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The Truth About Status Reports and Product Delivery Teams

carl manello communication project management Mar 16, 2022
The Truth About Status Reports and Product Delivery Teams

All the News That’s Fit to Print”: slogan for The New York Times

Adolph Simon Ochs (1858 – 1935), American Newspaper Publisher

Status reports and meetings are killing our project teams. Whether it is a ‘crazy Tuesday’ – an entire day consumed by status reports and review updates – or an on-the-spot visit from parent company management, which drives the operational team into a half-day meeting to prepare status, we seem to have lost the meaning inherent in “status”.

The Reality of a Status Report

A status update cannot take the place of day-to-day management. Do not use reports to fill in the holes of missed information. For those who cannot run a project, but want to steer it, status is no substitute. When those who ‘need to know’ want an update of activities, they should not simply ask for a status report.

Okay, let me back off that a wee bit. Management is management. They can ask for whatever they want. However, they should understand the impact of their ask on the delivery teams.

Status, like the New York Times motto, is about printing the news that is fit to print. It is not about printing all the news that fits (herein I could site an example of a 160(!) page ‘status update’ created for the US Department of Defense). I understand that management cannot be in each project’s operational meetings. Leaders have a business to run. I believe that management must find a way to become more engaged (if that is what they want) rather than to ask for multiple status reports or review sessions per month.

For example, it seems a bit taxing on those delivering initiatives to be required to prepare and speak to four weekly status updates, one monthly update, and one quarterly status update all in the same month. That is six status reports in four weeks! If management understood that it took multiple days of effort from several people to create those reports, they might loosen the requirement to save time.

So, you say, how could it possibly take multiple days to create a status deck?

Well, here are some reasons:

  1. The requested information is so detailed that it requires creating new methods to share data, that otherwise would not be needed by the operational delivery team.
  2. Systems for generating status updates are either incomplete, held together by baling wire, or include multiple manual workarounds. What appears to be a simple management request (for example, “show me your burndown chart”), ends up being a ‘make work’ exercise…each week!
  3. Formats and requested content change week-by-week and month-by-month. When a new management player is added to the mix, they may request a new view of the data (see #2 and repeat)
  4. The concept of ‘as of date’ is lost. So, the report ‘as of’ Friday is reviewed, edited, and commented on Tuesday. It is believed that for status to be routed through the organization it needs to be made current. Tuesday then becomes the update day for the deck created on Friday, and so on…

When there is a lack of trust between those doing the work and those receiving the information, status updates become way too detailed and way too time-consuming (and that means extra money being spent on non-value-added work). In some cases, the project team must engage extra resources just to keep up with the reporting requests. If management can learn to trust their team, status reporting can return to summary-level information.

The Devil is in Too Much Detail

Furthermore, when status decks include an overabundance of detail (crammed into tiny fonts to meet the one-page requirement) one might begin to worry. Have we lost the forest for the trees? We see each tree, branch, and leaf in such detail. As a result, we may lose sight of the forest (the overall initiative). Be cautious of preparing status that seeks to represent everything that everyone is doing all the time. It is okay to provide a summary or overview. (Notesome projects may be so far in the red that they require remedial help. Multiple status reviews, however, are NOT the answer.)

Status should provide a point-in-time view of where an initiative is at. It should not be used to replace the operational delivery of the initiative. If the status is used for the latter, it would be more time and cost-effective to replace the project team with one that is trusted.

For more on Delivery Effectiveness, be sure to check out the 2nd Edition now available from Archway Publishing and Amazon.