Doing a project is a team effort. You have many staff with different backgrounds and skills from different organizations that must come together to deliver on a single blueprint to a common goal. With such a diverse team, effective communications are paramount. And yet, often, the only formal communications are those that a directed towards senior management. There are three primary audiences that a project manager should communicate formally: senior management, the business customer, and the project team. Further, the project manager should leverage the same detailed reporting and advanced analysis that they are doing to manage the project to quickly reformat into a digestible report for their audience.
Oftentimes, you find the project managers are burdened by multiple reporting systems where they are manually entering the same information two or three times. And then middle management for both IT and the business demand additional reports on metrics that are not useful and forms for approval that are bureaucratic and repetitive. Meanwhile, the critical data (e.g. risk items, resource utilization, critical path delays) are not reported broadly if at all. And the project manager is overwhelmed with the busy work versus the real task at hand.
So streamline the reporting process. Ensure your team a single, effective project reporting tool and invest in one if not. I recommend that all the but the smallest projects produce a weekly ’4-Box’ report. This one pager can be used for all three primary audiences and ensures the project manager, the sponsor and the key stakeholders are paying attention to the important aspects of the project.
I have placed a few 4-Box samples on the reference page for your use, unfortunately they are in JPEG format and normally should be created in Powerpoint or something similar. But they key components are simple:
- a landscape page with 4 quadrants, a left margin column and a header section
- the header consists of the Project Title centered and Project Status in color boxes on the far right upper corner, and the project mission in small font (it always amazing how many people work on a project and do not know what it is intended to do — thus the mission on every communication)
- the left margin contains the names and phone numbers of the project manager, sponsor, and all key participants and stakeholders. Thus everyone knows who to call if there is an issue or question
- The upper left quadrant contains a brief description and the key milestones for the project with dates and a status indicator (e.g. completed, underway, etc)
- The lower left quadrant box contains accomplishments and progress for the past week (or time period). There should be a brief description of progress and a listing of the key milestones or tasks completed.
- The upper right quadrant is a listing of the key risks and issues the project faces. They should be catalogued and a status indicated (e.g. Mitigated, Underway, Open) with a color status as well.
- The bottom right quadrant should provide what will will get done this next week or time period by milestone or significant task with dates and with owners.
Additional information can be used to augment the report, but they key is now you can use the same one page to communicate effectively with all your audiences. This ensures everyone is one the same page (literally) at a minimum of effort. Note also that we avoid the ‘ creative writing’ of project status reports that some many organizations waste time and use to put an optimistic spin on the project progress. Instead, just the facts.
By aligning your project process and teams to these two best practice approaches, you will find:
- you are not starting projects before they are ready to be started
- you will run your project factory at optimal output and effectiveness
- you will lighten the overhead load on your project managers, so they can do more real work
- your project teams will be on the same page (and thus more effective)
- you and your businesses will know what is going on and can identify issues much earlier and solve them more quickly
In essence, you will deliver projects more successfully.