Published here August 2014.


Musings Index

Is it Time to Scrap Project Status Reports?

In a recent eBlast (January 31st, 2014) for Method123 Danielle Smallwood provides project management advice under the title: "Use Status Reports to Manage Expectations". She says:

"Let's face it — typically Status Reports are not as effective as they should be. This is true for team members that submit Status Reports to the project manager, as well as project managers that are submitting Status Reports to their major stakeholders. One of the major reasons is that the people completing the reports look upon them as a chore and not as a way to communicate valuable information. You typically get a Status Report that is very brief and says nothing, or else you get a Status Report that contains all the mundane activities that a person did."

We couldn't agree more, especially the bit about recounting "all the mundane activities that a person did"! Danielle then goes on to say:

"The person creating the Status Reports needs to write it so that the reader can use the information in them in the decision-making process. The information needs to be of value. The writer should ask himself whether the information on the Status Report is there to really communicate something valuable or is it just taking up space."

Again we agree, but why is it that we get these types of report in the first place? For a project, reporting all the wonderful things you and your team surprisingly achieved in the last reporting period is a bit like driving a car looking at the scenery passing by, by looking through the rear view window.

So why are such reports so common? We think that there are at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, the concept of the report stems from classic management of on-going operations that requires management to report to shareholders the financial status of the organization in precise terms based on the activities in the last accounting period. Did we make progress, did we make or lose money, and if so, how much?

Secondly, the word "status" simply implies our current condition, or "where we are at". Thus, the use of the term "Project Status Report" seems to reflect and reinforce the first reason. Even the use of the label "Project Progress Report" is not much better because in this context "progress" is a synonym for "status".

In her article, Danielle goes on to observe:

"Typically the Status Report should focus on the following:

  • Accomplishments against the assigned activities on the schedule
  • Comments on work that should be completed but is behind schedule
  • Problems (issues) encountered, the impact to the project, and what is being done to resolve them
  • Scope change requests
  • Newly identified risks
  • Observations that will be useful to the reader."

While this list is all true, the observation that will be of most use to the reader, especially for reports to senior management by the project manager, is the answer to: "When will you be done?" Even more important is: "When can we start to reap the benefits?"

So maybe it is time that we should scrap Project Progress Reports and quit driving from the rear view mirror and start using some other term and content that is truly forward-looking. Something that clearly indicates reporting on where we are going and how soon we expect to get there. Our choice in this case is to use of the term "Project Expectation Report".

A "Project Expectation Report" would clearly encompass comparisons of forecast "At Completion" against "Planned Completion" of all four primary project variables of scope, quality, time, and cost.

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