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How To Deliver a Status Report

Dick Billows, PMP

Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

The way you deliver your status report determines your credibility with the sponsor and stakeholders. It impacts their level of comfort with the project itself and your ability to manage it. You need to clearly and succinctly answer the questions the sponsor and stakeholders have about the project.

Status Report: Common Questions

You should answer their questions in the first five minutes of your project status presentation or in the first paragraph of your written status report. The four questions are:

  • Will the project produce the deliverables promised in the scope statement?
  • Will it finish on time?
  • Will it cost more or less, than what was budgeted?
  • Do the team members and vendors working on the project know what you expect of them? How to Write a Weekly Status Report

Status Report: Answer Questions

You should immediately answer the four questions above and discuss the problems as well as what you can do about them. How do you answer those four questions? With language that a 10-year-old child could understand.  The answers should not assume any knowledge about the project or what people said at the last status meeting. Why does it have to be that simple and straightforward? Because project managers are often their own worst enemy when they deliver status reports. They incorrectly assume everyone in the audience is as familiar with the project as they are. Status Report Template

Status Report: State Problems and Solutions

If you delay in answering these questions at the beginning of the report, people will think you are hiding something. If there are problems and variances to the plan, you should disclose them at the beginning of your status report. You need to tell people what you will do about the problems and variances and what help you need to take corrective action. You must also quantify the trade-offs between the project scope, budget and duration to solve the problems. If you can’t fix the problems, you must tell them. The sponsor and stakeholders must have confidence that you will reveal the problems as soon as you know about them. What they hate the most are problems that surprise them late in the project. Most executives will think you hid the problems for weeks or months and revealed them only when you could no longer hide them.

Status Report: Be Brief

Project managers tend to provide too much data and they assume everyone understands it. They also tend to “deep dive” into the technology of the project itself, using acronyms and discussing technical issues until the audience is bored to death. Some project managers assume this detail is the way to build their credibility and the stakeholders’ confidence in them. The opposite is true. The stakeholders think the PM is a technical geek who has a very weak grasp on what’s happening in the real world.

When a project status report confuses people, they assume the worst. They assume the project is out of control, that no one is monitoring the work and that the team members are equally confused and lost. They also assume that they are hearing only the tip of the iceberg and that many other problems are being hidden. As a result, they have little confidence in the project manager’s analysis of problems and recommendations for corrective action.  Earned Value

Status Report: Use Visuals

You can avoid this situation by using simple visual communications with the sponsor and stakeholders. Don’t assume they are as interested in the technical details of project management and the project work as they are. None of these assumptions are ever true but project managers often make them. Effectively communicating with stakeholders and sponsors requires you to use easily understood visuals that communicate the project status. The worst thing to give your audience is the classic project variance report which has 12 or 15 columns and lists every task in the project. This chart compares the planned start date with the actual start date, the planned finish date with the forecasted finish date and so on. No one can get an accurate picture of what’s going on in the project from that kind of data. Project Variances

You need to have visual charts and graphs that people can look at and understand in a moment. The Tracking Gantt chart available in many commercial software packages is ideal forStatus report this purpose. It has a bar chart for every task in the project. It shows when the task should start and when it should finish, usually in gray. Each task also has a second bar, usually in blue, which shows when it will start and when it will finish. If these two bars are stacked on top of one another, the task is on schedule. The red bar is the critical path which is the longest chain of tasks. It depicts the project’s actual start date and the projected finish date. This visual display lets everyone quickly see where the problems and opportunities are. It also makes it easy to explain your options for corrective action. Project Tracking Software – Video

Status Report: Tailor It to Your Audience

In addition to visual aids that tell the story with pictures, you also need to tailor the status report presentation to your audience. If the attendees are all expert project managers, the status report can be concise and fact-filled without explanations. If the audience is composed of stakeholders who have had little exposure to projects or project management, you must explain the basics. You can’t assume everybody knows as much about the project itself or project management best practices as you do.

Another issue is designing the presentation to fit the personalities of the attendees. If the audience is composed of technical staff who are very detail oriented and value a chronological presentation with plenty of data, you will have one type of presentation. If the audience is composed of “big picture” thinkers, you need to present the end results first and then offer as much supporting detail as the audience wants. If you get into too much detail for these people, they’ll quickly leave the room.  Team Status Reports Video

You can learn all these status reporting skills in our online Project Management Basics courses. You work privately, one-to-one, with a expert project manager. You begin whenever you wish and control the schedule and pace. You have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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