Nearly 60 percent of projects fail due to communication breakdowns, and 75 percent of project managers lack confidence in project success, partly due to out-of-sync stakeholders.
Accurate, consistent project reporting is one way to insure your projects don’t become a part of these statistics.
The thing is project reporting isn’t easy. In fact, most project teams face the following challenges.
- They spend too much time preparing reports.
- They fear consequences from the data being misunderstood.
- Stakeholders don’t read reports.
- They’re unsure how to improve performance based on their reports.
And it isn’t any easier for senior leadership either, although they face different challenges in project reporting, including:
- Inconsistent project reporting across projects
- No early warning detection
- Outdated or superfluous information
- Tracking the wrong metrics
Fortunately, we’re here to teach you the ins and outs of project reporting, including best practices and how to simplify reports so they get read. You’ll also get a handful of project reporting templates to save you time and create consistent reports across projects for executives. Once you master the basics, you’ll also be ready to utilize the many tools available for project reporting.
Project Reporting Best Practices: How to Write Effective Project Reports
Ask yourself: What’s the intent of the report?
What’s the result you’re looking for by sending this report to whoever you’re sending it to? What’s the call-to-action (CTA)?
What are you trying to communicate? Who is your target audience?
If you want the stakeholder to read your report, you must tailor the information specifically for them, and make sure whatever you include is related to only the aspect(s) of the project that is most relevant to them.
One way to insure you’re giving stakeholders only what they need is to verify the report’s value. Are the reports you’re sending actually of value to them? Ask them. Validate what they want/need to know.
What if you get sick or you’re out of the office for a period of the project you’re managing? How is someone going to be able to take the reins while you’re out?
Well, if you’ve been consistently creating project reports, then there’s a historical record of the project that can act as a primer for the temp PM.
Another benefit of consistent project reporting is it can serve as a template for future projects that are similar in scope, saving you time on the next project.
Keep reports high-level.
Start with the overall goals, benefits, health and progress of your project, using high-level information snapshots before you dive into the minute details of the project.
Make reports consistent.
You want to send your reports on a consistent basis, so stakeholders know when to expect them.
Validate the information.
This should go without saying, but make sure you validate the accuracy of project reports. If you don’t and you slip, making a mistake, it’s a surefire way to lose credibility in the office.
Simplify your reports.
Simplifying your reports is useful for a few reasons:
- It makes it easier to assess a project’s current status.
- It’s useful for facilitating problem solving.
- It’s easier to identify potential issues.
- It facilitates group collaboration.
Three ways to do this include:
- Only reporting exceptions (variances, issues, risks)
- Including current status
- Using visual data
4 Types of Project Reports
Project Status Report
A status report provides stakeholders with a project snapshot that gives them greater insight into the project, improves tracking, and documents project progress.
6 Items to Include When Project Reporting
Think of the key highlights section as the executive summary of your report.
At the top, include key details, such as, the project sponsor, project manager and date.
You’ll also want to outline everything that’s happened — or not happened — within the last week along with what you plan to accomplish the following week. Include updates on:
Project Timeline Completion
Your project should be divided into milestones, or groups of tasks, so you can easily report the status of a phase or deliverable.
Tell stakeholders the overall percent completion of the project as well as the percent complete of the phases/milestones.
This section will alert you to whether or not you’re on schedule or falling behind.
Additionally, you could list everything you’ve completed here as well.
Be transparent about your budget, but make sure to ask your leadership team or boss just how transparent you should be in this report.
If you feel like the budget status will scare team members, then make a quick note about it in the report.
A simple update of how much you’ve spent vs. how much was budgeted along with the percentage spent will do. Clearly label whether you’re behind, ahead or on-target.
Upcoming Tasks and Milestones
In a clean four-column table, list upcoming tasks and milestones. Columns should include: the task/milestone title, target deadline, task/milestone owner and any comments or details.
Items for Escalation
What requires immediate attention? Document it here, and make note of who needs to pay attention to it. This is your place to ask for support, whether that’s more resources or a key decision.
Key Risks, Issues and Mitigation Plans
Issues are problems that have already occurred, and risks are issues that may occur.
List only the big ones, and prioritize them accordingly.
Please note that this section is not the place to deliver or bury bad news. Instead, deliver that type of information in person the moment you’re aware of it.
Put this information in a four-column table as well, for easy reading. Columns should include: Issue/risk, severity, action and owner.
The resource report tells you who’s doing what when. It should provide you with a breakdown of which team member is responsible for which task(s) on which day.
This report is useful for diagnosing over-allocation issues, when a team member is allocated to more than one task. Clearly, this is a problem because they can’t work on two things simultaneously, forcing your project to fall behind schedule.
Resource reports are also beneficial for scheduling more than one person. Running a report will show you when someone becomes available, so you can likely assign them another task when that happens.
Also, comparing your resource availability with your project timeline will help you plan more efficiently.
By doing so, when one person completes a task, you can make sure that the next available resource can pick up on the following task. This way, your project won’t become bottlenecked, waiting for someone else to become available.
Resource Report Tips
- Properly allocate time for each project. Don’t assume all of your resources are committed 100 percent to your project. They’re likely juggling multiple projects. So allocate each person X number of hours (which could be converted to a percentage) you can assign them on your project.
- Block out unavailable time. Make sure resources aren’t assigned critical deadlines on days when they’re out of the office. Ask them to update their schedules with upcoming vacations, etc. so you can block out that time on your timeline.
- Execute a risk plan for your critical resources. It’s not uncommon for critical people to be reassigned to higher priority projects. Plan for that ahead time by noting it in your risk plan. Sometimes, you’ll even have to go and update your original project estimates because their replacement(s) may not be as seasoned or knowledgeable, and therefore, may take longer to get things done.
- Require real-time time tracking.
- Recognize bottlenecks and adjust quickly.
Risk Assessment Matrix
A project report that could help reduce these stats and insure your project doesn’t fail? The risk assessment report.
A risk assessment matrix quickly calculates a project’s risk by listing everything that could go wrong and considering its potential damage. This makes it easy to prioritize issues so you can focus on the ones that could impact your project the most if left unmitigated.
How to Create a Risk Assessment Matrix
Step 1: Create a risk register.
A risk register is simply a list of everything that could go wrong with your project. Include information on the areas affected, severity level, likelihood it’ll occur, risk impact and recommended actions.
Here are some common risks to help you brainstorm:
- Resources: Losing a team member to illness, death, injury or another project
- Operational: Disruption to supplies and operations, lost access to required assets or distribution failures
- Reputational: Lost customer or employee confidence, or damage to brand reputation
- Procedural: Failures of accountability, internal systems, or controls
- Project: Overspending, failing to meet deadlines, or not meeting quality standards
- Financial: Business failure, stock market fluctuations, interest rate changes, or non-availability of funding.
- Technical: Advances in technology, or from technical failure.
- Natural: Weather, natural disasters, or disease.
- Political: Changes in tax, public opinion, government policy, or foreign influence.
- Structural: Dangerous chemicals, poor lighting, falling boxes, or any situation where staff, products, or technology can be harmed.
Additional brainstorming techniques include:
- Reviewing your systems, processes or structures and analyzing risks. Can you spot any vulnerabilities?
- Ask others with different perspectives. Ask your team members, and consult others, who have managed similar projects.
Step 2: Determine the severity, likelihood and impact.
Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? Label the severity level however you feel most comfortable. In our template, we used the following:
- Acceptable: If this risk happens, you’ll still be A-OK.
- Tolerable: While this will hurt, you are positive your project will jump back.
- Bad: This is as bad as it gets.
Obviously, some risks are more like to occur than others, and you’ll want to jump on those ones faster. Here’s the three labels we chose to assess the likelihood level:
- Unlikely: Pigs will fly before this occurs.
- Possible: You still have hope this won’t happen.
- Probable: You would bet on this happening.
This is the general level of risk, based on the likeliness of this occurring and how severe the consequences would be. Use this to prioritize risks, and identify red flags. Here’s how we labeled these:
- Low: These are unlikely to occur and don’t pose a serious threat.
- Medium: These are speed bumps that slow your project down.
- High: Expect these events to throw your project seriously off course without mitigation. They need immediate action to mitigate.
Project Post-Mortem Report
At the end of your project — whether it was a success or failure — it’s best practice to host a post-mortem meeting.
A post-mortem meeting is when you get together with your team to examine your project’s wins and fails and uncover lessons for the future.
It’s the chance to ask:
- What went right during the project that we should repeat in the future?
- What went wrong during the project that we should avoid in the future?
- What should we do differently next time?
Post-mortems aren’t just for large projects. They’re equally useful for smaller projects and ongoing ones.
And you don’t even have to wait for the end of a massive project to extract value from a team retrospective. In fact, at the beginning of a project, when you’re creating the schedule, input mini post-mortems at the end of big milestones.
Doing so will give your team information on how a project is progressing and it can help pick up potential issues before they become massive ones. It’s also a great time to suggest reading or courses for the team to ensure everyone has the skills needed to run successful projects.
How to Conduct a Project Post-Mortem
Step 1: Send out a pre-meeting survey.
Because post-mortems are usually only an hour-long meeting, you want to make sure every on your team has a chance to speak up, hence the pre-meeting questionnaire.
This also provides your team the opportunity to prepare for the meeting and organize their thoughts ahead of time.
The meeting agenda should be informed based on the responses from the survey, focusing on the items that had the biggest impact.
We’ve included a list of questions to ask in our post-mortem questionnaire template, which you can download here.
Step 2: Organize the meeting.
Post-mortems should be more organized and formal than a regular, everyday meeting, so you can extract the most value for your time.
During this step, you’ll want to select a neutral moderator to facilitate the discussion and insure everyone is civil and sticks to the meeting agenda.
It also helps to set some ground rules. Here are some examples for your inspiration.
- Be constructive, not destructive. State the issue and focus on the solution.
- Don’t get personal. This isn’t about placing blame or finger-pointing. It’s about discussing challenges and finding solutions for the future.
- Give every team member a chance to provide her point of view.
- Be respectful of one another’s points of view.
- Cover all of your bases. Figure out what made the project simple, difficult, pleasurable or miserable.
- Identify where the process works and where it breaks down.
- Celebrate your successes and fix your flaws.
Step 3: Set the meeting agenda.
By creating a meeting agenda ahead of time, you’ll save your team from veering too far off track. Here’s an example agenda.
Project Recap (15 min)
This is a brief overview of the original project expectations and deliverables. Reviewing this sets the baseline for what you’re measuring success and failure against.
Outcome Recap (15 min)
Pinpoint what went well and not so well based on the anticipated outcomes.
Stakeholder Input (30 min)
Give your team and clients the floor to share their perspectives on why the project unfolded the way it did.
Step 4: Document it.
Assign a designated notetaker to take notes of the key highlights during the meeting and send them to the entire team once it’s over.
They don’t need to write every single word. Just the key highlights.
- All project issues
- All project wins
- Any next steps/action items
Step 5: Extract insights from the notes.
There’s no point in wasting everyone’s time with a meeting if you aren’t going to actually change any of your processes based on the insights discovered during your post-mortem.
To actually change, consider setting aside time immediately after the meeting to review the notes and transform the high-level takeaways into an action plan. While reviewing the notes, identify common patterns and their root causes.
Once you have a few areas for improvement, develop a few procedural changes you could implement on the next project to avoid the mistakes made during this project.
Here are a few questions that could help jumpstart this process.
- What do we absolutely need to do? Identify the problem and its impact on your projects.
- What can we do about it now? Come up with some strategies you can implement in the next few months.
- What should we do about it in the future? Ideate strategies that you can execute after the next three months.
Send the final action plan to your team. Get feedback, and buy-in. Finally, execute.