As project managers we have a love/hate relationship with reports, don’t we? There’s nothing like starting with massive amounts of disparate, seemingly unrelated data and a blank sheet of paper to get our imaginations flowing.
We love finding trends and patterns. We love uncovering the not-so-obvious and making it crystal clear for everyone to see. We take our unendingly flexible Pivot Tables to extract the truth and then shout it from the rooftops. We boil all of this complexity down into a simple project management report that is met with oooh’s and ahhh’s the first time that it’s rolled out. “This is exactly what we need to make the right decisions about the project,” says the appreciative audience as we bask in the glory of their reportable admiration. And then you have to do the same report again… and again… and again.
This is when you switch into the ‘hate’ part of the love/hate relationship. Putting this report together now becomes a grind, a burden, and is no longer fun. The thrill is gone, the numbers and trends no longer provide the revelations and insights that caused appreciative report recipients to visibly shudder. This simple project management report has become the low point of your week!
What can you do to bring this report back over to the ‘love’ part of the equation? Much of it has to do with making the report as simple as possible to generate as well as continually meaningful and relevant for those who read this report. The following 8 tips will help you make a simple project management report that you will love putting together each week
1. Use Project Templates
Once you have fastidiously developed the pristine report that you fell in love with, save it down as a generic template that can be reused and repurposed time and time again.There’s no reason to start from scratch each time. Or to feel as if every time you dig into the report, its format has to be just a bit better, or more sophisticated, or more telling than the last version you put together. This has a two-fold benefit. First, it makes it much easier for you to put together on a weekly basis. Second, people that use the report become familiar with what they are looking at and know exactly where they can find the information that is designed for them.
2. Don’t Pontificate
Unless specifically requested, there is no need to editorialize, share your opinions, and comment on every detail in the report. Project Managers have a tendency to do this from time to time, feeling as if this is a value-added activity. It may provide some value, however, the same value can be derived from discussing the report in person or at the next project status meeting.Coming up with comments and opinions about everything that is on a simple project management report is time-consuming. It can also get a well-intentioned project manager into unnecessary hot water by not having all the facts straight before rendering an opinion on a tight weekly schedule.
3. Keep the Language Simple
Just say “NO” to TLAs! TLAs are Three-Letter Acronyms that creep up in the jargon and nomenclature of every industry and even every individual company. You can have entire conversations comprised of alphabet soup while one team members spews forth TLA after TLA and the masses all shake their head in agreement because they understand what he is saying.
If you want your simple project management report to be meaningful for everyone, then stay away from jargon and technical-speak as much as possible. This is especially important if this is a client-facing report. Your poor client has no idea what language you speak internally and will just be confused after they read your report. This in-turn prompts a phone call to you which consumes even more of your precious time.
4. Provide the Ability for Anyone to Follow-Up
Keep your simple project management reports short, to the point, and designed to provide facts. If you know there is information on the report that will elicit a number of questions or may be somewhat confusing, you can include the contact information of the person to speak to, directly for follow-up.
This will remove you from the loop of spending an inordinate amount of time on one or two sections in the report that may or may not be of interest to everyone. Those that are interested can follow-up directly with the person who provided the information and dig into further details.
5. Make them Actionable
A key to making a simple project management report worth doing every week is to make it actionable.What do you expect or need the reader of this report to do? Is the request for their assistance crystal clear in the report? Do they have all the information they need in order to follow up, such as a clear next step or which person they need to contact? I’ve seen it too many times that a report is thrown over the fence just for the sake of doing a report and nobody knows what to do with what has been provided. This is a waste of everyone’s time, especially yours.
6. Trust but Verify
– You put this simple project management report together every week under the auspices that someone is going to read it. It’s hard to know if that’s actually happening unless you stalk the recipients as they open their email or check their inbox.
This procedure is generally frowned upon in most companies. So, what can you do?Pick out one or two key points that are in the report that you need to make sure were brought to everyone’s attention and have a conversation about them with the recipients. You’ll quickly get a sense of whether they’ve read your report or not and can make sure they understand the key point that was being made.
Some may not think this is the job of a project manager to follow-up on adults to read their reports. However, I’ll follow up all day long on top executives and upper management that are responsible for the success and funding of one of my projects. Respect the fact that they are busy and it’s up to you to provide them with the information that will make your job easier.
7. Get Someone Else to Put the Report Together
This is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but also very real at the same time. You may fall into the trap that you are the only person in the world that could put a simple project management report together. Nobody can do it like you and it will take you longer just to train them. You need to dispel that thinking right now! Find someone on your team, or someone else’s team for that matter, that has some bandwidth and can you put these routine reports together. They’ll be glad to have something to do and you’ll go back to loving this report every week.
8. Keep Them Short
If possible, keep it to a page or less. Why? Do you see how nice this tip was compared to the other 7 tips?
Reports are a necessary part of our existence as project managers. They keep everyone on the same page, remove surprises, and get people moving forward. It’s up to you to make sure you continue to love the reports you generate. Following the 8 Tips above will move you in that direction!
Here’s another tip. Try our software for 30 days, free, and see how easy it is to create informative, actionable, and relevant reports in real-time. You can create a project report in just three clicks, identify whether the project is on track, and view, print or email your project reports as you wish.