Best Practice | By Rob Redmond | Read time minutes
In a previous article, I recommended a way to report on a project's status briefly and yet in a way that provides management with the level of detail that they need in order to interpret the overall health of the project. In this article, I give some recommendations as to how to deliver that status to management and the project team that you will hopefully find to be very effective.
Status is project management communication, and any channel of communication available to you is a possible delivery method for status. There are two basic kinds of delivery method: presentation and verbal. When you give status in presentation format, you have a reference document that you are reviewing with a group of people. When you give status verbally, you are delivering it without much preparation and without referring to a common document.
Verbally or in presentation format, you can deliver status:
- Face to face
- Over the phone, one on one
- On a conference call
- By instant messenger
- In email
Face to Face
Face to face status reports could happen in a staff meeting, but more likely might occur in a hallway or when you stop by your boss's office to check in on another topic. "So, how is Project X coming along?"
When you deliver status verbally, stick the recommended format. First, provide overall information such as project health, % complete, % target complete, number of days ahead or behind schedule. Tell what milestone you are in, and what next steps are. If asked, go into a very crisp description of the most important issue that is outstanding on the project. The biggest point to remember about verbal status is to keep it concise. Practice delivering status verbally in your mirror, and try to give the entire project status in less than 30 seconds. More than that, and you risk irritating your manager with unnecessary details, or, more likely, you risk rambling on and on about details that are not the right details.
Whether you are in a conference room or in your boss's office, the ability to provide crisp, fresh project status verbally can mean the difference between being seen as a project management genius and a village idiot. Wandering, verbose reports on projects, which provide seemingly random and extensive irrelevant details are a frequent source of irritation for management.
Over the Phone
The same rules apply over the phone. Consider a conference call to be the same thing as an in person meeting around a table. A one on one call is the equivalent to any face to face meeting. Be brief. Since you are not in person, you can use a script or a one page status report for a reference source without revealing that you are doing so.
Most IM programs don't really allow for graphics, so hopefully you have a text status which is very brief that you can paste into IM on request when your boss sends a quick message over asking after a particular project. Have it ready to go, in writing, and pop in the overall information first. If they press on, provide milestones in another message and your top issue last.
Email is by far the most powerful tool for providing project status. There is one big mistake that separates email from all other communication channels. Email provides the ability to attach documents, so many project managers will attach one or more files, usually a combination of documents such as a presentation with multiple slides and a spreadsheet with multiple tabs.
Folks, the truth is that most managers will never open up your attached documents in email. If the status is not in the actual body of the email message, it might never be seen, which is why you are called or IM'd for project status.
Email inboxes become clogged very easily. The higher up the chain of command you climb, the more email you receive. The more you receive, the less time you have to process each message. The more content in the message, the less likely you are to bother attempting to process the message. That and the fact that email attachments tend to indicate the opposite of crisp status. Instead, the status on your project is probably a huge pile of data that the manager does not want to sort through to figure out the current state.
Boil it all down to the body of the email. Make it brief. Make it readable on a Blackberry or other smart phones. Do not flood management with information, and yet do not leave them asking questions.
The subject line of your email should be very relevant to the project. Put the project's official name in the subject line along with the project ID number from your tracking system, if there is one. This helps management sort your status reports easily in their inbox after they have filed them away. Try to use the same subject from one email report to the next.
How Often Should You Send Status
Send status reports in email as often as the project events require. If the project is green and not on your boss's top ten list, then you might never send project status upstairs as your project cruises to easy completion without management assistance. If you have a high visibility project with a gigantic budget, a massive cross-functional project team, and multiple executive participants, then your status should appear in email to all participants and your boss regularly.
Note that I said to include your boss. Never send project status to your boss's peers or superiors in other departments without copying your boss. If your boss hears about your project from other teams by surprise due to your failure to include her on status reports, you'll find yourself on your boss's list of people to educate about status reporting. No manager likes to be blindsided with news about a project that is being managed in their own department.
If the project is important enough and in enough trouble to invite such scrutiny, status reports may be needed daily. They may even escalate to hourly in some extreme cases.
Don't fall out of your chair in shock just yet! Status reports may be asked for every 30 minutes in certain fast-paced environments.
Sending out effectively organised status which is well composed allows management to quickly consume what they receive passively rather than working long hours to call around, send messages, and slowly gather up information. This allows for the avoidance of much frustration on management's part and makes you a project manager worth your weight in gold.
Rob Redmond studied sociology, psychology, and political science as an undergraduate, eventually receiving a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Georgia State University in June of 2000. He is currently employed as a manager in the information technology division of a large technology company.
Rob has long years of experience with the Japanese language and the Japanese martial arts, and brings these concepts and basic management principles he has learned along the way to produce articles which reach out to others who struggle at work.
Recommended read: The Secret to More Effective Project Progress Reports: Live Minutes by Duncan Haughey.