by Lynda Bourne
Projects mean reports! Many project teams are required to produce weekly and monthly reports for their client as part of a contract, or because of an internal set of reporting requirements. This process comes with challenges:
- The information is out of date—project reports largely focus on what has happened.
- Most reporting regimes use a one-size-fits-all structure. This is better than freeform reporting, but it means while all of the information may be needed by someone, there’s a lot of redundant information for almost everyone else.
- They are time-consuming and expensive to produce.
- The information is groomed and edited to suit the narrative the report writer would like to tell. You don’t need to be dishonest to change the impression a report creates; you simply need to understand how language works.
- The people who really need the information are usually too busy to read it.
That raises a big question: Do we need traditional reports? Developments in business intelligence, artificial intelligence and system integrations offer a far more useful solution—putting real-time information in front of the people who really need to know now.
Most of the information on virtually every project (even traditional construction projects) is recorded in various software tools. With a little bit of organization, the data can be brought into a business intelligence (BI) system in real time. The result: a dashboard showing what’s occurring in real time, usually with a drill-down capability to see what has changed and why.
The problem with BI is usually too much information and added noise created by different elements within the tool being updated, edited and corrected at different times. This generates false differences for short periods of time. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in to play two useful roles:
- Within the BI system to filter out the noise: For example, if Bill’s timesheet has been entered but his work for the day has not been updated, wait until the end of Bill’s shift before flagging low productivity—his work update may be entered in the next 5 minutes. (Real time is good, but needs managing/synchronizing.)
- Outside of the system to learn what’s important to whom: No one can spend all day looking at the dashboard. AI can be trained to send targeted alerts when something relevant to a manager changes enough to warrant their attention. An email or an SMS is sent with a link embedded to the relevant part of the dashboard.
Do reports still have a role? My answer is yes, but it’s a different role. Reports are needed to explain something or to show the results of an investigation or inquiry. For example, a team (or individual) may be tasked to report on the preferred subcontractor to engage for a particular role on a project. The report provides leadership with the information and options needed to make a decision. In fact, this would be a far better use of the time currently spent by PMO and project staff preparing and distributing weekly and monthly reports.
I want to hear your thoughts: Do traditional reports still have a place among project teams?