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Topics: Agile, IT Project Management
What content do you put in a status report?
Network:0

Hi All,

I’m a software developer that has had to manage quite a few projects over time as well… I’m not a qualified or certified project manager, it’s just something that has fallen on my shoulder in numerous projects.

The biggest challenge I have found is that of communication - particularly with decision makers. They often cancel catchup meetings where i am wanting to update them, seldom seem to read the details when I send them information, and then when they find out a project might be running two months late for example, they chuck a hissy fit! Of course, if they had not cancelled the meetings, or read the emails, the would have known that it didn’t just go from “running on time” to “being two months late”... it happened over the course of many weeks and primarily because they were not making decisions and so things had to be postponed.

What i found was, sending such manager a “big red dot” and blinking text saying… “project late, will not launch on time” got their attention… but what bugs me is that I am becoming a constant alarmist…

Do other people experience anything like this? How do you deal with it so that you are not seen as the person who only ever comes up with issues or as an alarmist…

For me, I’ve now started using a template that has the usual traffic light, due date, key risks, etc…

I make sure I send out the report every week at the same time… seems to have started working a little better with this… but keen on how everyone else works through issues like the above, and what you use (content and tool) for doing your status update reports.

James.
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Network:56



I think you need to sit down with the various managers (individually) and determine what they need in order to be more effective participants in the project.

A status report by itself is report card at a point in time. If the status is not green, then the managers likely need to see what the plan/response is to get the project into a better position.

But the status report is not what is the real problem here. It's about your organization's approach on managing and leading projects. You have been put into a difficult situation without the benefit of being 'tooled-up' to lead the project. So, it does not appear that there is support or understanding from management on what is needed to move a project from beginning to end with success.

Although it is another topic unto itself, an Agile approach (think incremental deliveries) rather than a traditional approach might serve you better.
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1 reply by James Matters
Sep 19, 2019 2:22 PM
James Matters
...
Hi James,

Thankyou so much for the response. It makes sense that the approach to managing projects needs to be drastically better. I am wondering if a way to get there is to help highlight why projects are late / over budget, etc. I have spoken to management many times about the need for a better approach, but, as with many things, it does not appear that a "back to basics and proper fundamentals" approach will work with them... i am hoping that through better communication, over time, they will come around to recognising when things work better (which is mostly, when they treat the project as a priority and i get some of their time / decisions, etc).

Your comment on Agile is also well received; we usually have an initial "architecture phase", but then deliverables are managed fortnightly, and by deliverable i mean we try to close out complete tickets and actually have working functionality where possible.

Thankyou again for the response, really appreciate it.
Network:103903



Lately, I've been using a standup meeting approach to my status reports:

1. What I did in the last period
2. What I will do in the next period
3. Obstacles

I find the structure works well.
...
1 reply by James Matters
Sep 19, 2019 2:25 PM
James Matters
...
Thanks Stéphane.

Can i please request for you to share a sample ... i'm keen on understanding the level of detail you go to.

For example, is it a summary of things done, or do you list every ticket... what if there are 50 tickets that were completed?

With obstacles, do you put in potential solutions, or are they discussed pre or post report?
Network:335



This isn't an unusual problem. Effective communication requires engagement from both parties. Both the above comments are good inputs in this regard.

You need to understand the expectations of the people you report to, what information they need to make or defer decisions. You also need to be very clear in your method of presentation so the recipients don't have to hunt for useful information. Some tips I use:

- Sometimes people don't know where to look. Put the most important information first, and using a stoplight health indicator like R-Y-G helps draw the eyes to the Red items.
- Include whether the situation is improving or getting worse (Up/Down arrows work), not just that the situation is bad or good.
- Be explicit when you need to ask for help. Don't make them decide they have to step in.
- Don't be an alarmist. They will start to ignore it.
- Putting "ACTION REQUIRED" in the email header can help sometimes, if most of the content is "information only".

Sometimes you have to experiment for a while to get the format right, but you are trying to pack the most important information into the easiest to understand short "elevator speech" format you can create.
Network:158



This is fairly normal in my experience. Since the communication is what keeps you from getting in trouble keep that up. What I do is make a phone call first and if they don't pick up I leave a message explaining the urgency. Then I follow that phone call with an immediate email; the subject line expressing the urgency, sent high priority and the first line of the email states, "As a follow-up to my voicemail because we have been unable to catch-up" and I always cc their immediate manager regardless of rank. I find I usually only have to do this a couple of times and then they start responding pretty quick. As for content; high level overview of last time we talked, more detailed overview of what is current and call out of any issues.
...
1 reply by James Matters
Sep 19, 2019 2:28 PM
James Matters
...
Thanks Kimberly.

Good pointers and i intend to follow some of them.

WIth cc'ing the manager though, that one makes me nervous... do you find that it creates some animosity from the person as they might feel like we are willing to run them over to get a result? I'm sure it's not meant like that, but if i did that, i know people would think i was just a steamroller and might not be as open to helping me willingly and just treat everything transactionally? It's probably just my workplace, but perhaps others might have experience this also?
Network:140



I've used this format on many projects: 1. Executive summary narrative 2. Key plans for next week 3. Key milestones and deliverables status 4. Management issues requiring attention 5. Significant project risks being monitored The important thing is to keep content volume aligned to the consumers of the report. You should treat each word on the status report as if you have to spend a dollar to use it.

Message me if you'd like a status report template and I'll send you a link.

...
1 reply by James Matters
Sep 19, 2019 2:31 PM
James Matters
...
Hi Lonnie,

Really appreciate the insights. I would love to see the template if possible please. You make a very interesting point about every word being prescious - i have always struggled with how much detail to put in... i know when it's too much, no-one reads anything... but too little, and it feels like i am not doing the issue justice by not giving a little bit of the context that i feel might be needed?
Network:9757



In my last projects I created 1 slide report, highlighting:

What I did in the week
What I will do in the next week
Outstanding Decisions
Risks

Including the key milestones with the traditional red / amber / green.
...
1 reply by James Matters
Sep 19, 2019 2:32 PM
James Matters
...
Thanks Mayte.

Seems like there is good consensus amongst most about the things to include. Is there any chance i could request you to post a sample of what oyu send... i'm keen on understanding the level of detail included as well as the format to see what an effective update looks like.
Network:25



Apparently in your comment, the problems you describe can have three origins: problem in the reports format (very well answered by the previous comments of Lonnie and Mayte), weak project management by managers (described in the James' comment), or a problem of how you deal with the management of the project. Regarding this last point, two comments refer to how to try to communicate better with your superiors. But there is another possibility, and that is that you are failing in how you have performed Stakeholder management, particularly how you planned and how you manage their involvement. To describe the common techniques exceed the space of this post, but you can obtain them in chapter 13 of the PMBOK guide, where the tools and techniques that you can use are described in good detail
...
1 reply by James Matters
Sep 19, 2019 2:36 PM
James Matters
...
Thankyou for the feedback Gabriel, i will check out that chapter.

You are right that there are numerous failings... stakeholder management being an important one of those of course. I am hoping that through a good report i can help improve the stakeholder "expectations" and hence management. I recognise that the report cannot be stand-alone, and better communication all around is probably needed, but i suspect the report is also an important part of that improvement; and hearing from all has been very interesting. It's making me reflect on numerous ways i can improve; and i see a really well structured, designed status report with the right content (sections, detail, design, etc) being a critical piece of it.
Network:0

Sep 16, 2019 11:52 AM
Replying to James Shields
...
I think you need to sit down with the various managers (individually) and determine what they need in order to be more effective participants in the project.

A status report by itself is report card at a point in time. If the status is not green, then the managers likely need to see what the plan/response is to get the project into a better position.

But the status report is not what is the real problem here. It's about your organization's approach on managing and leading projects. You have been put into a difficult situation without the benefit of being 'tooled-up' to lead the project. So, it does not appear that there is support or understanding from management on what is needed to move a project from beginning to end with success.

Although it is another topic unto itself, an Agile approach (think incremental deliveries) rather than a traditional approach might serve you better.
Hi James,

Thankyou so much for the response. It makes sense that the approach to managing projects needs to be drastically better. I am wondering if a way to get there is to help highlight why projects are late / over budget, etc. I have spoken to management many times about the need for a better approach, but, as with many things, it does not appear that a "back to basics and proper fundamentals" approach will work with them... i am hoping that through better communication, over time, they will come around to recognising when things work better (which is mostly, when they treat the project as a priority and i get some of their time / decisions, etc).

Your comment on Agile is also well received; we usually have an initial "architecture phase", but then deliverables are managed fortnightly, and by deliverable i mean we try to close out complete tickets and actually have working functionality where possible.

Thankyou again for the response, really appreciate it.
Network:0

Sep 16, 2019 12:33 PM
Replying to Stéphane Parent
...
Lately, I've been using a standup meeting approach to my status reports:

1. What I did in the last period
2. What I will do in the next period
3. Obstacles

I find the structure works well.
Thanks Stéphane.

Can i please request for you to share a sample ... i'm keen on understanding the level of detail you go to.

For example, is it a summary of things done, or do you list every ticket... what if there are 50 tickets that were completed?

With obstacles, do you put in potential solutions, or are they discussed pre or post report?
...
1 reply by Stéphane Parent
Sep 20, 2019 11:07 AM
Stéphane Parent
...
Identify the period you are reporting and try to keep each section to no more than ten items. (Going over dilutes the importance of what you are sharing.) Bundle where it makes sense. If need be, list the most important items and give the reader a link for the whole list.

The number of reported items will depend on the reporting period. If you are dealing with tickets, you may want to do a daily or twice a week report. Weekly or monthly reports make sense for activities that are at least a full day in duration.

If you are managing a project schedule, try to make the items under the Done and Doing sections match activities in your schedule.

Obstacles should only list those that are outstanding. If an obstacle has been removed, it should go under your Done section. This is a status report - don't use it to discuss the obstacles. That should either be its own document or, even better, its own meeting.
Network:0

Sep 16, 2019 1:16 PM
Replying to Kimberly Chavez
...
This is fairly normal in my experience. Since the communication is what keeps you from getting in trouble keep that up. What I do is make a phone call first and if they don't pick up I leave a message explaining the urgency. Then I follow that phone call with an immediate email; the subject line expressing the urgency, sent high priority and the first line of the email states, "As a follow-up to my voicemail because we have been unable to catch-up" and I always cc their immediate manager regardless of rank. I find I usually only have to do this a couple of times and then they start responding pretty quick. As for content; high level overview of last time we talked, more detailed overview of what is current and call out of any issues.
Thanks Kimberly.

Good pointers and i intend to follow some of them.

WIth cc'ing the manager though, that one makes me nervous... do you find that it creates some animosity from the person as they might feel like we are willing to run them over to get a result? I'm sure it's not meant like that, but if i did that, i know people would think i was just a steamroller and might not be as open to helping me willingly and just treat everything transactionally? It's probably just my workplace, but perhaps others might have experience this also?
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