How to Build an Effective Project Status Report Template
Select your PMO Leaders above and explore the questions and answers below for comprehensive insights into how to improve project status reporting and project management dashboards.
What market trends are you seeing driving the need for project status reporting?
Who would have thought that even now after so many years there are market trends driving the need for better project status reporting. Project status reports haven’t changed that much in decades, but that’s the problem because they don’t’ actually meet the needs. We’ve all been in situations where the stakeholders don’t bother to read the status report, and that’s not because they don’t care but because status reports have historically were useless. Project status reporting has to inform the decision making of the business. That’s more critical today than it’s ever been because of the speed with which business is evolving and changing. So, you have to make sure that you’re giving the stakeholders the information they need or even better you have to allow the stakeholders to take the information they need themselves and don’t need to be sent it. They have a button on their desktop that allows them to run the reports they want in the context of what they need. That’s what’s really driving this ability to manage the business and change quickly – the organizational agility, the digital transformation that driving everything right now. It’s all about doing the right stuff at the right time, even as the right stuff is evolving and changing. You can only do that if you know what’s going on in your business – that’s status reporting, but it’s got to be focused on what matters.
How does maturity level of an organization impact their project status reporting capacity?
The PMO Squad has developed our Project Management Journey which shares the milestones organizations travel as they mature project management capabilities. Not all organizations are as accepting nor consistent with project delivery processes as a result each organization is traveling a different path on their Project Management Journey.
Mature organizations tend to have standardized processes, roles, and workflow. These organizations usually have consistent documents or templates for status reporting and each project manager is able to establish a status reporting process for their project(s). The PMO often collects project status and produces a collect portfolio view of project status.
Organizations which are less mature and are still delivering projects ad hoc are less consistent in reporting status and each project leader may have their own style and documentation to report status. This can lead to confusion across the business, especially when resources are on multiple project teams with project leaders each having their own project status process.
What advice would you give organizations as they grow in their maturity for project status reporting?
Keep it simple. The most important thing that you can do is when thinking through how you are going to report and communicate is what is the level of information that I need to provide to drive actions and decisions. Many times business leaders and PMO leaders would try and give as much information as possible thinking that more is better. In the case of project status reporting that’s not necessarily the case. The more information you provide someone, especially if it’s not related to the desired actions and decisions, will just slow everyone down. So we always look at it as a keep it simple approach to project status reporting and making sure that project status reporting is used to streamline communication so that you don’t have to have a lot of meetings to report status. I would definitely recommend that as you’re looking at your maturity and your growth in project status reporting – keep it really simple from the start and only provide information that drive actions and decisions to keep everyone moving forward and allow your process to evolve as the needs of your stakeholders and your decisions makers evolve. Also, keep in mind that you won’t want to have the same level of detail for every role in the process. What your executives and sponsors need to drive actions and decisions might be different to what you as a PMO leader need and what your project teams and team members need at the project level. Make sure that the way you look at your maturity of your project status reporting evolves as the needs and the questions that are coming in tell you exactly what you need to know.
How would you recommend tackling project status reporting if you’re just starting out?
The best thing you can do when you’re just getting started is get a minimal amount of information in front of your stakeholders and treat it as a pilot and test to collaborate to build that projects status reporting together instead of taking a whole lot of information to your stakeholders and say here’s your reporting. Start simple. Start minimal with basic information and allow your stakeholders to tell you what they need. The best place to start is to ask the recipients what they need to drive actions and decisions. They will tell you what they need to know. As you are just you’re starting out, you may be inclined to start with on-time, on-budget, on scope and stop there. Remember that on-time, on-budget, on scope are just indicators of progress against those metrics and doesn’t necessarily tell you if the project is going to meet the intended business benefits that were setup in that in the business case from the start. Know that on-time, on-budget, on scope are indicators of progress and not indicators of business outcomes. Even at your base starting point, you’ve got to know more than on-time, on-budget, on scope – you’ve got to know what those business metrics are to know what business problem you are solving and how you’ll know you have been successful. That’s the metric you need to start with at the base.
What steps would you recommend to improve project status reporting?
One of the challenges which is consistent across projects, regardless of location, size, industry, is Executive Sponsor engagement. There have been several research reports which indicate that an engaged Executive Sponsor is the #1 factor to determining project success. This is widely accepted across the industry, however, project performance and project success rates remain too low.
At the onset of every project the project manager should establish a relationship with the Executive Sponsor. They should be working together to understand project objectives, cadence for communication, escalation process for risk and issue management, and status reporting. In collaboration with your Executive Sponsor define the timing for status reporting, the content the Sponsor would like to have included in the status report and the delivery method. Perhaps your Executive Sponsor would like a one on one meeting to discuss status before an email is broadcast to the team with the status report.
How does the right approach to project status reporting impact the business?
Consider organizations have 2 buckets of work, 1) Operations and 2) Projects. Operations covers the day-to-day work across your organization to keep the business functioning. Businesses develop SOPs, Standard Operating Procedures, to detail how operations work is to be conducted. This enables all the resources to understand what is expected of them and their teams. The SOP is an Operating Playbook. Included in the SOP will be specific measures to track performance. Some examples might include;
- Inventory Turns
- Manufacturing Defects
- Outstanding A/R
These measures and many others help leaders understand how the business operations functions are performing. For the other bucket of work in an organization, Projects, leaders need to understand how well projects are performing just as they understand how operations is performing.
One of the tools we use to lead projects is a Status Report. The project manager should establish a cadence of communication with Project Stakeholders to keep them informed of project performance and this is accomplished with a Status Report. There are various measures which can be used on the status report and each organization should determine what measures they need and are they useful for every project.
When the organization has a collective mindset that there are 2 categories of Organizational Performance, Operations & Projects, then it is critical for the Project Delivery Team to provide project measures to accurately reflect the project performance of the organization
How does project status reporting need to be addressed differently at different levels of maturity?
It’s critically important to recognized that project status reporting needs to be addressed in different ways at different levels of organizational maturity. The gold standard is real value based project status reporting. Are we on track to deliver the business outcomes that we need? But you can’t just flip from traffic light reports or velocity burn down charts to that value based tracking in no time flat! A lot of organizations haven’t figured out how to consolidate agile delivery and waterfall delivery into a single status report. A lot of organizations seem to think that the most important thing to with all your status reporting is consolidate 50 different reports into a one pager for your executives. You’ve got to understand what status reporting is meant to achieve and then discover how to get there. There’s no point in saying you’ll do value based reporting that track the ability of a solution to achieve its end goals using these different points by these different stakeholders and try implement that in an organization that is used to a Gannt chart and traffic light status report because no one is going to understand it and no one’s going to read it. Instead, you start evolving the conversation by asking what would you like us to include in this report that actually drives your decision making. What is it that finance needs to see? Is it just a case of budget, forecast and plan or actual? If it is, great! We’ll start talking about how that can evolve further. What is it the customer needs to see? Is it quality numbers? That’s great – we can do that! In today’s tools that’s not a lot of work of getting those different reports at those different times. It’s ultimately configuring it once and allowing them to access the information. As they start looking at things, they will see what they need and don’t need and evolve. Your maturing your organization and your maturing your stakeholders who are consuming the status reports ultimately moving to a value based approach because you’re asking them what it is they actually need. They don’t need a traffic light report. That don’t need a project burn down report. What they need is to understand what’s happening. We have to switch our mindset from how to I produce a status report with the least time and effort as possible to how to I produce a status report that drive business behavior. If we can do that, we can start maturing the organization and start creating status reports that actually make a difference.
How should organizations go about solving project status reporting?
In the recent PMO Outlook Report, we’ve identified a shift of how PMO leaders are supporting their project status reporting capabilities. That said, PMO leaders are increasingly turning to strategic project portfolio management software to support their ability to execute project status reports. PMO leaders have identified that Excel spreadsheets are no longer enough when trying to deliver real-time project status report because PMO leaders need real-time information to execute projects efficiently and effectively. With project portfolio management software, PMO leaders are able to identify key project metrics in real-time allowing them to provide executives with the project status reports that showcase the metrics their business leaders need to make strategic decisions.
What steps can organizations take to solve for project status reporting?
First, get very clear on what your requirements are. You do that by finding out what business problems you are needing to solve. In this case, it’s what information need to make decisions. You need to know what the requirements are, you need to know who the audience is, and what’s the minimal amount of information you can provide to drive actions and decisions. You must have more than just progress reporting and delivery which is time, scope and cost. Everything related to earned value management is only giving you performance in the deliverable creation not necessarily in achieving the intended business benefits – which is the outcomes. Always look at who your audience is, what information you need to gather and how you can ensure the right decisions are being made quickly and the actions are progressing from the information you are providing. Once you do that, you can always evolve your project status reporting over time, but simply asking what basic questions you’d ask regarding any project is what do we need to know, how are we going to know if we’re successful, and who are stakeholders. If you start there, you will make great progress.
What are the common pitfalls of inaccurate/inefficient project status reporting?
When status reporting can’t be relied upon the results can be severe. Trust breaks down between stakeholders and the team with the team feeling that governance is too heavy handed and stakeholders feeling they aren’t being given the full picture. Bad decision making is the almost inevitable result, impacting the ability of the project to deliver.
On a larger scale, inaccurate or inefficient status reporting can result in lost opportunities, wasted money and effort and a loss of morale. It is almost certainly going to reduce overall business value. Finally, when status reporting doesn’t work, team members and project managers end up spending more time trying to explain and justify what is happening, taking them away from delivering the work, and managing issues.
What are commonly asked questions about project status reporting?
I’m often asked how do you know what information to report on and when do you know enough is enough. In absence of the answers to those questions, many PMO leaders will provide as much information as they possible can to report on project status and what happens then is you create this monster of information that’s just slowing down information distribution and information collection so it can be combined and information consumption. I like to say information digestion or indigestion. If you provide too much information, you’re going to find yourself in a situation where people aren’t processing all of the information that you are giving to them therefore they are going to have a hard time moving forward because they don’t have the right information to drive actions and decisions quickly. I’m always asked, how do you know when enough is enough? I always say, you need less than you think you need, keep it simple and have information that provides data on project progress and information about the outcomes. How do we know if we are achieving our intended business benefits and what we were trying to accomplish in the first place? Are we achieving the return on that investment. If you are able to do those things, you will be much further and much more productive than organizations that have over complicated the process.
How to get internal buy-in for project status reporting?
The organizational maturity of project management across the company really drives how to get internal buy-in for project status reporting. If your organization is Ad Hoc with project management with limited consistency from project to project it will be a challenge to get the buy-in you would like with status reporting without also addressing more broadly project management benefits to the organization.
As your organization matures and standardizes project management templates, processes, and roles you’ll begin to see an acceptance and expectation for status reporting. As a stand-alone project deliverable, a Status Report has value and may even be accepted by some throughout the organization. A critical requirement for buy-in of project management in general, including status reporting, is to leverage a Project Management Champion within the organization. Find the one executive or senior leader who supports project management concepts and tools and align with them to form a strategy to gain acceptance and buy-in across a wider audience within the leadership team.
What stakeholders should be included in project status reporting?
It’s important to note that with todays PPM software, all stakeholders should be able to generate and consume their own status reporting. As a result, this is a list of people who need the information, and hence access rights, not the list of people who should be sent an email with a report every week.
At an individual project level status reporting stakeholders are relatively straightforward:
- All team members
- Client or client representative
- Resource owner
- Other stakeholders (PMO, Finance, department heads, etc.)
In addition, program and portfolio level status reporting should include:
- Project, program and product managers of included initiatives
- Department heads impacted by the portfolio and / or program
- Executives (for strategic portfolios / programs)
- EPMO or similar
- Internal audit or similar function