistent and rhythmic in your reporting is critical. Providing frequent status reports will instill management’s confidence in you and in your ability to control the project. This confidence will serve you well if/when you have to downgrade a project’s healthiness rating or raise key blocking issues. Proactively communicating status reports creates channels for dialogue and gives you the opportunity to showcase your work. Most importantly you are communicating with predictability and discipline so management is not chasing you for progress report.

Benefits

If you mix brevity, with key status data and communicate it in a consistent, predictable manner, your management will be pleased with your reporting. This does not mean they won’t engage or seek further details, but it does mean there will be no confusion around the status of your project. Clarity like this calms management because it demonstrates that you are in control, which may mean less intervention and fewer panicked managers.


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Negotiate for Realistic Project Goals



Clients, executives and stakeholders may pressure you you to commit to an unrealistic project schedule or demanding project goals that you know are not achievable. This could be because they are looking to maximize the productivity of the project, or more likely because they are also responsible for a deadline and your project is a part of that. In these situations, there will be pressure to commit to a schedule or target that you know is highly improbable or even impossible to deliver. Under these circumstances, it is critical to negotiate for realistic goals rather than making a commitment you cannot keep. Here are some ideas to help you be prepared for those negotiations

Battling for realistic goals requires that you know what is achievable. If your team has prepared a schedule, study it carefully, analyze the assumptions and double check all the estimates. Supplement your analysis with any historical data from similar projects that have been completed in the past. Having confidence in your estimates will empower you to stand firm when clients, executives or stakeholders push for a commitment that is not possible. Being able to reference historical data that supports your position will also help you be credible and more persuasive as you negotiate.

Don’t say no, but rather reply with choices for achieving the outcome they want. This is an effective negotiation technique because it places the responsibility back to them which will drive a more reasonable conversation. To do this, mentally prepare a few trade-off scenarios in advance of potential negotiations with stakeholders. For example, if stakeholders pressure you to deliver your 1-year project in six months, suggest that is may be possible to achieve that but only if you get more people and more budget to work on the project. Then actually ask them if you can get X more people and Y amount in additional budget at a specific date?

You may also want to suggest that the project’s quality or the project’s scope will need to be reconsidered in order to meet their new demand. For example, if being pushed to complete an effort with less budget or less staff, probe to see if they are prepared to accept a lower-quality project or whether they would be satisfied with fewer features. For example, ask what functionality they are willing to sacrifice in order to cut the budget or ask whether they would be willing to accept a higher rate of failure than it was originally scoped in order to cut the headcount. Presenting them with choices like these and driving them to make trade-off decisions will force a more reasonable discussion.

If you anticipate being pressured to deliver something that is not realistic, be prepared to negotiate with good intent, but do not make a commitment you know you will not be able to achieve. Executives or stakeholders may be pushing you to change some of the dimensions of the project but, if you are properly prepared, you can negotiate with them to find reasonable and mutual ground. To do this, it is important that your estimates are solid and that you can provide them choices for achieving their demands but also the trade-offs those choices will require.


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Software Development Methodologies Timeline

The Software Development Methodologies Timeline illustrates the evolution of software development from the 1960s. It marks the years when the most significant methods emerged into the field.

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Kick-off Project Planning with a High-Level Schedule

Having a high-level project schedule prior to planning a project is a useful technique for kicking-off project planning. Starting all planning discussions with a model of the project schedule will get the team focused on the right things and allow them to iterate it, which will ultimately produce an accurate and comprehensive final schedule.



Your high-level schedule should be clear and easily understood by all parties and stakeholders involved in the project. Creating one should be done prior to other activities because it will serve as the starting point for the structured, definitive project planning that will follow. Remember, the dates and tasks in your high level plan needn’t be absolutely firm because they will change through the planning process.

In the following post, we will provide 5 steps for creating a high-level project schedule that you can use to kick off project planning:

1.List all of your tasks

Start by creating a list of tasks required in order to accomplish each deliverable of the project. This may seem intuitive, but it is often overlooked in favor of starting with a project scheduling application from the beginning. When creating a list of tasks you must also consider the amount of time it may take to complete each task and who will deliver the task. Knowing these variables will help you hone your estimate for each deliverable in the project, and ultimately help you model the project’s delivery date.

2.List your milestones

Milestones are often overlooked when creating project schedules and they shouldn’t be. Including high-level milestones on the initial schedule provides a measuring stick to evaluate the progress of the project. Given that milestones will be used by management and stakeholders to assess the project’s progress they should be included on your project’s high-level schedule. Start by identify the points of time or events that you recognize as important and add them. They can and probably will change later on, but making them visible during the earliest communications and conversations will add the perspective that the planning team needs.

3.Sequence your list

Sequencing is all about arranging the order your tasks will be delivered in. Some task can be done independently or simultaneously while other tasks will need to have a preceding task completed before they can begin. Look over your list of tasks and put them in the order that they need to be completed. Take note of which tasks are critical and which tasks are dependent on others. Knowing this will be useful in the more formal project planning stage when it comes time to identify the project’s critical path.

4.Group tasks together

Look over your list and find logical breakpoints. Group all the tasks between each of these breakpoints so your plan is a series of phases. For example, there may be a series of tasks related to analysis and feasibility which may fit into a Preparation or Proof of Concept phase, and then there may be a series of tasks relating to delivering the work, which may be a Deliver or Build phase. Finally, there may be tasks related to testing and iterating which could be a Test phase. Showing activities as phases will make it easier for audiences to think comprehensively through the project, rather than just seeing a single extended block of work.

5.Check deadlines

The schedule you have modeled will be a good way to check if the expected delivery date is realistic. If your high-level schedule is showing a delivery date that is significantly different from what management or stakeholders expect, begin making adjustments right away, prior to developing the comprehensive project plan. This may include presenting your high-level schedule to stakeholders in an effort to discuss a new date for the project’s delivery date or it may include reducing the deliverables of the project.

Starting the project planning process with a high-level schedule will give your team the perspective they need as you begin developing the more comprehensive final plan. Doing the work up-front to model a project schedule will ultimately lead to a more accurate and realistic project plan.


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Donald Trump Timeline



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To quickly create similar PowerPoint timelines for personal, academic or business communications we recommend using the free Office Timeline add-in. It can also be used to edit or update the Donald Trump timeline PowerPoint slide.



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