Friday, September 13, 2013

The Project Status Report – Content That Matters

"Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.”
                                                                                                - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This is the second post in the series on The Project Status Report.  In this post, I get specific about the appropriate content of a PSR.  But first, while it is called a Project Status Report, it typically includes status (snapshot), trending, progress (accomplishments) and exception (variance) content.  Second, the PSR should not be confused with a person’s (individual) status report (ISR), which everyone on the team should be completing.  Further, the PSR is not a roll-up from the ISRs.  Finally, the PSR, when done properly, is aligned with and contributes to the overall Management by Objectives (MBO) approach.
This last point deserves emphasis.  The PSR does not and should not say what is going on.  I know this seems totally off base, but to ignore this point devalues the PM contribution.  Rather, the project has a plan and the PSR documents the consistency with or variance from the plan.  So rather than saying “what is going on,” the PSR should say what is going on relative to the plan, which is a key distinction.

I’ve found that the following sections are useful to have in the PSR:
·         Current snapshot
·         Dashboard
·         Performance to plan
·         Accomplishments
·         Planned for next period
·         Issues/ Variances
·         Acceptances
·         Change activity
·         Risk summary
·         Downtime

Not all organizations use all sections and not all sections are appropriate for all organizations.  Let me discuss each section.

Current snapshot

This optional section is status content and is the executive summary of the PSR.  It should be a very brief (no more than a few sentences) narrative.  Of particular significance is to use this section to emphasize areas where stakeholder intervention is required, such as resolving third-party bureaucratic or administrative interference, stakeholder non-compliance (failure to approve a deliverable or change request), failure of a risk or issue owner to act, or when intervention is needed to address a “red light.”


This optional section is status content (and is improved with trending indicators).  Despite their popularity, I’m not a big fan of “traffic lights,” those red-yellow-green circles to summarize status, primarily because there often is not a clear understanding by all stakeholders what the traffic lights mean.  Further, a single traffic light summarizes too much to be sufficiently actionable (for example, something I experience regularly is that we will start a project before all of the budget administrivia is complete, knowing that the executives have approved the project and it will go forward.  However, the project shows red because of the budget and, so, everyone ignores the traffic light.  But there may also be other factors that should be recognized that are concealed because of the attention to the budget.)

I’m OK with traffic lights when the following conditions are met:  1) all stakeholders understand what the lights mean (in particular, when their action or intervention is required);  2) that there are multiple lights providing sufficiently discrete information to the stakeholders (e. g., budget, schedule, scope, approvals, issues, risks).  Traffic light value is improved if there are trending indicators (for example, up/ down arrows) to communicate changes.

Performance to plan

This is required status content.  This should include a Gantt chart (showing variance from plan) or, even better, Earned Value (and Earned Schedule) graphs.  This is the meat of the status report.


This is optional progress content, though it is universally included.  Equally universal is that the wrong information is presented.  This should report accomplishments, not activity.  Avoid muddy verbs, such as:  worked on, met, attended.  Instead, use only concrete verbs, such as completed, published, documented, tested, coded.  The activities associated with these verbs should be tasks or activities in the WBS (and thus on the project schedule).  Finally, include metrics whenever possible (e.g., completed 20 of 30 test cases).

To digress momentarily, be clear about what “completed” means.  I often have developers report they completed an assignment.  “Have you completed the unit testing,” I ask.  “No, I completed the coding.”  OK, but the task is not complete.  These types of grey areas compromise the accuracy and the credibility of your reporting.

Planned for next period

This is optional progress content.  The same rules as listed for Accomplishments apply.

Issues/ Variances

This is required exception content and is usually a table documenting current project issues, the issue owner, activity and plan for resolution.


This is required status and exception content.  This should be a table listing each deliverable that has been submitted but not approved and deliverables that will be submitted in the next few weeks.  Table columns should list the deliverable name, responsible approver, date (to be) submitted, date approval was (or will be) due, and status (Not submitted, Pending approval, Overdue, Approved).  Overdue approvals should be highlighted.  Once an approval is received, this is reported as complete on the next PSR, then it is removed from future PSRs.

Change activity
This is required exception content.  This, too, is a table listing each submitted, but not completed, project change request.  Columns should include PCR number, title, date submitted, date response due, and status (Submitted, Pending approval, Approved/ Denied, Project plan updated).  Once the PCR has been denied or after the project plan is updated following the approval, this is reported on the next PCR, then it is removed from the table.

Risk summary (key risks)

This is required exception content.  This section is formatted similar to the Issues section.  One thing important to add to the section heading is “Date last discussed.”  This should be the date that risks were most recently discussed in the Client Project Meeting with the stakeholders.  I find that these meetings rarely discuss risks because time runs out before we get to this agenda item.  Risks should be discussed at least monthly and, if they haven’t been, this discussion should be moved to the top part of the agenda.


This is optional exception content and will rarely be seen except in the status reports of the top echelon consulting firms.  It really isn’t meaningful in a Product & Service Delivery environment, but may mean the difference between profit and loss for a Consultancy PM.  When the client is responsible for the infrastructure on which the project depends, any failure, downtime, or force majeure where they are billed for your services but no work is being performed because of their nonperfomance, should be reported in this section.  It should (hopefully) be rare to have content here, but it is important to report it when appropriate.  I have also seen this section used to report “thumb twiddling” time because a client has not given timely approval to a deliverable.

There are obvious direct benefits from issuing weekly project status reports.  In the next and final post on this series, some key indirect benefits that may not be obvious.
What benefits do you receive or would you expect from publishing a weekly status report with this content?  What project problems can be avoided?  Can you guess what points I’ll bring up?

© 2013 Chuck Morton.  All Rights Reserved.

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