Your project is coming along, and your team is firing on all cylinders. That’s great! Your skills as a project manager, your excellent project management philosophy, and your broad suite of project management tools are really demonstrating value. Now it’s time to sum up the project’s status in a report. Whether you’re presenting to your boss, other managers, or even your own team members, here are four questions you should be asking yourself when it comes time to report your project status.
Who am I reporting to?
There’s bound to be a ton of data about your project, and most of it isn’t relevant to any one person outside your team. You could put a 100-page report filled with minute details on your superior’s desk, and they’d probably only need 10.
Keep your reports targeted. Keeping your team updated of how their work fits into the bigger picture is completely different from telling your boss about key deliverables and milestones you’ve hit. It isn’t even just a matter of seniority and rank; a CIO and CFO are both C-level executives, but both of them are likely interested in fairly different information.
This boils down to one thing: Know what information your target audience will find most useful. Your report should have that information, and only that information. Any more risks getting the signal lost in the noise.
You should also focus on the "overlap" of data. Meaning, across the different reporting responsibilities that you have, what are the data points that are similar across them? Where is there overlap that more than one audience will want to see and give you insight into trends. Those are the metrics you should especially focus on with your team. Delivery dates, percent completes, under/over budget, and key risks/roadblocks will be of interest to pretty much all audiences involved in the project, and should be the basis for every report. From there, you can supplement with further metrics that are important to specific audiences.
What has my team done?
There’s no simpler way to say it than this: Focus on results, not activities. It may be easy to run down a list of what your team has worked on, but it then looks like you don’t have anything to show for the time and money spent. In your report, you serve everyone’s interest best by discussing key accomplishments and deliverables reached. It doesn’t matter that you looked at and evaluated locations for your next retail location; it matters that you found one — or at least nailed down a handful of concrete options.
This doesn’t only apply to positive actions, either. Stakeholders want to see that the project is in steady hands. This means that if there are problems, they want to see that you’re on top of them. Cleanly and honestly identify problem areas as needed. Unaddressed little problems can become unaddressed big problems - especially if other parties or executives find out about them through other means, such as other teams or customers. Having that happen magnifies the concern around the issue and degrades your credibility as a project manager. So address them early on. By acknowledging and moving to fix them, the project looks like it’s under control.
Where do we go from here?
It isn’t enough to just talk about where the project has been and what’s been done, whether the news is positive or negative. You need to present actionable steps for going further. If you’ve talked about problems, talk about how you intend to address them. What steps will be taken to fix these things? What additional resources will you need? Demonstrating forethought and planning puts everyone in a place to address and resolve these issues.
Even if your status lights are all green and no problems require immediate fixing, you still need to demonstrate a path forward. What work still needs to be done? How will you be allocating the resources you already have? Show you understand this, and not only will the process of narrowing this down help focus your understanding as a leader and manager, but you’ll also boost stakeholder confidence.
You also should be clear that it is because of the effort that you and the group have put in to manage the project, and diligently stick to the process, that things are on track. This effort of managing work across the team should not be understated. Many times when a project is going "great", it is because everyone is working so much on accurately managing their work, just as much as actually doing the work.
It’s fine to talk about activities here — it’s difficult to talk about results you haven’t had yet, after all — but keep the future plans actionable and concrete.
How do I present this information?
You know what you’re going to present, but your data presentation could easily look like a mess. We’ve all been there — viewing presentations that, in theory, have interesting information and insights that are hidden behind messy graphs and muddled messaging.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to learn how to effectively present data and organize your graphs. Remember that simpler is better, even if that means not presenting a graph if the data is more clearly presented as a set of numbers or bullet points. Including information your audience doesn’t need is a great way to obfuscate the information they do. Refer back to the first point: Determine who you’re presenting to, and include only the data they really need.
There are many best practices for presenting data, even in the most complex studies. If you’re not an expert, don’t be afraid to lean heavily on these, because even the most comprehensive and well-made report can look terrible with a poor presentation.
Now that you’ve answered these four questions, you’re ready to build an effective and informative progress report!
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