Sometime during the project – definitely at the end but also likely one or more times while in progress – you’re going to be reporting project status on your high-profile project to senior management. This process will be different than how you report status to your team or even your customer.
Your report to management is likely to be more formal but less detailed. Here your concern is not with the details of execution but with whether the project will be completed on time and within budget. Any problems meeting those requirements should be discussed in the management progress report.
Even though your company may not require a progress report from you, it might be wise to suggest such a policy, notably for longer-term projects with large budgets that involve a large number of employees. Plus, if you’re running a high-profile project your senior management is going to want to know how things are going at key points in the project. Is it better to have them catch you off guard in the elevator or is it better to give them a formal project progress report through your own proactive actions? The latter will make the best impression. For this type of progress report, budget and schedule reviews are essential - not to mention the need to assure yourself that your efforts are aimed toward the right objectives.
If your company does expect a progress report, it should probably be prepared in written form, even if you deliver the report verbally and electronically. Make it a matter of personal policy always to prepare a brief written summary of your presentation. You may also want to insist on detailed reports from project team employees, to help them become familiar with formal project reporting as they grow in their ability to handle project responsibilities and leadership.
What should your report contain, and how long should it be? The report to management should convey only the information it needs to know about your project (for example, there is no need to list the details of an earlier delay that was absorbed later). I suggest limiting the report to include only the following:
1. A very brief description of the project and its final deadline
2. Current status (schedule and budget)
3. Explanations where needed, especially of time and money variances
4. Expectations for the near future - completion of the project compared to deadline
Both schedule and budget status can be kept down to one page or a series of bullets with any necessary explanation. For example, you might want to include the budget variance report form, in which only major variances are accompanied by explanations, or a Gantt chart project schedule, which gives an excellent summary of your schedule.
If your project is on schedule and within budget, the entire report may be relatively short – a good sign things are going well. If there are issues and further explanation is required, try to identify the problems in terms of likely solutions. What can the person receiving the report do to help you overcome a problem? Anything other than action-oriented comments is not productive.
A critical point to remember concerning your report to management: Missing a promised deadline is not always a disaster (in fact, in some situations, management accepts delays as normal). What is a disaster, though, is failing to disclose the delay in advance. Your report should be as accurate and as complete as possible, even if it contains bad news.