OUTSIDE THE BOX Forum: Status Reports Must Be Intuitive
You don’t come as an attachment to a Project Status Report and you may have little or no control over…
who interprets them so at the risk of being misunderstood your objective should be to only distribute reports that are intuitive – that are self-explanatory. This is especially important when reporting outside the project team to the sponsor, executive management and the organization in general. Those folks have their own language and understanding of the business which is probably different from yours. Reports to the team need not be intuitive because they are a controlled audience and can be taught how to interpret them. Legends are OK as they support the intuitive nature of the report.
Examples of a Report That Is Not Intuitive
Figure 10.1 is a Milestone Slip Chart. What is it telling you? Without someone to interpret this chart, I don’t know how anyone could explain it. I could guess that the triangles show schedule delays in achieving planned milestones but what does the color coding depict? A legend would have been very helpful. If you are color blind, as I am, this Milestone Slip Chart is useless.
Figure 10.1: Milestone Slip Chart
Examples of Reports That Are Intuitive
Figure 10.2 is an acceptable statement of the general health of a project as measured by plan achievement. The general health of the project can be deduced and some analysis done just based on the display. The legend is helpful although labeling each trend line is also acceptable. This is an historical report much like a burn down chart. The trend line shows that the project got behind schedule in the middle weeks of the project but has since showed signs of recovery.
Figure 10.2: Milestone Completion Chart (MCC).
Figure 10.3 is a Milestone Trend Chart (MTC). It tracks the difference between the planned date for achieving the milestone and its forecasted date. This milestone is planned to occur in the 9th month of the project and is currently running 6 weeks late. The four data points trending in the same direction signals an out of control situation that should be further investigated. This is clearly an intuitive trend chart but it is much more than that. It is an early warning system too. The milestone is forecasted to be 6 weeks late and it is 10 weeks away from its scheduled completion date. Is it too late to complete the project by its planned completion date? Probably. The continued growth in slippage also suggests a systemic cause rather than a single incident that caused the slippage.
Figure 10.3 Milestone Trend Chart
It is obvious that this milestone event is behind schedule and getting further behind at each report month. Quality control measures suggest that a run in the same direction for four successive report dates signals a situation that needs investigation. I first introduced these in the 1980s and have continued to use and develop them further in my consulting practice.
Earned Value Analysis (EVA) is a common tool for assessing project status against planned status. Figure 10.4 is a primitive version of an EVA and is clearly intuitive.
Figure 10.4 Earned Value Analysis
This is a very primitive EVA. More sophisticated versions can track both deliverables variances and schedule variances.
Remember to keep your audience in mind as you choose how to convey project status. The less control you have over who reads your reports the more important it is that these reports be intuitive. If the reports are formatted so that only a select few can understand them, then your messages will be ignored by those who are not among the select few.