A fundamental project management function is effectively communicating status. When conveying status, the project manager should be crisp and concise, and calibrate the message to the recipient. Effective status communications should encompass the 5-point status framework.
There are five questions that most stakeholders will want answered when receiving a status update:
- Overall Project Status: Is the project on-track to complete on time?
- Critical Issues: Are there any significant issues? What is being done to resolve them?
- Significant Risks: Are there any critical risks (high-impact/high-likelihood)? Do the risks have remediation plans?
- Financial Health: Is the project expected to complete within budget? What is the project-to-date variance and what is the expected variance at completion?
- Stakeholder Actions: Are there any actions or decisions that are required from the stakeholder?
The project manager should address these questions providing a level of detail suited to the recipient. The status message can be delivered as five quick bullets, for example:
- [Overall Project Status] Overall, the project is on-track for its planned November 15 deployment.
- [Critical Issues] Development is 3 days behind schedule but is expected to be back on schedule by the end of next week due to planned overtime work.
- [Significant Risks] There is a high risk that the new servers will not be installed in time. We are working on a mitigation plan that will be completed within two weeks.
- [Financial Health] The project is currently running 5% under budget and is expected to complete 2% under budget. The under run is primarily due to the late onboarding of testing resources.
- [Stakeholder Actions] There are no management actions required at this point.
Along with the 5-point status, below are six additional suggestions for effectively managing the status reporting process:
- Project status is the project’s weekly marketing message. Use the status to demonstrate your proficiency and accomplishments or alert the stakeholders to important concerns.
In this context, quality communication is defined as receiving clear, actionable information about the project. The status should also be calibrated to the audience. Team leads and executive stakeholders have different interests and require different levels of detail.
The quality of the status delivery reflects the perceived quality of the project. In other words, a poorly communicated status can lead to the impression that even a well-run project is in trouble.
The status message is important. I have observed project managers that act as if the status were a test of their knowledge and overwhelm their audience with inconsequential details. I have also seen beautiful status reporting decks that confuse rather than clarify by providing data without context.
- Set the message for the reporting cycle and stick with it. Projects should be like well-honed political campaigns by practicing message discipline. Message discipline ensures consistent communication of status to all stakeholders.
The project team often does not exercise message discipline, and stakeholders receive different messages from their participants on the project team. This can become a source of conflict. For example, the business stakeholder may receive the message that testing is going terribly, while the technology stakeholder may be told that it is fine.
However, if there is a significant event (e.g., the lead developer quits, or a significant outstanding issue has been resolved), communicate the update to all of the stakeholders in unison.
- Status reports are not a “data dump”—good project managers interpret the data. They put the data into context and, where appropriate, recommend corrective actions.
Projects produce a large volume of data, and the role of the project manager and the team is to distill this information into a concise message. For example:
- The pass rate for the initial system testing cycle is 83%, consistent with our quality expectations.
- The pass rate for the initial acceptance testing cycle is 54%, which is below expectations. A root cause analysis is underway.
- There are 45 risks logged on the project, but there are only 2 high-risk items that do not have a remediation plan.
Once I managed a large program with dozens of documented issues and risks. Prior to the weekly stakeholder meeting, we gleaned the list for significant items and presented the 10 most important ones. These items were included in the meeting because they were either critical to the program’s success or required stakeholder action.
- Ask for what you need. If you need something from your stakeholders, be prepared with your “ask.” You may need an approval, a decision, or guidance from your stakeholders. If you do, be specific about the request—don’t assume they will divine the need. For example:
- I need you to authorize X hours of overtime (estimated cost of $Y) so that we can catch up on development.
- The team has identified two options; we need your guidance on which to select.
- Develop a regular reporting cadence and cycle. Most projects can be effectively managed with a weekly reporting cycle. Establish your reporting cycle and stick with it.
- Do not chase the news cycle. Do not update the project status in the middle of the reporting cycle unless a significant event occurs. If your weekly stakeholder status meeting is on Tuesday, don’t provide interim updates on Thursday or Friday. While there is the impulse to provide constant updates because things change daily, resist the urge. Frequent updates cause confusion if stakeholders hear different messages during the reporting cycle.
Communications management is one of the fundamental roles of the project manager. Project managers that effectively plan and manage communications demonstrate the leadership within the project team. A well-articulated status delivers value to the stakeholders.
© 2015, Project Management Essentials, LLC
For more information on status reporting, see:
Project Status is Never “Fine by Manager Tools.com
The Ultimate Guide to Status Reporting by Project Manager.com