February 17, 2015
Research proves that the word ‘status’ is used a million times during the course of a project by a Project Manager.
Okay, I’m just kidding! But, you get what I mean. Many a times, it feels that a project is running on the heels of status reports. A status report appears to be that core element which is the centre of focus all the time, sometimes even more than the actual code or the product.
In the world of global and huge sized project teams with sub-teams focused on disparate aspects of the project and a senior management that is paranoid to stay on top of everything, status reports seem to be the enabler and the preferred choice of communication.
So, it becomes important to look at some of the details that are laid out in a status report. Here are 5 common pitfalls that most Project Managers tend to fall into while writing a status.
1)Too much colour: Have you seen one of those status reports that seem to give tough competition to a toddler’s painting work? With excessive usage of colours and graphs and charts and a long key explaining what each colour means, it gives you a headache to read through one of those. Also, when people use purple instead of green to indicate that the project is on track, remember that it is not considered creative, it is unintuitive and confusing. Stick to RAG (Red, Amber & Green)
2)Not including all stakeholders: This is a common mistake where you think that if the status report does not have any information pertaining to a specific stakeholder, he does not need to be included in that report. ‘All’ stakeholders need to be part of the communication, the action points they take may vary for each of them. But when you don’t include them, it appears that you’re hiding information and that can be a major trust breaker.
3)Long ramblings: This is one of my pet peeves. Since most status reports are read on emails, it would be ideal to have the report looking compact on your screen without having to scroll down. However, many people seem to be in love with their words, writing on and on without getting to the point and giving focus on a lot of unwanted details. Any report is easier when it’s concise and to the point.
4)Not catering to the audience: At the beginning of the project, it is beneficial to sit with the stakeholders and understand what information they would like to see in the status reports. What action would they like to take based on that? What decision points would they be taking based on the data? Having a good understanding of this could avoid presenting irrelevant data or leaving out necessary information.
5)Not giving meaningful information: Often, status reports have a lot of data without any derivative, meaningful conclusions. You are a Project Manager and a leader, not an editor. So while writing the status report, you are supposed to state the data and also answer the question ‘so what?’ For e.g. when you say the project is 20% behind schedule, your audience wants to know, so what is the impact? Can we still catch-up? If not, what is the plan? Are you going to revisit the schedule or leave out a feature, which was probably just a nice-to-have? Anticipate the questions that people would tend to ask on the basis of your data and answer them already. That’s what makes it worth reading your report.
A solid status report is one that’s factual, concise, lays out the action steps and most importantly, highlights the impending risks. Just stay away from the 5 common mistakes and you would find people not just reading your status, but also quoting from it.