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The Project Manager’s Multitool: The Status Report

via Flickr by Joel Penner

Status reports (or whatever your particular methodological school calls them) are frequently maligned – c.f. “TPS Reports” in the movie Office Space – and misused.

They are the weekly report that you just have to grind out for your project or program that shows you have been doing something, that you suspect no one reads and you suspect everyone just sends to the recycle bin; no one is really sure what their purpose is for but no one is willing to kill either.

However, experts elevate the commonplace status report to a powerful, multitasking, time saving tool. In fact, it can be an integration point for several of the more heavyweight PMBOK tools that you use as a project manager.

What can you do with a status report? What should go into a status report, and why?

One point of view is that it is strictly a “report” you are keeping it very short to just a set of variances with a couple of comments about what got done last week, what will get done next week, and what your concerns are.

This is frankly not very informative – it doesn’t convey much visibility into the overall roadmap and where you are on it, and if the news is bad, doesn’t say anything about what the plan for remediation of the issues might be. Project managers who have been around the block know that if the status report is read, it will provoke questions (to put it mildly) and if it is not read, why produce it and distribute it?

via Flickr by richardmasoner

You can produce the variance metrics for yourself privately, but the power of the status report as a report is as a communication, coordination, and integration tool – a multitool that you can literally carry with you and use in different contexts. Here are a few of the elements you can include:

  • Major milestones by deliverable – baseline, plan & actual date (gives visibility into the roadmap and where you are on it)
  • Major issues/risks & remediation plan plus due dates
  • Upcoming change requests
  • Next week’s planned deliverables
  • Escalation requests for executives or sponsors to remove roadblocks
  • Overall status – variance to budget, schedule, & red, green, yellow (based on your organization’s definition)

These items will fit on one page. The key is simplicity – keeping items to a high level and commentary to a minimum. People will not read blocks of text anyway. You can delete or add additional items as your organization needs.

You will notice that this single tool has a connection to multiple PMBOK areas:

  • Integration management
  • Scope and Time management
  • Risk management
  • Communications management

Once you have spent some time organizing this project summary/status report, you have created a powerful management multitool. Why is it so powerful? Here are a few of the points that make it so powerful, and I’m sure you can find others:

  • One-page nexus for integration management. Your scope, schedule, deliverables, and risks are all in one place.
  • Core team management tool. Because it is so focused, compact, and forward-looking, you can carry it into your team meetings as a discussion tool – it can function as an automatic forward-looking agenda for discussion about commitments regarding the next block deliverables and any roadblocks, rather than a recitation about what got done last week

    via Flickr by Robert Couse-Baker

  • Stakeholder management tool. Because it exposes escalation requests, issues affecting delivery and commitments, it also functions as a key communication and stakeholder management tool – with your stakeholders and with your team in core team meetings. The issue and risk piece, especially with the mitigation plan and due dates exposed, shows them the commitment that the project team has to completion

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I believe you must use this tool, but rather that status reporting is one of those activities that can be handled by new project managers that gains potential in the hands of the experienced practitioner. If you find yourself required to produce status reports anyway, spend some time designing them to work for you to multitask, and even if you are not required to produce them, you might consider adding them to your tool kit.

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About the Author

Dr. Constance Stillinger, PMP, Ph.D., is the Program Manager for the 2013 Symposium of the PMI - Silicon Valley Chapter and has previously served in various volunteer roles, including the Board. She has led complex multi-million dollar programs encompassing multifunctional global teams with over 15 years of experience with technology projects, process transitions, contract management, outsourcing and PMO implementations. She has an A.B. in mathematics from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University. She is currently seeking new project management opportunities in the Silicon Valley.
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