5 Ways to Keep Your Project Management Status Report out of the Trash

Project Management Status Report: Who Threw This in the Bin?

I’ve been thinking about Junk Mail lately. The unwanted barrage of promotions, discounts, and coupons that take up space in my mailbox. I’ll open my mailbox and quickly sift through the envelopes to see if there is anything addressed in a handwritten manner to me personally. I then sift through the bills. And then, I finally make it to the junk mail.

As I walk back from the mailbox to the house I expeditiously move all the junk mail into my left hand without even the slightest glance. I know what junk mail ‘feels’ like since I’ve received so much of it throughout my life. The second I get in the house I find the garbage can and unceremoniously dispose of this email that I consider little more than a nuisance.

Then I stop and think. This ‘junk mail’ package was designed by somebody. This, somebody, was undoubtedly very proud of what they put together. It had to go through numerous reviews and checkpoints where everyone looked over the junk mail piece and said “yes, this is good.’ It then made it through its entire production cycle including printing and mailing the piece. All the while the originator of this junk mail was saying to themselves “yes, this is a very nice piece of mail that is sure to grab people’s attention.” The result: I don’t even look at it and throw it away without even the slightest feeling of remorse. How sad.

Does your Project Management Status Report Fall into the Category of Junk Mail?

Do you look back each week and say “yes, this is good”? Do you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when you push the Send button knowing that everyone that receives your project management status report is sure to be enlightened? Do you even know if your project management status report is being read? Or, is it possible that recipients are moving the report directly into their Trash folder?

“Unconscionable!” you may say. Yes, but also highly likely. Don’t take it personally. Everyone in the company is so busy with their own things that they have little time to spend on what they could perceive as ‘your’ things. Or, you could almost take it as a compliment that everyone knows you have everything under control anyway so why bother digging into the details. Regardless, chances are your project management status report is not receiving the attention you feel it deserves. What can you do about this? The following are 5 things you can do to keep your project management status report out of the trash:

#1. Keep It Short

This is not the time to pontificate and editorialize. You are not a person that is sitting around the house all day with little more to do than writing Op Ed pieces to the local newspaper in hopes of them being published. No, you are an extremely busy project manager that has a million things going on at one time. Also, your audience is in the same boat as you. They are not sitting around all day reading the Op Ed pieces that have been published in the local paper. In other words, keep your project management status report short…ideally one page. Capture the most vital aspects of the project in as few words as possible and get right to the point.

#2. Keep Reports Consistent

Project management status reports are not the reports you want to use to explore your creative side. How does this happen? Well, this week includes a nice color coded chart that provides some very meaningful information about the project. It’s in the upper left corner and really stands out. Next week you decide you don’t like that so much and move it to the bottom right corner. You also decide to change what the report is measuring and add another section with some discussion points that came up over the week. The following week you move the chart around again and then lose the discussion points.

A word of advice… don’t do that! Find a format that works for you and for the recipients of the report and stick with it. Keep your reports consistent. Is there room for change every now and then? Yes. But, it should be infrequent, it should be after discussion with the users of the report, and the change should be clearly communicated.

#3. Make Your Reports Actionable

If you don’t want your project management status reports thrown in the trash then make them actionable. What does this mean? It means that somebody who is reading the report can clearly see what they need to do next.

Here’s a great example of what that means…

There was a company that was responsible for collecting data from hundreds of vendors. The weekly project management status report that came out each week showed which vendors were behind on their data collection efforts. This was good to know, but it would take some research in order to encourage the vendors to move forward. The project manager decided to make this an actionable report by including a second sheet (this is the exception to #1 above) that included the name and contact information. The reader of the report was able to make a quick call or send out an email and voila’…data began to flow.

#4. Keep Your Reports Simple

The higher up the corporate food chain your project management status report goes the simpler it needs to be. Executives in a company are not dumb. Otherwise, they would not be in the positions they have attained. But, neither are they experts in the details of the projects you are managing.

If your project management status reports are chock full of technical mumbo jumbo, jargon, and TLAs (three letter acronyms) then you run a very high risk of having your reports trashed. Resist the urge of making things sound complicated. The art of project management is being able to take something that is incredibly complex and break it down into something that is plain and understandable. You’ll get more buy-in and support from the execs. Plus, it forces you to deeply understand the issues in order to translate them into everyday speech.

#5. Follow-Up

Want to make sure your project management status report wasn’t just thrown in the garbage? Get in the habit of following up. Walk around to team members and ask if they have any questions about the report. Talk to upper management and make sure everything made sense. Ask for ways the project management status report can be revised to be even more meaningful to those who use the report. Once people realize that “there’s a test at the end” they will at the very least take a glance at your weekly project management status report.

Do you want your project management status report read? Make it relevant and actionable. Turn it into something your project stakeholders look forward to each week (like a check in the mail) rather than something they dread (like a bill). You’ll quickly find that your project management status reports will fall into the category of a hand-written note that is personally addressed to the recipient.

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