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Reports: Mate or menace?

by Dima Petruchenya
in on Sep 04, 2013

Have you ever calculated how much time you spend at work? 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, 168 hours a month – it adds up to about 1856 hours a year! (Taking off time for holidays.) The only thing you do more is sleep.

Are you proud of all the hours you spend in the office? Do you feel like you are doing something valuable most of that time? Or do you feel like too much of that time is wasted?

I can almost hear managers out there grunting as they read that. Reporting –ugh. It takes up so much of my time, and accomplishes almost nothing. How often do I write a report that nobody reads or even needs?

Make reporting your friend

So let’s talk about this. Are reports really just a formality that project managers are committed to deliver, but they don’t inform the team or move the project along? Could it be that we, as managers, have helped to create this attitude?

We need to break the cycle! Let’s try looking at our reports from a different angle, starting with the question: How can you make your reports better?

Reports are first of all your strongest retrospective tool. Don’t underestimate them. When creating our reports, we gather and analyze a significant amount of data about our project or process. As the person in charge you pretty much know most the facts, but when it is organized in front of you, you usually see things differently. You might say that the report doesn’t provide enough information to make it really effective. Well, sometimes this is true. So improve the report, offer this change to your manager and I’m sure he/she will accept this change with a pleasure if you are able to justify its value.

Your next question for improving your reports should be: Who and how will use my reports?

Remember your audience! Even if you must use a predetermined format, put yourself in your readers’ shoes and think what they need. What is primary, then secondary? You can improve the format based on these needs. And think about changing the format of your reports as the project evolves. Changing things up could even help to get people to read.

Stay relevant

Project reports are a summary of the project and reflect project status in specific context. But a standard report is not the right tool to first inform your boss about delivery delays, roadblocks or scope changes – especially substantial ones. Reports are usually treated as something regular and cannot attract enough attention of your target audience. What can attract is a conversation or specific email. Use these methods first, and then summarize the problem and action plan in your report. Best practice here is to have resolution plan for each issue (especially critical ones) reflected in your report. It will make stakeholders feel that despite critical issues, everything is under control.

And last of all – keep your reports:

  • Structured
  • Short
  • Specific

You’ll find more people reading – and relying on them.

Dima Petruchenya

Dima Petruchenya

Service Delivery Manager

Dima has 7 years of project management experience and has worked on the projects with cross-functional teams of up to 40 people. In addition, Dima has worked as process manager setting up project management and development processes for software organizations. He has led the development of Project Management training at Coherent and actively mentors others in the company.

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