Effective Reporting; Successful Projects

I think we would all agree that communication is key. Being an effective communicator is important in both personal and business scenarios and our ability, or inability, to communicate effectively defines much of what we do and how successful we are at achieving it.

Communicating project status is a case in point.  Projects have many moving parts, impact different parts of the business and continually change over time.  Communicating correctly can be complex and there are multiple communication channels.  The simplest is informal comms, via emails, verbal updates and management overviews.  It can also be in the form of a status reporting process, which is invariably carried out weekly, fortnightly or monthly.    Getting this reporting right is a balance, between providing enough information for management to retain visibility and control and not overloading management with too much data, resulting in key messages being missed and even compromising the whole reporting process.

Providing too much detail is an easy and common trap to fall into.  For the Project Manager, it’s a lower risk approach at a personal level.  If the PM provides as much data as possible then they can’t be criticised for not providing information for management.  For this reason, junior or inexperienced project managers will often over communicate.  More challenging is that receiving managers can request too much detailed information compromising the clarity of the key messages within the report.  Whilst over communicating is a safe option for the project manager it introduces significant risk for the project.  If management don’t have the capacity to digest large volumes of data, and distil key project messages from this content, then communication breaks down.

When that happens management aren’t able to be engaged and can only be informed.  As a result, reports become less useful and the whole reporting process becomes nothing more than a tick-box exercise.   Project Managers generate reports that nobody reads and Management aren’t aware of the key messages from the project.  Breaking the cycle is a two-way process.  Project Managers need to create meaningful reports that are clear and concise and contain the right information, correctly ordered and with coherent prose.  Likewise Management need to recognise what is being provided and, importantly, why it’s acceptable that other information isn’t provided and where they can get more detail if they need it.

The Portfolio Manager or PMO Manager can help with brokering the conversations to improve the quality of the reporting process.  These central roles sit outside of the reporting process and can often provide an objective viewpoint.  Both roles focus on the quality of project and portfolio processes and can support effective reporting as follows:

PMO Managers should be satisfied they are getting the right messages from the Project Managers and they should also challenge surplus information that’s not needed.  One approach to effective reporting is to categorise information into:

Key Messages: What messages the Project Manager needs to inform management relating to the current status, the approach taken or suggested to deliver the plan, plus any associated issues and identified risks. 

Informing: What management should be aware of – although no action is required at this stage.

Reference: Where to find more detail should it be required to help inform decision making or for management understanding.

Portfolio Managers should be receiving Key Messages from across the portfolio and provide the right level of Informing data for management purposes.  There’s no right answer on what this should look like, it’s very much down to the management style and structure of the organisation. 

Content then needs to be presented in a readily accessible format.  Summarising aggregated data with a short narrative that highlights the status of the overall portfolio is a good approach to lead the audience into reporting content.  The relevant success factor is effective communications and this is something both the Portfolio and PMO Managers should be continually reviewing reports against.

Roc Technologies use Atlas Digital to generate powerful and effective portfolio management information.  Atlas Digital is a purpose built reporting tool, based on a zero code platform, that can be deployed quickly and cost effectively into organisations.  To find out more about reporting best practice or about Atlas Digital contact Roc Technologies at