7 Ways Project Managers can Improve Status Reports

We are taking a break today from our regular programming.  That is because today (Jan 15) I am running the Phoenix Marathon.  My goal is to finish within 3 hours and 30 minutes in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

In honor of the run, I thought I would share something I put together on how project managers can improve their status reporting.  It made me emotional writing it so that is enough to include it with the rest of Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.  Enjoy!

  1. If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it?  Sometimes you’ll find that if you don’t report something in your status, people won’t even know you are doing it.  In other words, if you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will.  It is one of the official ways of reporting the work that you do so that others have the opportunity to show appreciation.  You should not have to suffer in silence about all the hard work you are doing or drive the bus close to the cliff  to get attention.
  2. Status Reports are for the reader, not for you.  Add value with a message that is clear, shows the way, and guides the reader on whether to take immediate action, begin to worry, or relax and let you do your job.  Report it in a way that makes it clear what the next steps should be.  And don’t make the reader work to figure out what is going on.  If math is required, do the math for them. 
  3. Soap Opera – Your status report should read like a soap opera or an ongoing dialogue with the reader.  If someone misses a soap opera for a full week, they can quickly get back up to speed.  It should be the same with your status report.  Readers should be able to tell from episode to episode what is going on and if they skip one, they should not feel lost.  Be consistent in style and content from week to week or day to day; don’t introduce major changes.  Avoid surprises, and in particular, cliffhangers or unanswered questions.
  4. But it is real work – Part of the criticism I hear about status reporting is that it should come after the real work.  Believe it or not, as a project leader, communications is the #1 part of your job.  So status reporting is part of a job well done.  It is what sets the great PM’s apart from the others. 
  5. Beat that Drum – Just because you said something once, doesn’t mean anyone heard it or paid attention.  Sometimes you need to be repetitive to get the message across.  Don’t say, I sent that to you a week ago in an email.  Michael Hammer of Re-Engineering fame, says that you need to communicate a single message 7 different times in 7 ways to get your point across.  While that may not be necessary for everything you write, it is likely important that you say it more than once.
  6. Signal to Noise Ratio – Where possible, reduce the volume of information to just that which is necessary, important, and critical.  Don’t make the reader sift through a ton of detail to find the nugget of gold hidden in there.  Report on only the most important stuff and have ways to let people know where to go for more information. Be selective.  Weed out the unnecessary noise, or include it as an attachment.  And if there is a nugget of gold, put it right up front.
  7. Be Like Paula Radcliffe – With a time of 2:15:25, Paula Radcliffe is the current world record holder for the women’s marathon.  Paula set that record running a pace of 5 minutes and 15 seconds per mile.  Surprisingly, when Paula runs, she doesn’t even bother looking at her watch.  She uses professional pace runners, or pacers.  The pace runners job is to run at a set time, in this case, exactly 5 minutes and 15 seconds per mile.  Paula just needs to make sure she is running with the pacer to be a world champion.

So it goes with your status report.  Develop a plan which will tell you where you need to be on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.  Then, you simply need to compare your progress against that plan to see if you are on target or not.  Report on the variance and the cause.

Bottom Line:  The executive suites are filled with good leaders and good communicators, not technicians.  Make mastery of communications your goal.  Use your status report as an area to practice and to refine and hone your craft.  Strive for excellence, not perfection.