Some PMs, when asked by their managers how their project is doing, tend to go into a lot of detail explaining the complexities of their latest issue or current activities. Other PMs like to keep it to themselves and say very little, i.e. all is good, trust my feelings, don’t ask me more questions and let me go. The truth is that the question on project performance can be answered professionally with significant and relevant data, and management should be clear on how that looks like.
Status reports, or progress reports, are probably the best known document during the life of a project. Other documents such as Business case, Requirements, Architecture, Test Plans, etc are in many cases once off documents that not necessarily all project team sees. Status or Progress reports however, are updated frequently (e.g. weekly) and shared with all the project team, customers and stakeholders. I am using both terms status and progress as synonyms here, as in practice organizations use either when refering to the same document -same purpose. Usually, the report is a one page with both status and progress information.
Don’t bore me, keep it simple and tell me what I need to know. That means Significant and Relevant to the audience. We’re talking of a one-pager, a short document that shows me two things: The Baseline, and any Variations. The baseline is what the project has agreed, the project boundaries in planned scope, cost and time. This should not be too detailed. It includes a summary or the more important deliverables (the scope), the planned budget (and people’s planned hours if not included in the budget), and planned milestones (some key dates from the schedule). Just looking at those few lines and figures, I can get a good idea of what the project is about, and its size/complexity based on budget and hours. This bit should not change during the project –it is the baseline-, that is, the base against which we will measure if the project does well or not. Variations are deviations to the planned baseline. For example, actual cost higher than budgeted, or not meeting set milestones. We may also have issues or risks that if not already affecting the project, they might in the future. Put that info together and you have a nice Progress report showing planned vs actual data on deliverables, cost and time. The status report section can be done with some text explaining the project phase or stage that we’re in, one line saying what task is ongoing (to give an idea of current position within project life cycle), and a traffic light signal (green, yellow, red) to flag when we think we may face trouble (yellow) or for when we already know we won’t meet the baseline (red).
Improve the report. Add forecasts. Earned Value and all the forecasted cost and dates are not so complicated. The PMBoK and Wikipedia have good explanations. I think a good status report should always show the Estimated at Completion data to better illustrate any deviations and their estimated final impact.
In summary, a Project Status/Progress Report should show in one page:
- Life Cycle Phase and one line summary of current activity
- Flag (Green/Yellow/Red)
- Main Deliverables
- Planned budget vs Actual
- Planned hours vs Actual
- Milestones vs Actual dates
- Main Risks and Issues, with impact and actions to resolve