Back when I became a project manager which was quite a lot more than 10 years ago now, I would produce a monthly steering group report. It was a Word document, with lots of tables and fields to fill in. My sponsor and stakeholders would see it as the latest project status and only in an emergency would anyone ask for anything more up to date.

Today, things are different.

Stakeholders have different expectations about project information, primarily because they can get other information at the click of a button. Latest stock price? Google it. Real-time news? Google it.

Stakeholders expect real-time, up to date status reports because society can provide real-time data in other areas. Why wouldn’t they want it for their projects too?

They expect you to have it to hand, or at least for you to give them information whenever they ask for it, by a return of email. As project managers, we have to manage those expectations and always be on top of project status in case anyone asks.

Getting real-time information is important to stakeholders, but it’s pointless if the data isn’t relevant.

Relevancy Matters

People get hung up on what to include in project reporting and their stakeholder communications. Often I see people include a lot of history and the journey to where they are now in their project, but in my experience, there are only 3 data points that you really need to worry about in your regular reporting.

They are:

  1. Current status
  2. What’s holding you back
  3. And the likelihood of completing the project in the way that they are expecting it to be completed.

If your reports cover all of those points then you are sorted. You’ve got really relevant information in the report which should cover the questions that most people have.

1. Your Current Status

The easiest way to talk about the current status is to use traffic light color coding: Red Amber Green. Red represents a project in trouble. Amber represents a project that is in difficulty but recoverable and with plans in place to turn it around. Green represents a project that is progressing to plan. You can include a RAG indicator along with a short status about your project’s current situation.

2. What’s Stopping You?

Your project sponsor and other key stakeholders are also interested (or they should be) in what’s stopping you making progress in any area. Those could be project risks, outstanding decisions or something else. This helps them know what they should be doing to remove roadblocks for you.

3. Manage Expectations

Third, are you managing expectations? Are you going to complete your project in the way that they are expecting it to be completed? Because if you are not going to be able to deliver on time, within budget or to any other criteria they have set, then they need to know about it before it becomes a problem.

Don’t Know? Ask Them If you don’t know what their expectations are, or if you are worried in any way that you might not be including relevant information then ask them. That’s a foolproof way to make your reports relevant. Ask your sponsor what they want to read about. Is it budget? Include that. Issues? Include those. Their answer should tie back to your project’s key success criteria because you should be reporting on the things that really matter to the project overall.

Don’t have a report template? Grab a free one here.

The Benefits of Being Relevant In Project Communications

The benefit of making sure that your reports are totally relevant to your stakeholder’s needs and expectations are that you aren’t having to fulfill requests for additional data outside of your normal reporting cycle. In other words, if you get your reports right, full of meaningful stuff, they answer the questions that your sponsor has and it stops them from bugging you for more.

In reality, they’ll still have data needs but hopefully not as often.

You might also save some time. If you spend your reporting time on what’s actually important then you won’t be wasting it trying to track down information for your reports that no one reads or cares about. You’re focusing on what people want and need to know.

If you include current status, roadblocks and address their expectations for completion, then you’ll be giving project sponsors what they most likely need for their projects.

What else do you include in your reports? Let us know in the comments below.

Elizabeth Harrin
About the author:

Elizabeth Harrin is the author of several books about project management including Collaboration Tools for Project Managers. She is the blogger behind and occasionally speaks at international conferences. She lives and works in the UK where she grows vegetables in a tiny patch and watches them get eaten by slugs.

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