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The Value of Reports

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Developing reports is an art form--and it's one that every project management office manager needs to master.

Well-designed reports contain large amounts of useful information in a time series, making them a valuable data repository. And if the report covers the right questions, the process of gathering the information can generate valuable insights for the project team to act upon.

That information also allows stakeholders to extract trends and status.

And if you deliver them in person or attach a note to highlight specific issues or messages, reports can form the basis of a targeted, purposeful communication.

Some people simply like getting reports--and dropping those people off your distribution list make them more upset than you realize. This also applies to cutting content. As a rule of thumb, by the third month it's probably too late to remove sections or drop recipients without encountering some issues.

Another benefit of reports is only starting to be recognized. Jon Whitty of the University of Southern Queensland here in Australia has been measuring the emotional effect of project artifacts. Based on Jon's work it seems a well-formatted report will in itself increase positive emotions.

The project manager feels comfortable because she or he has a "proper report'' that is part of the "clothing'' every project manager wears along with their Gantt charts and other expected artifacts. And senior managers experience positive emotions because the existence of a well-presented report suggests control, order and capability.

The challenge is to design reports that are relatively easy to produce, ask the right questions, are well-structured and well-formatted, and contain needed data.

What are your experiences with reports?

 

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5 Comments

Lynda,

I agree. I see report as a forecasting/measurement tool, when there is so much stress on improvement during the course of project execution which cannot happen unless we measure. Report provides that underlying data to gather all information to make decision on next steps or overall health of the project.

Thanks,
Madhu Balakrishna, PMP

Lynda, et al --

No mention has been made of "push" vs. "pull" communication strategies. In your experience, what would be suitable for each and what can you say about its effectiveness? What would you cover via email, paper, face-to-face and what would you put on a project web site? Perhaps you will cover (or have already covered) this in your presentation at the Congress in Melbourne, Lynda, but I will not be in attendance since I am in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Thanks, in advance, for your response, experience, and insight.

Lynda,
Could not agree with you more on the challenge; would be interested to hear your answers though unfortunately I will not be able to make the congress this week.
Best regards
Simon

Over the years as a project management practitioner and educator, I have found that, to be effective, project reports must be tailored to the stakeholder groups (i.e., customers, project team members, upper management, e.g.) that receive them and the information contained in each report must have an affirmative answer to the following 3 questions:

1) Is it there when they need it?
2) Is it easy to understand?
3)Does it tell them what they need to know?

The easiest way to ensure that the answer to each question is "yes" is to simply ask each stakeholder group what they need to know, how they'd like to see it, and when they'd like to receive each report.

Well developed project reports are invaluable and are a hallmark of a well-run project from both the PM and stakeholders’ perspectives. However often I hear report recipients say “it’s too much detail," “is anyone reading this?” or “I don’t have time to read all of this”.

The art of good reporting seems to be in creating a report that balances the right amount of detail but at a high enough level that it is digestible by senior leadership. I am beginning to find in my organization that a combination of 1.) “RAG” status (red, amber, green), 2.) progress against major milestones and 3.) exceptions reporting is the right balance, usually accompanied by a “big picture” roadmap to allow stakeholders to see where we are today and where we are yet to go.

I would be interested in hearing what others say about what works in their organization.

The second point on the value of reports is that we, as PMO leaders cannot do reporting for reporting’s sake. The aim is not solely to have a well structure, beautifully presented report but to use it as a tool to celebrate progress and, importantly, to help overcome barriers. This is why it is critical to be able to capture issues (both qualitative and quantitative) that may threaten the success of the project. The role of the PMO leader can then be to use that data and literally pick-up the phone to the project managers and ask the question “what can I do to help you get over this hurdle?”.

On the flip side I also get slightly suspicious of projects that are continually marked as “green” with never any issues or variances to report. Perhaps it is the best run project around, but, just maybe, the full story is not being provided and using this as an alarm to go have a discussion with the PM has been helpful – it is important to encourage PMs to be as transparent as possible and trust that the PMO is here to help facilitate the success of the project.

In short, I have found that practical, sensible reporting is one of the most valuable tools a PMO leader has in their toolkit.

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