Project reporting is an essential component of successful delivery, yet many IT teams still struggle to make it meaningful. Too often, "reporting" just means completing a routine form. Few organizations have developed strong, cross-functional reporting standards that can be consistently used across project teams.
The pitfalls of reporting
The reality is, different groups measure their objectives, progress and outcomes differently, even within the same company. This complicates reporting on IT projects, which frequently bring together team members from multiple functions, departments and organizations.
With every stakeholder measuring outcomes against their own criteria, project goals become blurred. One team needs to keep costs as low as possible, while another needs to improve customer satisfaction – objectives that don’t necessarily support each other.
When outside vendors enter the mix, reporting becomes even more complex. Results, timelines, budgets and margins blur under the weight of many disparate perspectives. Not to mention heightening the tension between what might be best for a given team versus what’s best for the project as a whole.
Because of the summary nature of project reporting, and the lack of shared metrics, it can be relatively easy to find data to support whatever story a particular group wants to tell. But that doesn’t mean it’s the whole story.
So how do you cultivate project reporting that reflects a cohesive view of what’s really important? By establishing shared reporting parameters for your delivery team.
Kickstart delivery success at kickoff
The project kickoff is your first and best opportunity to get alignment across the entire delivery team. As you set the stage for how you will work together, it’s essential that you establish a shared understanding of what success looks like, so that every team member, whether internal or external, is working toward the same goal.
Put some serious effort into drawing up a kickoff meeting agenda that will ensure you’ll use the time as effectively as possible. That means don’t rush into holding the kickoff too soon, before you have all the right information. There is no stopwatch that clicks on when you utter the word kickoff. Take time to consider the unique needs of every function on the team so you’re prepared to address the variety of questions that may arise.
During the meeting itself, communicate a high-level outline of the project’s minimum requirements, scope, execution path and anticipated benefits. Remember that it greatly helps to capture these in a set of foundational documents. Use language that is as simple and as clear as possible, and spend time making sure the team really understands the highest priorities for the project. This is your chance to clearly define what you are delivering, how and why.
The kickoff is also the ideal time to establish a mindset of continuous improvement by committing, as a team, to fine-tuning both your deliverables and the ways in which you will deliver them. Cultivating an improvement-focused outlook from the start encourages open communication and minimizes the silo mentality. This is especially true when there’s a clear, respected process for recommending and managing improvements. Together, establish frequent delivery reviews to analyze project gaps and opportunities. And ensure improvement strategies can be pursued as part of your change management process.
Most project status indicators (Red/Amber/Green, On track/At risk/Behind schedule, etc.) are really just someone’s subjective interpretation of whether or not the report reader needs to be concerned about a particular detail. If I had a dollar for every time I disagreed with a status entered on a project report, I’d be writing this post from my beach house in Turks and Caicos. But when everyone understands what factors are driving delivery, which outcomes are absolutely essential, and how they can initiate improvements, reporting will become significantly more meaningful and accurate.
Understand your progress reports
Establish an agreed upon reporting process at the project outset. Know that you’ll save yourself a tremendous amount of time throughout the project if this process supports and leverages existing reporting structures. That means you’ll need to take a moment to understand what reports different delivery partners are using, how to interpret the data and why it matters. Only once you know what each group is already measuring – and how they interpret and report success – will you be able to see how it supports delivery.
Pay particular attention to the “in-betweens” – those reporting pieces that overlap between groups or are missing entirely. Then use the information you do have to sketch and support a single, complete view of your project status, one that uses the key data from all your sources to create a holistic picture of how the project is progressing toward priority outcomes.
This type of reporting will do a lot to improve communication on the delivery team, as everyone will be responsible for delivering the full picture, not just their own piece. In fact, status meetings should include all parties presenting updates as a united front. Anyone who disagrees with the way the information is interpreted will let you know. And the whole team will have the opportunity to weigh in.
By making an effort to really understand what reports your team members are using, how they’re generated and why the data matters to them, you can extract a more complete view of your project and avoid costly surprises along the delivery path.
Your team members will spend less time generating silo-specific reports or regurgitating the same data for different audiences. If everyone is aligned behind a common understanding of progress reporting and its relevance to the project’s success, they can spend more time delivering desired results.
How cShell can help
Leverage our project delivery expertise to help untangle your existing reporting process. By providing an objective view of your project through the lens of deep IT delivery expertise, we can show you ways to standardize cross-functional reporting without compromising specific objectives. All while improving the accuracy, transparency and relevance of your reporting data.
Contact us today to learn how we can help you improve outcomes and collaboration across your entire delivery team.