Getting Status Reports Done

It is hard when you are starting a Portfolio Management Office and trying to get simple reporting on basic stuff like what is the health of all the projects. Senior managers expect that this is easy. But what happens when you ask for the umpteenth time for a project manager to just send you their status report on time, or write a commentary that a human can read?

Do you:

  • Complain one more time.
  • Set up a working group to create another status report standard.
  • Look on Google to see how many templates exist. On second thoughts don’t do that, I did, there are lots and you’ll get lost trying to find the right one.
  • Say “Oh just give it to us and we’ll do it”.
  • Go all passive-aggressive and just publish the rubbish (not my fault if they get in trouble).

I often find this with organisations that are just starting down the Portfolio Office path where the discipline is not embedded in the organisation. But not that long ago I was in this position myself when I just happened to be having lunch with a good friend, who is also a good project manager.

I was having a whinge about how hard it was to get usable status report. The conversation went something like:

  • He said “do you think we’re going out of our way to be mean to you”,
  • I said “well yes, it must be that, or you’re all incompetent”
  • My very tolerant friend then said “we’re just trying to do our best making a whole heap of people from around the organisation happy – how about you help us”.
  • Me <pause – then attempt to change conversation> “I reckon Richmond’s got a shot at the grand final next year.”

He was right of course, we hadn’t been doing anything to help. It was even worse than that, we had been working from the assumption that project managers were either lazy or trying to cheat. This assumption had led us to create more and more rules for when to submit status updates. And, more and more information so we could check up on what was going on in the projects.

So here’s what we did – it didn’t lead to a perfect result but it made life a lot easier. Perhaps these ideas can help you too.

  • Determined to treat the project managers with respect by working from the assumption that they are doing their best to deliver a great project.
  • Took time out to sit with them and listen to their concerns with the real intent to understand their issues.
  • Took time to understand our own needs and the information do we need to meet those needs. Our most immediate need was to have a view of the project managers confidence of success, a straight forward commentary that backed this up and know if target dates and cost had changed. We had been collecting a lot more information than this.
  • Worked together to agree a simple status update. And, an ongoing commitment to keep refining this over time. Providing the reduced set of information with a clear understanding of why it’s needed made the process much easier for the project managers. It also meant we got the information we needed in a timely fashion and we all felt listened to.

So the steps again:

  1. Determine to treat the project managers in your community respect.
  2. Take time to understand your own needs and the needs of your stakeholders.
  3. Figure out what is the smallest set of information you need and just focus on getting that to the highest quality you can.
  4. Work together to create a better way of working that meets all your goals.

I’m sorry if you came here looking for just the right Status Report template – but I think you’ll find this approach more valuable.

If you are just starting out with a corporate Portfolio Office or have run into difficulties I provide practical advice and guidance on all things PMO. Drop me a line at hello@suricate.com.au. If you are in Melbourne, Australia you might like to join our growing community of PMO managers, we meet monthly to have a coffee together whinge, share ideas about what actually works.