4 Tips for Successful Project Reports

Successful project reporting

You’ve made great progress on the project you’re implementing for one of your largest clients. The enterprise-level project is a two year endeavor and you’re half-way through the first year. Time is flying by and it’s time again for the Quarterly Executive Project Review. You know which one I’m talking about. The one where you and select members of your team are traipsed in front of the Client’s executive team to talk about the project report,  provide an update on issues, answer their questions and ask for their help in those areas that need assistance.

You’re picturing yourself in front of this stuffy crowd of stately stakeholders all looking over the top of their glasses at you. They have a permanent look of disbelief etched upon their face. Your presentation is up on the screen and your project reporting software is coming into focus. You begin talking, but are interrupted almost immediately with a barrage of questions that rivals any episode of Jeopardy.

But then you realize… that was the way it USED to be! You used to dread these meetings. You would sweat and fret over the presentation. You would obsess over your reporting software in preparation for the meeting. You would make sure that each and every word was hand-picked so as not to cause alarm, enflame, or elicit any other type of emotion, that would cause this honorable crowd to go down a path of negativity of which would be hard to recover.

It’s not like that anymore. You’ve figured out how to present at these types of meetings, and have come to almost (“a-l-m-o-s-t”), look forward to these meetings. If you have the same gut-wrenching, heart-palpitating, headache-inducing reaction to the Quarterly Executive Project Review, then the following points will help you make the most of these meetings.

But first, let’s talk about the benefits that can be derived from such a meeting.

The Benefits of the Quarterly Executive Project Review

Executive review of a projectLook past the fact that the meeting is called a Project Review. You can make it whatever you want. Sure, you need to discuss project status, risks, next steps, etc., but you can also use it to focus on new opportunities, gather strategic information related to where the customer is going, and make the relationship between your two organizations seem like a match made in heaven. You don’t have to limit the meeting to what was pulled from your project reporting software.

Use this meeting as an opportunity to clear up all those stubborn little obstacles that haven’t been resolved since the project started. Your counterpart at this client meeting has done the best he can, but sometimes things are even out of his control. At this table are the people that can make a difference, and even more importantly, they can make a decision so activity can get unstuck and the project can move forward.  Resources can be assigned, schedules can be cleared, and budgets can be reallocated at the single nod of an executive giving the go-ahead.

A Recipe of DO NOT’s for a Good Executive Review

The following are some guidelines you’ll want to follow for the purpose of having a productive and stress-free executive review.

1. Don’t Dwell on the Past

This crowd doesn’t care that you met your goals. It’s an assumption on their part. These people are a no-nonsense, no-excuses group of people that didn’t get where they are by resting on their laurels. Spend 20% of the meeting rapidly going down the checklist of what’s been accomplished so everyone is on the same page, and then the remaining 80% of the time on the future. Talk about next steps, strategic initiatives and issue resolution. This is how this crowd is wired, that’s what keeps them engaged, and that’s what makes you sound credible.

2. Don’t Just Present the Positive

If you get in front of everyone and just focus on everything that went right, then your credibility begins to dwindle as well. These people have made plenty of mistakes in their career and they know stuff happens. They also realize that’s part of business and if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not pushing the envelope and you’re certainly not learning. They know there’s more to business than just what shows up on a sanitized project report. You don’t have to air all of your dirty laundry, but do be mindful to include a ‘missed opportunities’ component to the presentation. It can go something like this. “We tried a new way of completing this particular task in hopes of reducing cost for your company. Unfortunately, we found that it didn’t work and we stumbled a bit on the schedule. However, what we did learn from this brief experiment has now been implemented in another section of the project where we have been able to reduce cost by 15%. Any questions?” That resonates with this crowd and gives them the respect they deserve.

3. Don’t Sound like a Project Manager

This group of people doesn’t care about Gantt charts, or project schedules, work breakdown structures, or the project reporting software you use. Do you know what they do care about? The bottom line. Do you know why they care about the bottom line? Because their personal financial statements are joined at the hip with the company’s bottom line. Bonuses, compensation and other employment variables are intrinsically connected to how well the company is doing.With this fact in mind, always speak in terms of how much money this saved, the income it generated, the expenses it cut and any combination thereof that allows them the ability to take home a bit more for themselves.

4. Don’t Spend a lot of Time Putting Your PowerPoint together

This may sound counterintuitive, but they don’t want to see another PowerPoint presentation. If they wanted to read mind-numbing bullet after mind-numbing bullet they could do that on their own time. Have a conversation with these people.  Ask them questions. Let them ask you questions. Look them in the eye when you talk to them…not at some screen filled with mindless dribble that you’re reading from. If you do have a PowerPoint, just have it serve as a backdrop to the main show…which is you.

I had a friend who spent weeks obsessing over his PowerPoint. It had to be just right. It was the money slide that carefully and slowly built upon itself and was designed to leave the crowd breathless. The day of the executive review came and the presentation started out great. Then, somebody accidentally hit the button that shut everything down. The screen went up into the ceiling, the projector shut off, and his hopes fell to the floor. All that was left was printed-out copies of a jumbled mess that left people with no clue of what he was talking about.

He vowed never to let that happen again and since that day has kept it simple.

Take a new view of the Quarterly Executive Project Review meeting. View it as an opportunity to tell good things and move your project forward. Apply the four principles above and you’ll find that you just can’t wait until you get in front of these executives again!

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