The project manager has many responsibilities, but if you narrow it done to one key responsibility, what is that? Organization? No. The Schedule? Somewhat. Meetings? Well that’s part of it. It’s communication! That’s Job One…always…at least in my opinion and from my repeated long experience on projects big and small. And where and to who that communication happens is important as well.
The project manager must ensure that he or she is not just tossing whatever status info into the air they feel like to see what sticks to what individuals. After all, giving a C-level customer information on what scripts you ran today while testing the latest bug fix is not an example of good, sound, efficient, and effective communication, is it?
I’ve even gone so far as to create what I would consider a very detailed, yet high-level status report for the client project sponsor of an organization I was consulting for only to have him wave his hands in the air and say, “I don’t want to see this level of detail.” I was astonished, because I thought it was exactly what he would want to see. Next I gave him a detailed issues list with dates, assignments, and status updates and he exclaimed something like, “I’m in heaven, you get it!” You never know who wants what till you try, I guess.
It all depends on the individual – that end user of your information. As the project manager you can spend hours putting together great detail every week but if it’s the wrong information for the wrong individual – even if it’s great info – you still failed. One size fits all status reports are still the way to go whenever you can, but sometimes that is not going to fit the needs of those involved.
Set and get expectations early. As the project manager you want your status information to be seen by the masses – for your career, for your reputation, and for the visibility of your project. But you also want to make sure that the status information you send out means something to the receiving parties. In my example above, what I originally prepared was going to be totally ignored by my customer and he wasn’t going to be very happy in the long run.
Go into project kickoff with your customer with an example of what information you intend to disseminate on a weekly basis. Use that as a starting point to work from. This is the best time to get their input and to fine-tune the details that you provide them with. You may even need to create a higher-level summary report for their senior management. And, of course, meet with your senior management and identify key data that they would like to see on an ongoing basis. They aren’t likely going to want your detailed issues list, but they probably will want your budget analysis and forecast every week – that means a lot to them especially if you’re managing a large, high-dollar and profitable project.
Refine as needed. Finally, refine what you provide each party as needed throughout the engagement. Rarely do I find that my first status reports on a project are identical in format and content to my last. Things change, needs change, priorities change – and all this affects who wants what from the ongoing status information on your engagements.
Summary / call for input
Project managers must be rigid at times and follow best practices in order to help ensure project success. But project status reporting is one area that where it’s ok for the project manager to show flexibility. After all, it is the project manager’s responsibility to be effective and efficient communicators and the foundation of that is getting the right information to the right people at the right time so that good and timely decisions can be made for the project.
Readers – what are your feelings on this subject? Have you had difficulties getting the right project information to the right stakeholders? Please share your experiences…
About Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s site at http://www.bradegeland.com/