The Status Report – Does the Project Manager really need it?
June 5, 2011 1 Comment
In our working lifetime, most of us have had to contend with filing some sort of status report. Generally speaking, these are performed on a weekly basis (usually a Friday), where you gather your thoughts and itemize exactly what you worked on during that week and if you were encountering any issues. (As a sidebar, I had a very Draconian manager years ago that demanded DAILY status reports!)
The content and type of status reports varies, depending on company, manager, et cetera. Some ask for pre-formatted status reports, while others are ok with more ad hoc or off the cuff reports that don’t generally follow a particular theme.
Whatever the case, the invariable question that one might ask is: are status reports still something that are needed or have they become anachronistic?
To answer that, it is important to examine the question from two angles. Those being a) the status reports the project manager provides and b) the status reports the project manager receives from the team. Let’s examine the former first:
Project Management Status Reports
As a project manager, one must always be on top of the general health and status of the project. This is accomplished through continuous monitoring of various data sets and completion of work items. Depending on the type of project and the tools being used, monitoring things like open/close rates of enhancements and defects inherent to the project’s primary deliverable is probably the most common metric that is used. Those rates can also be graphed into things like trend reports or, if you are using Agile, burn-down charts.
Additionally, the project manager must also be fully aware of any additional factors, such as external dependencies, resources, budgets and so forth. Clearly, there is quite a bit of information that a project manager must stay on top of in order to ensure the health of the project.
With that being said, it is important to recognize that the project manager is also responsible for the communication aspects of the project. That means interacting with both the team members, stakeholders, functional managers and the sponsor. With so many individuals, it becomes apparent that ensuring that everyone is kept abreast of the progress and nuances of the project necessitates the need for some kind of regular status reports. In fact, in many cases, the project manager may be required to file more than one report, depending on the target individual. Sponsors and stakeholders may require more high level and terse reports while functional managers and team members may need status that is more granular and technical. Whatever the case, the project manager’s regular status reports become a general staple of their weekly duties. So to ultimately answer the aforementioned question: does the project manager need to compose status reports on a regular basis? The answer would be ‘yes’.
Team Member Status Reports
In addition to the project manager, the project itself will have any number of team members. Some may be direct individual contributors, such as engineers, while others may be in a more tangential involvement, such as business analysts or product marketing managers. Whatever the case, these individuals are performing some form of work inherent to the project itself.
Now since the project manager is responsible for monitoring the progress and completion rate of various features of the deliverable, it may seem obvious that those individuals working on those constituent pieces be required to provide some sort of regular status reports of their own. And in many cases, this may very well be what is going on. But from the standpoint of actually needing those reports, that can become somewhat more subjective.
Nowadays, with the advent of modern technology, copious software tools and other forms of electronic communication, the actual need for regular status reports from a project’s individual contributors may actually be redundant. The reason for that is as follows:
For most projects, especially those in the technical field (hardware and software), engineers and other individuals working on the project are generally working from some electronic queue. That is usually in the form of a tracking system or CMS of some sort. These tools will often have mechanisms in place that will allow the project manager to easily determine what pieces of the project are being worked on and which are still in the queue. Since that information is basically on demand, the need for having the individual contributor tell you what they are working on is no longer necessary. (Provided of course that they are using the tool effectively) Additionally, most project managers will enact a process that involves weekly meetings with all key members of the project. In those meetings, status can be covered verbally by using the electronic queue’s output as reference. If team members are encountering any issues, those can be brought up for discussion. This becomes even more evident if an Agile process is utilized that has daily scrums.
With that being said, the argument can be made that asking for status reports from team members is actually a waste of time. Time that the team members could better spend on their actual workload. Also, requiring status reports from team members is also sometimes interpreted as a lack of trust or ‘micro-managing’ on the part of the project manager. This can lead to team members feeling frustrated when dealing with a project manager who is demanding information that they should be able to acquire through alternate means.
So returning back to the original question of whether or not status reports are needed from the team members themselves, the answer is mostly likely ‘maybe’, but usually ‘no’.
Now many will argue that not all projects are created equal and that status reports from certain team members may be a necessity. Large scale construction projects or anything that may involve resources and channels that are not necessarily all using the same tools, logistics or processes will have to have some intermediary mechanism for correlating the information. And in that case, the status reports may be justified. But it is important to just not make that decision out of hand and assume that a status report is always required. As alluded to earlier, the project manager needs to be diligent in providing status, but a good project manager will also be capable of getting status with minimal intrusion to the team members themselves.