Project reports are something that we all have to spend time on, and it’s often hard to know what information to include.
It’s a balancing act: too much information and the report is too long and won’t get read. Too little information and your project sponsor will be hassling you for an update as they don’t feel as if they know what’s going on.
Here are the seven things I think are essential to include in your project reports to get that balance just right.
1. An overview
Start your project report with a brief one line status update. This is the executive summary and might be all that your sponsor reads! You can also include a statement to say whether the project is red, amber or green, if you use this kind of colour coding to categorise your projects.
Include a short summary of the major milestones and whether they are complete or on track for completion. If they aren’t on track to be completed on their baseline dates, then add a note saying what the revised date is likely to be and the reason for any slippage.
Not all project stakeholders are going to be interested in the budget, but your sponsor most likely will be. Note down your overall project budget (split into opex and capex if appropriate) and what the current expenditure has been. You can also include the estimate to complete – the amount you predict that you’ve still got left to spend.
Of course, your current spending and your estimate to complete should add up to the total project budget, and if they don’t then you’ll need to explain why. You can also include earned value figures if your project uses these (and if the people reading the report will understand them).
Take this information out if your project report is going to an external audience such as a supplier representative or another group where it is not appropriate to share internal cost figures.
Big projects can have hundreds of risks and the project report really isn’t the place to go through them all. That’s what your risk log is for, and you’ll be doing risk management throughout the project to ensure that they are all handled properly and managed appropriately.
For your status updates you’ll only have to include the major risks – the ones that you think your sponsor should know about or that you need a decision made on.
Aim to include no more than five high priority risks in your report. Add a short sentence to describe the potential problem, what impact they would have on the project if they materialised, and what you are doing about them.
Your issue log will probably include many more issues than can be realistically mentioned in the project report, so again focus on no more than five high priority issues.
These should be things that you need to bring to your sponsor’s attention. Document what the problem is and what is being done about it. If you need your sponsor or Project Board to make a decision about the best route forward then mention this, although it’s best to include other information like options to resolve the issue and your recommendation in a separate report.
6. Actions and decisions
This is a useful section of the project report because it specifies what decisions the project team is waiting on, or what major actions need to be taken next – but don’t list all the upcoming project tasks – that’s not going to help your sponsor make decisions.
It’s good to mention these specifically as often sponsors have forgotten that they are supposed to be making a decision and this section helps draw their attention to what role they have to play in the project, namely moving things forward by providing you with the direction you need.
7. Contact details
Include your own contact details somewhere on the report so that if anyone wants more information they can easily get in touch with you.
A final point is to use a standard template for your reports that includes each of these sections. Then you can just cut out last time’s update and add in the new details for this time. This will really cut down the amount of effort it takes to report on your project, making it easier and less time consuming, which has to be a good thing!
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She is Director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy and author of Social Media for Project Managers and the award-winning blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.
Find her on Twitter @pm4girls