Welcome to this edition of the ProjectTalk newsletter. We are all aware of the importance of developing a comprehensive Project/Program Reporting Plan. The standard reporting plan involves project/program stakeholders at various levels within the organization and project/program team. The standard vanilla plan focuses on our schedule and task/activity status at a particular point in time. But we need to kick things up a few notches.
We need to approach the development of our plan:
A) From the perspective of each report recipient and
B) With respect to that recipient’s Authority, Agenda and Accountability. What I call The 3 “A”s.
- Authority - project/program/organizational influence
- Agenda - motivation within the context of project/program/organization
- Accountability – responsibility within the context of project/program/organization
Note: This will require a more involved understanding of your project stakeholders. Think “Stakeholder Evaluation” process.
This approach will result in variations of a given report tailored to its recipient be that recipient an individual or a group. This will involve more work on your part but will vastly improve overall project/program communication.
In addition, our plan should address, within the above contexts, two under-reported indicators of project status. Project Finances and Quality Control. Both of these aspects of our project/program should have specific guidelines if not formal plans which are continuously monitored for adherence. This issue will focus on 5 tips on project reporting, how to manage your project finances and creating a Quality Control Plan.
5 Tips on Project Reporting
- Project status: Create a weekly Project Status Report to show your actual vs. planned effort, percent complete and actual vs. forecast spend. Specify the number of open risks, changes and issues, and state whether action by your Sponsor is required to resolve them. Also show the forecast amount of time, effort and money required to finish the project. Always try and forecast as accurately as possible. Never forecast optimistically, always conservatively.
- Task completion: You need to regularly show your Sponsor your progress against the tasks listed on your schedule. Create a summarized view of your project plan and update it to reflect the percent complete for every task. Then append this summary view to your Project Status Report. This way, your Sponsor can drill down to see further information about each task, if they want to.
By offering your Project Sponsor both summary and detailed information weekly makes them feel like your project is an "open book". They will have all of the information about your project at their finger-tips. This way, you will get more buy-in from your Sponsor and more support when it's needed.
- Milestones: You need to add Milestones to your project plan to show when the major project deliverables will be produced. You then need to report on the progress of each milestone to your Sponsor. Show the percent complete of each milestone, and again, forecast the completion dates.
Here's another tip: You will get more out of your team if you motivate them to complete milestones, as opposed to tasks. That's because people are usually proud of the things that they have achieved in life (i.e. milestones), as opposed to the things they have done to achieve them (i.e. the tasks).
- Getting help: Project Sponsors don't always want to hear "we're on track and under budget" in their project reports. They just want to hear the truth. So if you’re behind schedule and you need help to get back on track, then tell your sponsor about it in your project reports.
State exactly what you need from them. Show them that you're doing the best you can and that you’re the best person for the job, but that you still need their help to deliver the project. If you need more time, money or resources, then ask for it. Don’t be afraid. And remember, the best time to ask for help is before you really need it. This gives you contingency, because it always takes time for help to arrive.
- One version of the truth: Your project reports need to depict "one version of the truth" to your team. Keep them 100% accurate and be as open as possible about real issues that are affecting your team. Remember that if you communicate an issue to your Sponsor, then it becomes their issue to fix as well. Reporting issues is a great way to share the responsibility for fixing them.
So there you have it, 5 unique tips for reporting on projects.
How to Manage your Project Finances
Every project needs to deliver "under budget". But when you have to oversee people, contractors, equipment and materials on a daily basis, how can you track the cost of all of this easily? Read this newsletter to find out...
Step 1: Set the Budget
The first step towards managing your project finances is to set a budget. This isn't as easy as it sounds. You need to forecast the total amount of people, equipment, materials and other expenses, needed to deliver the project. You then need to work out when in the project plan, these expenses will take place. By doing this, you can get a picture of your "project cash flow" which tells you the amount of money you need for every week in the project.
Step 2: Backup Funding
Before you need it, find backup funding in the business. This is additional funding that can be used to deliver your project, if you need it. Few Project Managers actually do this in advance, but if you have almost completed a major deliverable and you suddenly run out of money, then that backup funding might "make or break" the project. You are always in a better position to get backup funding before you need it, rather than asking for more cash when you've already overspent. Get backup funding as early in the Project Life Cycle as possible. It will be sure to reduce your stress.
Step 3: Weekly Tracking
The next step after setting your budget and securing backup funding is to start tracking your daily spend on the project. You need to track every expense that occurs. Ask your team to complete expense forms and submit them to you for approval. If you can get your team to wait until you have approved an expense before it is incurred, then you can more easily control expenditure on the project. Next, you need to track your people expenses at an hourly rate. The total cost of the hours undertaken by those people is should be tracked and shown on a project dashboard, so you can see whether your people cost is under or over budget.
Step 4: Realignment
When you start spending more than your budget, you have 3 options available to help you stay within budget:
- Re-forecast your expenses and present a new budget to your Sponsor for approval.
- Start reducing costs immediately. This means spending less to get the same job done. Or alternatively, see if your Sponsor will agree to a reduced scope, so that you have less to produce for them.
- Start using your backup funding to get you through the crux of the project.
Step 5: Cash flow Management
Make sure you always have enough funds available to cover your spending over the months ahead. Cash flow management is about managing the cash needed to deliver your project. So make sure your Sponsor has approved the next 1-2 months of work ahead of time, and that the funds needed to manage the project have been made available. Then track the spending of that funding every week.
Follow these 5 tips and better manage your project finances for success.
Creating a Quality Control Plan
Most Project Managers are aware that delivering projects within "time, cost and quality" is critical to success. However the term quality can be elusive and is often not clearly defined. In this issue, we describe what it really means to deliver quality within a project and we will help you to understand the:
4 critical steps to creating a Quality Plan
So what does the term "quality" mean? We define quality as producing deliverables which meet the requirements of the customer.
To ensure that your deliverables meet your customers’ requirements, you need to create a Quality Plan, by taking these 4 steps:
Step 1: Define the Quality Targets
We all know that it’s pretty impossible to meet your customers’ expectations unless you draw a line in the sand before you start. By asking your customer to state upfront exactly what it is that they require, you will greatly improve your chances of success.
Ask your customer to provide a list of their requirements for a solution to be delivered by the project. Then help them to list the key deliverables which once produced, will satisfy their requirements. For each deliverable, list its components and then go one step further - by describing the detailed quality targets (i.e. quality criteria and quality standards) to be achieved by each component. This will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of exactly what it is that must be produced by the project, to meet the expectations of your customer.
Step 2: Create a Quality Assurance Plan
The next step is to create a plan to assure your customer that you can meet the quality targets set. By scheduling a suite of Quality Assurance Reviews to be undertaken by an independent person to the project, your customer will be provided with a "trusted view" of the overall progress of the project and the likelihood of the deliverables actually meeting the quality targets agreed.
Step 3: Create a Quality Control Plan
Internally within the project, you need to create a schedule of "Quality Control" measures to control the actual level of quality of each deliverable, as it is being produced. Examples include putting in place peer reviews, deliverable reviews, documentation reviews and end-of-phase reviews. Each review will measure the deliverables produced and identify any deviations from the quality targets set.
Step 4: Define the Quality Process
Of course, creating plans for assuring and controlling the quality of deliverables is a good start. But you also need to put in place a Quality Process to ensure that each of the actions listed in the Quality Plan are undertaken as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Taking these 4 tips into consideration will aid in implementing a successful quality control plan.