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Each week I issue a personalised email to everyone in the business (there are only 17 of us) with the following headings:

  1. Can you provide a brief status report for this week based on your assigned priorities (in this section I ask for status + estimated days remaining on the task).
  2. Did you need to divert onto anything else this week not in the priorities listed above (if so can you list briefly below along with an approx. estimate).
  3. Can you confirm your main priorities for next week?

The email relates to a 'Priorities' email sent out on a Monday morning detailing everybody's objectives for the week.

When I started doing this (I have been in my current organisation now for around 5 months) I had the following outcomes in mind from this email:

  • I could capture progress and get a sense for what is moving forward and what tasks are 'stuck' and not getting completed
  • By asking for next weeks priorities I can populate next week's 'Priorities' email (I also suggest items here related to our overall company schedule that I oversee...)
  • By tracking interruptions I have a metric of what has caused delays in the project and where we can make improvements to limit these going forward.

But... these are the downsides:

  • It's a big effort to get together each week (composing, sending out, receiving, transferring into next week's 'Priorities' email) - I'd estimate the whole process takes me around 5 hours a week.
  • People forget to reply to it as they are engrossed (quite rightly) in their every day work.
  • Sometimes I'm out of the office or have other priorities that prevent me from getting it out (I've never failed to, but have come close)
  • It feels sometimes as if 'the tail is wagging the dog' - i.e. I am collecting peoples priorities for the upcoming week, only to tell those people the following week what they have already told me..!
  • I'm concerned that the status report is felt to be an unnecessary distraction by the team

We are developing our tools internally for project management and have recently introduced time tracking tools etc which I hope may mean I can begin to drop this rigid weekly status reporting.

Does anybody else employ a similar status report process, is it effective? Would you modify anything about my approach?

10 Answers 10

9

I'll echo what David said with a real life experience. Face to face meetings, with clear information radiators are the hands down best way to do this. If you can't be face to face, then get on a conference call and use Webex (or other similar), really use it to be your information radiator.

When I joined a past company, the status report was this mammoth Power Point deck of close to 100 slides and over 20MB. My boss spent an entire day updating it every week and half that was usually hounding people for their updates.

I scraped the PPT and set up a one hour, weekly meeting. I then made an information radiator using an Excel spreadsheet. Clean tables, formatting and colors made it easy to understand and I could update it right in the meeting. By the end of the meeting, I usually only needed a few minutes to finalize the status for the week. This was posted on my cube, handed out to all the key people and emailed to a wider audience. The PPT slides were still used for formal program reviews, but only got updated about once a month. The spreadsheet became the gold standard by which the entire division ran.

  • Care to strip it of any proprietary data and post it somewhere? Any little dagger into the heart of the PPT status culture is something I'd like to embrace. I think I build status charts for three or four weekly meetings. – Adam Wuerl Feb 17 '12 at 1:31
  • Adam- it was very tailored for a consumer products focused manufacturing group where each project was a boxed product. Slanted toward manufacturing goals and sales channel stuff. Not sure it would be of any use in any other type of group. In my current job I've got a whole new one pager that I built from scratch. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Feb 17 '12 at 6:31
  • I would be interested in this too, +1 – Venture2099 Sep 1 '14 at 7:14
  • 1
    The very act of a template defeats the purpose. You start by interviewing your stakeholders and finding out what they need. Only report what's important. Than find the best way for your to present that report. It might be a PPT, it might be Excel. The key is start with your stakeholders and find out what they really care about. Oh and you have to dig down. Find out why. Sometimes they care about something because it's always been there, not because they need it. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Sep 10 '14 at 1:06
5

email reporting is good for noting things down, but nothing is better than the face to face weekly meeting. Face to face does not have to be a physical, it can be conducted over the net.

I usually have a net session running (WebEX, TeamViewer or NetMeeting etc). On that, I bring up last week's status meeting and run through it. Making notes as the team members takes turn reporting their status. The notes are made directly on the meeting minutes. Importanly, any agreements and decisions are also noted directly into the meeting minutes.

After the meeting is finished, I would quickly go through it for grammatical/spelling errors and email it out.

The focus is for the key decisions, status on key tasks and key events to be noted and communicated.

3

Radically reduce the reporting burden and increase the frequency. Daily stand-up meetings are very effective (link is an article in the Wall Street Journal).

Every morning, gathering the team together, standing up. Go around the room and everyone reports on a) what they accomplished yesterday b) what they are working on today c) what issues, if any, are slowing them down or standing in the way.

For 17 people, it should take less than 30 minutes. It should accelerate the pace, energy and problem solving of the team.

  • Stand up's are a good idea but they are not a complete replacement for Status Reports which are key aspect of Waterfall. It's not a micro-management thing but it allows the Strategy or Compliance Department to collate all Projects across the company to the same standard against the same milestones. Project Validation cannot occur if you are just taking the PM's word for it at a stand up and you would also need a Scrum-Master like role to report to (Programme Manager maybe?). For Public Companies - a status report is absolutely vital to demonstrate value to the shareholders. – Venture2099 Sep 1 '14 at 7:19
2

I would suggest for you to ask yourself what you're trying to achieve and if status report is best way to do this.

If you want to have good visibility into progress, how about starting with something like Scrum or Kanban. Assuming that we're talking about software development Scrum is a very good start, if it's not software development, you try to employ Kanban. Don't dismiss this idea with "I don't have time to any methodology". Both Kanban and Scrum are very easy to learn and start with. Of course they are hard to master, but you'll get benefit in no time.

Instead of status reports, you'll get visual, transparent insight into what is going on with the team like below:

Sprint burndown chart (Scrum)

Or Kanban way:

Kanban board

And that's only start. You will probably get better sense of ownership and involvement from the team. I bet people hate these status report and they do not see them as something that is contributing value, therefore they will have tendency to put least possible effort into them.

If you would like to start with Scrum, here's good place to start:

https://www.scrum.org/Resources/What-is-Scrum

As per Kanban:

http://www.leankanbanuniversity.com/introducing-kanban

Good luck!

1

Communication is critical on all projects. The risk of 'getting it wrong' is rather high. So, the energy, costs, time, and effort that go into it is simply the cost of doing business. Hopefully, this was considered as part of the required effort so the time and costs are built in to your targets.

Now, the communication vehicle can come in different types. Right now, you are choosing a written summary of weekly events and your team is relatively small. Perhaps you can save some time by holding a end of week or beginning of week 'stand-up.' For example, every Monday morning at 8:00 am, the team collects in the war room and you conduct a round the room update. Fifteen minutes, you capture the key messages, and you move on.

There are opponents to non structured face-to-face meetings so you have to consider those cons. I, too, do not like non agenda meetings; however, I have used this method in the past and it worked well. It just has to be well facilitated and controlled.

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When I started my career, emails did not exist... Nor cell phones... We had some computers without a mouse... We would call each other; talk with each other when we would meet unexpectedly; or plan a meeting. Emails are a very great improvement in a business environment. But I have noticed that some people hide behind emails and technology (sometimes simply by not answering some of them). It is a way of not being too much involved in a problematic situation, putting aside the emotional side of it; even protecting his or her own authority. I do not think you or your team members are doing it. I just made a general statement. Your point is that you do it to know where your team members are in meeting their deadlines and to provide them with the help they need. Some people see that as a control task. They call us "control freaks". But it is the most important task that you have to do as a project manager. The one that will determine if your project will be successful or not. So, you say that you are in a small company or department; I would send one last email saying to your team members to get in touch with you if they need anything. But when you will meet them unexpectedly, in or out of work, I would ask them: "Is everything alright with your part of the project?" It is not a way of controlling them, but a way a showing you care about them having everything they need to be happy and succeed as a team. If they need something, then deal with it by email. That is the best way to build a team spirit I have ever known. A mentor taught me that many years ago.

  • How much carbon paper did you use grandpa? ;-) Just joking. I would relish a world in which cellphones and the internet stopped working for a while. I say that as a coder/web designer born in the 80's! – Venture2099 Sep 1 '14 at 7:21
1

15Five is a product that does pretty much exactly what you are looking to accomplish. It allows you to set up a set of questions which will be asked to a team of people every week. It sends reminders to keep engagement high and provides reporting tools to collectively review past answers.

You will not need to manage the process of asking questions and collecting answers manually. All the answers are available in one place in an easy-to-use interface.

Disclaimer: Why am I so excited about 15Five? I've helped build it and continue to make it better. It does sound like a perfect fit for the needs that were outlined.

0

We have found that the weekly report works well for us, but it works best with the right tool. We created our own tool that allows everyone to see what everyone else is doing, and everyone can compare their week's tasks side by side with the rest of the team to ensure fewer conflicts from the beginning. We also kept it simple, because all of the existing options out there have a lot of bloat trying to make them project management tools.

All of that said, we still do one-on-one weekly checkins at the beginning of the week, though I don't think it's necessary for many small teams as long as everyone is doing their best to look for conflicts and ways that their tasks can sync up with others as they build their report. Obviously this part is next impossible via email if there is much detail involved.

Anyhow we have just recently decided to allow anyone to use what we built, so if you want to check it out it's at http://www.nextfive.co

  • Voted back up - not sure why it was downvoted since the tool is completely free. You don't seem to be soliciting payment? Looks like a decent tool. – Venture2099 Sep 1 '14 at 7:22
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Here is the way we work:

For each project we have a specific area in our ECM solution. In this area we store our documents and information about the status (Open, Pending, ...) and the stage (initialisation, Design, Implementation, ...). These information are useful to our steering committee in order to have a global overview over all projects at any time.

The methodology we have adopt is Hermes 5 (sort of OpenUP process framework with a set of document templates)

Said that, we have a simple rule in order to share the project status to the steering committee and other PMs. Every week we update a "project status report" for each project. This document is versioned in our ECM solution in order to keep the history. Those documents are opened on our friday afternoon meeting where each PM tell about the status of is project. Each PM has about 5 min for each project during the meeting.

Here is the specific Hermes 5 template we are using: project_status_template

0

But... these are the downsides:

Looking at all your downsides, there's actually a little program that can do most of this automatically for you called iDoneThis that I mentioned in another post.

See that post for more details, but basically iDoneThis automatically sends an email to everyone on your team and every person writes a quick reply to the email about what they've done that day (or week - I think you can have it sent out whenever/however often you want). The next day, iDoneThis automatically sends a digest to the entire team with those replies.

I think you can also customize the message that accompanies the automated email, so you can include the requirements you have for everyone's replies.

Note: I am not affiliated with iDoneThis, I just really like this simple solution and have yet to find better alternatives. =)

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