Create Better Reports

Reporting is a strange thing. Generating a report for your project is crucial, but to create the more effective and relevant report is almost like alchemy. It is part art and part science.

Reporting is communication across the organization. A Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) study on the state of project management described the impact on project communications ability to reveal alignments (or lack thereof) in strategy. The findings revealed a gap between what the C-suite (86%) believed to be projects aligned with strategy, compared to only 72% of the project managers running the projects. Effective reporting can make the difference in project success, especially when the data is as up-to-date as possible.

You need the right tools, of course, but regardless of that it’s important that you know the best way to make a big impact when delivering that report. Here are six ways to achieve that goal.

1. Customize your report for your audience

You may have a preferred approach to how you like to deliver reports, but then your project sponsor or CEO wants the data in a completely different format. Either way, your goal is to demonstrate real project data in a meaningful, clear way.

Your online project software delivers reports, usually with a suite of templates that you can use to provide status updates in a standardized format on your project. What many project managers don’t realize is that these are customizable. Drag and drop fields, change colors, add in your logo and tweak the report in numerous other ways to ensure it shows exactly the data that you want.

Don’t try to fit everything on one report. Yes, you can customize reports and that’s great. But if you try to squash everything on there you’ll end up with a mess that no one but you can understand. Remember, reports are normally prepared for the benefit of someone else so it pays to keep them simple!

2. Make sure the data is up-to-date

The problem with project reports is that you need input from other people to get them done. Last month one of my key resources went on vacation without giving me an update first, and I struggled to complete my report on time. The person covering for him did an adequate job, but it would have been easier if the resource and I had both remembered that the reporting deadline was going to happen while he was away and made some time to catch up before he left.

Make sure your team actively updates their timesheets and any other data they are responsible for on an ongoing basis. Doing that daily is best: if you have an unexpected request for a report, you have all the data you need to generate that report accurately.

3. Go beyond status updates

There is a lot of data in your project management app, and you can report on practically all of it. Status reports are one of the main types of report that you will produce but there are other reports too that are equally valuable and that pull data from your software tools.

For example, you can review the level of project risk by preparing a chart that shows all risks plotted on a graph. This is really helpful before a project board meeting as it helps stakeholders visualize the risk profile of the project.

You can produce resource reports which show you who is over-allocated and who on the project team doesn’t have enough work to do. This can help you reallocate tasks to ensure a good balance in the team and to keep everyone engaged without burning out.

Tracking reports compare your original project baselines to your actual performance. You can do this on pretty much any element of your project such as the budget, resources or schedule. A budget tracking report, for example, will show you what you originally planned to spend and how much you have spent to date. This is helpful both for you and your project sponsor as it gives you an early warning sign about whether your project is likely to go over budget or not. You can track time by the number of days you are ahead or behind schedule so the data is granular and realistic – much more meaningful in my opinion than a percentage (although you could set it up like that if you preferred).

Tracking resource reports show you whether you are using your resource time at the same rate that you anticipated. The variance between planned resource usage and actual resource usage can be helpful if you need to secure extra resources or negotiate for more time on the project.

simple steps to better report on projects

4. Go live, especially during meetings

Paper is so…2014. All your tools are online, why bring multiple printed copies of that report? Your stakeholders will be head-down drilling into your printed data, rather than listening to you present the most important information on a large screen. Bring a tablet and mirror your device on an interactive whiteboard or wall-mounted TV. Or bring your laptop and do the same.

Being able to call up any report during your meeting will save time for everyone, and certainly will enable you to directly address your project’s health.

5. Drill down into the data by filtering

If you are preparing a progress report for your project sponsor, and the report shows all the tasks from your schedule, it could be too detailed. You may want to filter it to only show milestones. That’s still a lot of unnecessary data as it includes tasks that have already completed and she knows about them, so you can filter it again to show only outstanding milestones.

There are plenty of filtering options: show tasks due this week, show tasks that are overdue, etc, so you can create tailored views that present meaningful project data to your stakeholders.

6. Create a general health report

A general project health report lets you see key indicators at a glance. It shows you progress for a number of critical measures such as time, cost, quality, resource and risk. These measures are simple and give you a one-page view of whether your project is performing well. If it isn’t, that’s easy to see and you can then do something about it.

This type of general health report is often called a dashboard. Dashboards are special types of project reports that let you drill down into the detail and often are used to present high level overviews of your project so the sponsor. They are excellent and very easy to use.

The project reporting tools offered by are powerful and adaptable to your specific needs. The reporting tools will improve the overall process for reporting, but also the accuracy of those reports. The ability to customize reports for each stakeholder to let them see exactly what they need to see is a game-changer.

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