Wednesday, 29 August 2012 09:54

Status Reporting, Clarity and Accountability

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FEATUREAug29thThis article explores the formal reporting that is a foundation for managing by accountability, particularly in large complex projects and programs. 

There is a naming issue.  Some people use the terms progress, performance and status reporting interchangeably.  Technically, a status report describes a point-in-time.  A progress report looks at trends and estimates to completion.  Performance reporting combines the two and brings attention to performance. The names are important academically but in the end they don’t matter.

More important, is the issue of taking the time and effort to prepare, publish and make use of performance reports.  Where candid and meaningful reporting is relatively new or has been ineffectual, there may be significant resistance.  Senior management must value performance reporting enough to motivate performers and managers to track and document their performance and regularly produce reports.

Looking Forward

The key point is to combine status, progress analysis and projections for use in tracking progress and making sure that stakeholders have clarity about how to manage the project going forward. 

The principle focus in any project is on answering questions about what to do next and why.  Project managers want to be able to plan next steps while considering prior expectations, the current state, resources and scope.  Project reports become an audit trail that can be used for learning from past experience.  Project reporting requires that performers step back from the action to reflect.

Managers also want performance reports to give information and insight into how performance can be improved and where improvement is needed most.  Effective reports motivate performance by keeping the focus on what needs to be done and by creating transparency and accountability.

The Recipients

Who are the recipients and, hopefully, readers of the reports?  This important question must be answered to fulfill the readers’ needs and preferences.

In any substantial project there are multiple levels of interested parties.  Reports to managers, executives and other stakeholders must show the big picture - the entire initiative, program or project - and its current state in a page or two, including meaningful graphs and tables.  Some stakeholders want only a one liner; a short paragraph or just a name and a traffic light. 

Performers create detailed status reports or provide information at a task level to enable higher level reporting.  Project performers, who know very well what is going on directly around them, get to see the big picture and where they fit in it. Performers can look at documented details to better understand the impact of what they do, how they are performing and how they can improve. 

Levels of Detail

Ideally, higher level reports with broader perspectives are structured and coordinated with lower level reports so that readers can easily get a more detailed picture of a specific part of the project, if they choose to. 

Each stakeholder should have a clear understanding of his/her role and how it relates to the responsibility to provide performance data and create and use performance reports and at what level of detail.

The content of a status report should be presented in levels of detail, mapped to the projects work breakdown structure, deliverables or activity list.  The report addresses scope, time and cost.  These three represent the traditional Performance Measurement Baseline.  Scope, time and cost are objective and quantifiable.  Their current state can be compared with a baseline.  The project plan is the baseline.  Regardless of the level of detail, report content must reflect the plan. 

In general, a status report should contain the following (with activities or tasks from the project plan at an appropriate level of detail for the report audience):

  • Accomplishments - activities completed in the report period
  • Activities planned to be completed but not accomplished with reasons and expected completion dates
  • Exceptions (highlight critical issues, problems and items requiring attention by readers)
  • Relevant Metrics
    • Schedule tracking (planned schedule vs. current state with projected completion date)
    • Budget and cost tracking (actuals vs. plan with projected cost at completion)
    • Number of deliverables (e.g., number of installations, number of completed modules
  • Status of issues, action items and risks (numbers of items by category with reference to the list)
  • Health status – Overall assessment of the health of the initiative or individual project being reported on
  • Activities planned to be completed in the next period.

Recap

Performance reporting enables a proactive forward looking view of a project, program or initiative.

The intent of is to inform stakeholders of the project’s progress and keep them actively involved in the project. The information provided will contain enough detail to allow stakeholders, given their role and level of management, to make informed decisions and maintain oversight of the project.

Higher level status reports should be in the form of a dashboard summarizing key metrics and highlighting critical issues.  Access to details should be available.

The project plan is the baseline or reference point for all status reporting.  Status information should be directly related to the project plan. 

If performance reports are valued by management at all levels, particularly at the executive level, there will be sufficient motivation to the work required to produce them.

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George Pitagorsky

PMTopContributorGeorge Pitagorsky, PMP, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management and PM BasicsTM. He teaches meditation and is on the Board of Directors of the NY Insight Meditation Center.

 

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