Written by Andy Clarke Head of Projects & Programmes

Project Managers need to keep their sponsor and governance boards informed of progress and aware of challenges being faced.  This can be done through the formal process of project reporting and also via project board meetings, or less formally, through conversation.  This post considers this process and best practice that can be used by sponsors and project managers when considering internal management information processes.

Like many areas, there are contrasting behaviours.  Some project managers like to share almost everything that’s going on with their management team, while, at the other end of the spectrum, other project managers see reporting and updating an unwelcome chore and an unhelpful waste of their time.

Sometimes these behaviours are down to personal preference, however, in many cases, they are symptoms of the management environment the project is operating in.  Two key factors that can influence the volume of reporting are:

    1. “It’s what my manager wants to see.”  Yes, I’m sure we’ve heard that said many times and it puts the project manager in a difficult position.  It’s an indicator that the sponsor and the management team aren’t clear on their roles and responsibilities.  The sponsor, supported by the project board, is responsible for unblocking obstacles, providing direction (often based on options), and supporting the project to meet it’s objectives – within the parameters of the business case.  Low-level progress checking and document quality is the preserve of the PMO, so there’s no need for a management board to see this level of detail.
    2.  “It doesn’t matter what I write, nothing ever happens”.  Another commonly quoted statement.  This points to a breakdown in governance.  If reporting is just a tick box exercise and there’s no subsequent management action then it would be understandable for a project manager to see reporting as a valueless exercise.  It’s very likely the management team are drowning in data – they receive too much information to absorb and act upon and/or reporting cadence is too frequent – by the time the reports have been compiled, distributed and signed off it’s time for the next round of reports!
What steps can project managers take to improve reporting?

The key message for project managers is that reporting is an important process, that links the project with the management team.  All projects will need management support at some point and the better informed, more engaged the management team is, the more efficient the escalation process.  Therefore:

  • If the project manager feels the management team are unclear on their roles then some education can be carried out in early project planning (sometimes easier said than done!).
  • Continually restating the governance process at the start of project boards can help reinforce the message.
  • Project Managers should think carefully about what they share with the management team.  Only provide data if it meets one of the two following criteria:
    • Providing a high-level view of status and context for decision-making
    • It relates to an escalation that the project needs support or direction
  • Maintain the consistency of the message.  Where possible, build reporting themes, and use these themes to build into escalations where that’s possible.  For example, the message “Funding remains on track, although we are tracking some potential vendor cost uplift”  (a cost plan risk) moves to “Overspend expected due to vendor cost uplift caused by ….” (a cost issue).

The best project reports are therefore clear, concise, well structured and delivered to a management team who understand what they are looking at and their role supporting the project. Roc Technologies use a purpose built reporting tool, Atlas Digital, for project reporting.

If you would like to find out more about project reporting, governance and Atlas Digital please contact info@roctechnologies.com