Have you ever visited a foreign country without knowing how to speak the language, or been in the company of someone who didn’t speak yours?
You can yell at the top of your lungs and the person still won’t comprehend your words. If you want someone to understand you better, learn their language. You don’t have to study for years; rather, learn the most common phrases, questions, and expressions used in their native tongue. The person you are talking to will appreciate the effort and you’ll be able to function in their environment.
Let’s change gears and apply it to project managers who speak the language of project management. We use words like Work Breakdown Structures, Earned Value, Gantt Charts, Scope Creep, and Milestones. Conversely, executives speak a different language, using words like Return on Investment, Quarterly Earnings, Profit, Cost-Cutting, Bottom-Line, and Corporate Strategy.
You may be invited to visit them from time to time in the board room, their native turf. It could be to do a quarterly review of projects you are managing, or to take a “deep dive” into a project they have particular interest in. It might even be to understand what went wrong on a project and what is needed to wrap things up.
Here’s a huge hint – you better learn their language! If you go into the board room with painstaking detail, pivot tables galore, and a vocabulary they don’t understand…you are sunk!
You didn’t take the queue that they do not understand, and instead threw more details, charts and jargon at them! Presenting a ten-page project management status report in a ten-point font is just like talking LOUDER to someone in a country that doesn’t understand your language. This type of behavior could have a serious negative impact on a project management career.
Understand Your Strengths as a Project Manager
A project management status report for management needs to be written in a different language than what you may use with your regular project team. Understanding your strengths as a project manager and the value you bring to the organization will help you prior to putting together your project management status report for executives. For example, you are:
- A Conduit of Clarity: It’s hard to really know what is going on in an organization with the ambiguity, uncertainty, and even chaos that plagues so many companies. Executives are far removed from day to day details, or are told only what their reports think they want to hear.Your unique skill is being able to cut through the static and get to the points that really matter. The project management status report is a great opportunity to convert ambiguity, uncertainty, and chaos into clarity for those around you.
- A Voice of Reason: When people become entrenched in their own viewpoints, positions, and opinions they can become emotionally attached and unreasonable in the decision making process. You have the ability to serve as an objective voice of reason that can influence decisions to go down the correct path.
- A Compiler of Facts: You are not just a compiler of facts, but an important aggregator of facts. There may be scores of people involved in projects and hundreds of conversations going on about your projects at any given time with e-mail, spreadsheets, documents, and other electronic media flying all over the place.You know how to take this massive swirl of information and find trends, patterns, and other meaningful information to make your project management status report useful.
- A Bottom Line Person: The ability to net things out is your biggest asset to the organization. You can take all of the ambiguity, swirl, and information around a project and come up with a pithy, relevant, and actionable piece of information that executives can digest. This is the type of content that needs to appear on your project management status report.
Communicating with Executives Using your Project Management Status Report
The above skills are all for naught if you can’t translate information into something an executive can understand on the project management status report. The following are some suggestions when speaking their language:
- Be Clear, and Concise: One of the first lessons in successfully communicating with executives is to be extremely precise and clear. Don’t leave room for interpretation. Ask for their help if you are bogged down and can’t move a certain part of the project forward. Don’t infer you need their help, or leave it up to them to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
- Use Bullets and Not Narrative: Capitalize on your ability to net things out on your project management status report with quick, “to the point” bullet points that tell execs what they need to know in mere moments. Executives don’t have the time or interest in reading narratives about the project. Bullet points should never be longer than two sentences. A paragraph, or heaven forbid, paragraphs of text explaining the status of the project will be almost guaranteed to fall on deaf ears.
- Be Objective: Just report the facts. Don’t fall into the trap of editorializing or providing your personal opinion on the project management status report. It’s not that you can’t or don’t have an opinion, it’s just that the project management status report is not where these opinions should see the light of day.
What Should Be Included on your Project Management Status Report?
The project management status report can really be as simple as a one or two page document that includes:
- Overall Project Health: This is your summation of netting the project out. Use some type of indicator (green, yellow, red for example) to indicate the overall health of the project. The executives won’t have to give a second thought to areas that are green, but will need to be all over the details if the status is red.
- Milestones: Include the most recent milestones that have been achieved on the project as well as those in the immediate future. This will provide a sense of trending and project velocity.
- Issues: Net out major issues that are surrounding the project. There may be 10 or 20 issues actively being worked through, so don’t dig into too much detail. Rather, break them down into how many critical, semi-critical, and non-critical issues are on the table. Then, include your plan for how the critical issues will be addressed.
Following the above principles for your next project management status report will prevent you from having to speak LOUDLY to your native executives. Understanding their language will allow you to communicate effectively and run your projects more smoothly.
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