Project Status Reports

Project status reports are the major determinant of your credibility as a project manager.  PM who regularly surprises executives with bad news late in the project quickly erodes whatever credibility he had.  Three errors can leave your reputation in tatters.

1. Undo optimism in forecasts

Beginning PMs are often afraid of the sponsor, particularly if that executive gets angry whenever he hears bad news.  Its very easy to be optimistic estimating how quickly you and the team can fix a problem or recover from a harmful risk.   A good rule of thumb is to pad the recovery estimate by 25% to protect yourself from bad luck of team mistakes. If you say, “We’ll be back on schedule in 10 days,” when you calculate it should take 8 days the sponsor will still be angry but less so when you actually achieve the recovery in 8.” Making the bad news worse than it is protects you and the team from over optimism. You also build a reputation for conservatism in your estimates.

2. Hiding Problems

It is very easy to convince yourself that a problem is so minor that it is not worth reporting. Unfortunately, problems rarely go away.  Instead, they usually grow.  When you sit on a problem for a few weeks and then is grows big everyone blames you and you look like a liar and fraud.  People stop believing your status reports.  The may openly question them in public.  Don’t be surprised to be asked with open distrust, “Is there anything else the could spring up and bite us.”

Those blows to your credibility are impossible to erase. Here is the answer.

Each status report should includra a Things I am Watching List.  This are not variances…yet.  But you note them and ask your stakeholders for help.  Here is an example of a Things I am Watching list.

  1. Attendance of the senior Customer Service reps at the system training is less than 50%-Stakeholders in that division please help
  2. The systems engineers are worried about late hardware deliveries which may cause them to overrun their estimates.  Does anyone do business with the vendor? If so talk to them.

Yous are alerting people to potential and getting out in from of your team on problems. Just the image you want.

Sponsor wan’t talk about problems

There are a few project sponsors who simply will not listen to bad news about the project being late or over budget or both.  Many project managers Let themselves be intimidated.  The easy answer is to say, “Sir my professional standards require that I alert, you, the project sponsor and the stakeholders to any problems we have.   I would not be doing my job to stop.”

This may get you reassigned but hiding problems when it comes out will get you fired

Estimate to complete

The number one tool in improving your status reports is estimates to complete (ETC).  Each week you ask you team members and vendors who are billing by the hour to tell you how many hours they spent on each of their tasks this past week and how many hours it will take them to finish.  There is no need to ask for a status narrative.  If they estimate an on time completion you don’t need to know any more.  If they are forecasting a late finish you should meet with them.

The ETC lets you operate infront of your team, discovering problems early when they are small and more easily solved.

The ETC also lets you provide the sponsor with a forecasted completion date and and estimate of the budget at completion.  This data is a very professional touch.

Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 60 short project management videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows are on Amazon.com