As we said in Part I, progress reports are a goldmine of information, but not all information is derived from the content. Recall from our blog on Essential Project Information (EPI), we specified exactly what information is required from a project team.
We assume you have required this data in its entirety, regardless of complaints from your team. With your EPI report in hand, sit back and evaluate what you’ve just read. You can get a good gauge of your project team’s skills, capabilities, probability of success and honesty based on how they are communicating. Information you can put to good use.
You can’t make good decisions without good data, consistently reported. You need to encourage your team to be forthcoming with all relevant information so that you can help them adjust to changing situations and deal with emerging risks and issues.
After reading a progress report, can you summarize the team progress and its issues? Can you determine if the reporting period was good or bad in terms of meeting objectives? Is there lots of jargon? Clear, or did it just leave you confused?
Please understand this; if you come away from reading a progress report and you don’t understand it, it is not your deficiency. Writing an accurate, timely and understandable progress report is the project team’s responsibility.
Here are a couple more tips to improve your insight into actual project work:
1. Learn to read a project schedule. I know you are going to hate this, but it’s really a useful skill to be able to verify and interpret schedules. Most project teams use a PM scheduling and management tool such as MS Project, Primavera, and others. But I don’t know very many sponsors or executives who actually know how to read and understand a Gantt chart and schedule. Invest an hour to learn this critical skill.
Frequently the Gantt and the progress reports are so different that it would not be unreasonable to ask if they are from the same project! If you see large inconsistencies, dig deeper.
2. Ask Questions – Project teams can sense when a sponsor is only tangentially engaged. And they will take advantage of inattention. Demonstrate you are paying attention to their work by asking meaningful questions, and get them to talk! Listen for what they don’t say….Pay special attention to reported issues.
3. When there’s no bad news – If you get a progress report that has no issues, risks, late tasks or identified problems, this is not good news. More likely, there are critical processes that are not being exercised completely and the bad news is out there, just not identified. Or the team is afraid of conveying bad news, fearing the consequences. All this is bad, because the issues will surface at the worst possible moment.
4. Who authored it? - You can determine from a progress report if your PM really understands the requirements of reporting. This is a good indication of skills and capabilities. Effective project managers understand the attributes of reporting, information transparency and enlist management to assist with problems solving.
5. Trust, but verify - If you read my earlier blog on being an effective project sponsor, you may remember I advocate having spies, and that spies are good. You need multiple sources of information at various organizational levels to verify what you are hearing is the real truth.
6. Look back – Read the previous report. Is there consistency carrying forward risks and issues, and was there broad progress on issues between reports? You can assess and determine a team’s bias for action by evaluating how quickly and effectively they addressed issues from one reporting period to the next.
Six insights into project work and performance, more on this later….