Article overview:

Are you being asked for lots of ad hoc reports? Here’s why your project reports are not hitting the mark.
“Can you do me a quick report to show where we are?” is a phrase that strikes anguish into a project manager’s heart. Because chances are, you probably already produce plenty of project status reports that should satisfy your stakeholders’ every need. So why are they are asking for something different?

Typically, if you’re getting requests for lots of different ad hoc reports, it’s because you are not providing stakeholders with what they need – or what they feel they need. Let’s look at the two most common types of project reports and why they might not be giving stakeholders the information required so they can do their jobs. 

Table of content:

  • 1. Monthly Status Reports
  • 2. Monthly Steering Group Reports
  • 3. Changing your reports

    1. Monthly Status Reports

    The most common type of report in my experience is the one we produce monthly for the project sponsor and PMO. These are most common in a waterfall/predictive type environment, but your PMO may still require monthly updates from agile teams outside of the cadence of agile reporting. 

    These reports normally cover:

    •    Progress and status against that progress
    •    Key risks, issues, changes, and open decisions

    This type of report is really flexible and that’s why you may not be giving stakeholders what they want. Is your report:

    •    Too focused on retrospective measures and not forward-looking?
    •    Too detailed?
    •    Not detailed enough?
    •    Is there enough narrative to explain the situation?
    •    Too out of date as it covers a whole month?

    These could all be reasons why stakeholders are not able to use the report the way they want to for their purposes – which is normally decision making at a senior level. Think about what you are providing and whether it meets the needs of the group. Perhaps it’s OK for PMO reporting but does not provide enough information for your project sponsor. You might have to do two versions of the report to hit all the requirements.

    2. Monthly Steering Group Reports

    Project steering groups meet monthly and are part of the governance framework. This is a way for the project manager and team to be held accountable. The reports are normally provided in advance of the meeting to enable the steering committee to review the progress and come prepared to the meeting. The attendees are normally the project executive team including the sponsor, so they receive information at a high level that is appropriate for the steering and direction setting of the team. 

    If your steering group is asking for additional information because their reports are inadequate, consider:

    •    Is there an executive summary?
    •    Is there too much low-level detail?
    •    Does the report focus on what action you need from the group?
    •    Does the report help them see where the sticking points and major issues are?
    •    Does it ask for action?

    The role of the steering group is to provide exec-level support, unblock issues, and set the direction for the work. If everything is going fine they won’t have to do much of that, but if you need them to intervene (for example, if your project is red or amber status) then it’s important to signpost them to what is required of them, plus provide the supporting material to make sure they can take their next steps in an informed way. 

    Changing your reports

    If you are being constantly asked for ad hoc reports, you have a couple of choices. As we’ve seen above, you can try to make your reports more relevant to your audience so they have the information they need without having to ask for additional reporting. Alternatively, you can switch to ‘live’ project dashboards using your project software as a way of showing real-time information with the ability to drill down into detail. Some executives and team members may make use of those (others will still want the data extracted into a different format). 

    A simple way to minimize your reporting overhead is simply to ask people what they want to receive. Every quarter (so, every 3 months), drop a note in with your report that checks whether the recipient is still receiving the information that they need. Ask the question outright: “Does this report format give you what you need?” Then act on the feedback and ask again in the future. People’s needs change, and they also become accustomed to the kind of information they are being sent and may be willing to read or digest more. So you may find that they are open to receiving different information in the future.

    Remember, ‘different’ could mean different content, or it could be a different format. Perhaps long lists of text are tricky to read for them and they’d prefer a table or a graph or chart that shows the same information but in a more visually-digestible way.

    Reporting is part of what we have to do as project managers, and unfortunately, many companies still expect project managers to produce reports manually as project management software dashboards are not quite perfect for the information they want to receive. The better you can match your reporting to the people who are receiving it – whatever format you use, the easier it will be to limit the time you spend producing paperwork for your key stakeholders. When you’ve got the format and content locked in, simply open up last time’s report and update the details. Template as much as you can to save you time in the future.