A quick recipe for effective status reporting in large complex programs: Part II – Close the communication loop
In my earlier blog on effective status reporting, I shared the importance of making status reporting an integral part of program planning and having a structured approach to keeping clients updated of the program status. In this blog let us go a step further to understand how effectively we can close the communication loop once the report is sent to the client.
- Follow-through after sending the report. Now that the report has been generated and sent on time, based on a standard agreed format, its recommended that the project manager follows it up with a quick check (either in person or a separate email or over the call) to see if the recipients have any queries on the report. Such follow-throughs, at least during the initial stages of the project, help in ironing out any difference of opinions or the status of the project. The frequency of these checks can reduce over the passage of time – you can start with doing it after every status report for the first 2-3 weeks and then perhaps after the last report of the month during the later stages. A complementary practice is to schedule monthly (or even quarterly) review meetings to look at the cumulative progress of the project till date.
- Always adhere to the committed time. Timing is everything. If the commitment was to send out the status report every Friday afternoon, then Friday afternoon it is – no further, no later. Ensuring that the report always reaches the client on a particular day and time of a week helps in building the trust factor. If the project manager is the designated person to send the report and for some reason (s)he is not available on the day the report is to be sent, have someone designated to send on his/her behalf to the client. This gives the impression to the client that the project is process-oriented and not person dependent. Another point worth mentioning here is the concept of doing ad-hoc report (if the situation demands) instead of waiting for the agreed frequency to kick in.
- Automate as much as possible. Although this may not be possible always, however it is a good habit to try and cultivate. Imagine without having to spend even a single minute in data collection and consolidation before sending the status report. Imagine the status report being generated at the click of a button. Imagine having a link to “export to PDF” or “export to XLS” option. Imagine having an option to email the exported report without having to spend any time in collecting or validating the data for the report. It not only saves time, it also ensures that no human error creeps into the reports. Many contemporary project/portfolio management tools have an option to at least generate basic report information at the click of a button. It might actually make sense in investing to build a tool to generate a status report from existing project management tools. The report generation can be based on a time period selected or for a certain week of project execution. Clients have a tendency to trust reports exported from a tool as opposed to custom written PPT/XLS/DOC reports since data cannot be falsified in such reports. If not the entire report, at least the quantitative metrics section of the report could be automated to save time and indicate integrity of data. Further, workflow automation can also potentially eliminate any delays in the timelines through proactive alerts.
- Seek feedback, feed-forward and refine. Like any other process, even the status reporting process should follow a P-D-C-A cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act). Always seek feedback and feed-forward from all stakeholders affected. Try and understand if the status report is serving the purpose or if any refinements are needed to make it effective.
Effective communication is a key for successful project execution, which entails sharing the right information with the right people in a timely manner. Large programs usually involve multiple stakeholders / vendors / partners and result in huge losses if things go awry. A status report is a great tool to avoid communication gaps. These 7 traits will surely help in making the status reporting exercise fail-proof and effective. If there is one thing that any client would demand from a vendor/partner is “total unadulterated honesty”. One of the biggest challenges is that we always look at the client as being on the other side of the table. The focus should be on building the faith and trust of the customer through effective collaboration. Honest and effective communication goes a long way to achieve that. Bring the client on your side by being honest and transparent so that you sink or swim together.