Project reports are something that we all have to spend time on, and it’s often hard to know what information to include. You may work for a very ‘process driven’ organization in which case this element is likely to be in place already. However, if you don’t work for an organization like this then you may have to develop your own overview report or your employer / client may ask you to do one for them.
Make no mistake, it’s a balancing act! If you go into the level of detail you know for the project then you will provide reams of paper giving too much information meaning the report is too long and simply won’t get read. In this situation, your employer / client / sponsor will simply ask you for a summary on one page – and don’t be surprised if you detect an element of exasperation in their voice!
On the other hand, too little information and your project sponsor will be hassling you for an update as they don’t feel as if they know what’s going on. Your report needs to give the necessary information, delivered in summary form. You should expect your sponsor to ask questions around areas they have an interest in or know they will get questioned on themselves. Questions are not an indication that your report is deficient.
How often do you update your report? I recommend no less than every two weeks, and it could be more frequent if you have a project with a short timeline or are working on a phase with rapid changes or especially high visibility. Updates should also occur before an important project meeting or as Board papers are being prepared for a Board meeting – it really depends on the reporting cadence and requirements of your client / sponsor.
In terms of what to include, here are the seven things I think are essential to include in your project reports to get that balance just right.
1. An overview
This is the executive summary and might be all that your sponsor reads! Therefore, the Overview is a critical way to communicate the progress of your project, highlight any foreseeable issues and keep your audience informed with a common message.
Include a short summary of the major milestones and whether they are complete or on track for completion. If they aren’t on track to be completed on their baseline dates, then add a note saying what the revised date is likely to be and the reason for any slippage.
Not all project stakeholders are going to be interested in the budget, but your sponsor most likely will be. Note down your overall project budget (split into key areas as appropriate) and what the current expenditure has been. You can also include the estimate to complete – the amount you predict that you’ve still got left to spend.
Of course, your current spending and your estimate to complete should add up to the total project budget, and if they don’t then you’ll need to explain why. You can also include earned value figures if your project uses these (and if the people reading the report will understand them).
Ensure you liaise with finance as there is nothing worse than two sets of figures being presented for the same elements.
Big projects can have hundreds of risks and the project report really isn’t the place to go through them all. That’s what your risk log is for, and you’ll be doing risk management throughout the project to ensure that they are all handled properly and managed appropriately.
For your status updates you’ll only have to include the major risks – the ones that you think your sponsor should know about or that you need a decision made on.
Aim to include no more than five high priority risks in your report. Add a short sentence to describe the potential problem, what impact they would have on the project if they materialised, and what you are doing about them.
Your issue log will probably include many more issues than can be realistically mentioned in the project report, so again focus on no more than five high priority issues.
These should be things that you need to bring to your sponsor’s attention. Document what the problem is and what is being done about it. If you need your sponsor or Project Board to make a decision about the best route forward then mention this, although it’s best to include other information like options to resolve the issue and your recommendation in a separate report.
6. Actions and decisions
This is a useful section of the project report because it specifies what decisions the project team is waiting on, or what major actions need to be taken next – but don’t list all the upcoming project tasks – that’s not going to help your sponsor make decisions.
It’s good to mention these specifically as often sponsors have forgotten that they are supposed to be making a decision and this section helps draw their attention to what role they have to play in the project, namely moving things forward by providing you with the direction you need.
7. Contact details
Include your own contact details somewhere on the report so that if anyone wants more information they can easily get in touch with you.
A final point is to use a standard template for your reports that includes each of these sections. Then you can just cut out last time’s update and add in the new details for this time. This will really cut down the amount of effort it takes to report on your project, making it easier and less time consuming, which has to be a good thing!