Using SharePoint for On-Demand Project Status Reporting

Several months ago, I published a blog talking about the importance of Project Status Reporting. I also reminisced about the scene in the popular parody on office workers, Office Space, where the boss constantly nags Peter about the timing and quality of his TPS report. This scene drives home the point that status reporting is a mundane and meaningless activity imposed on employees by incompetent managers.

Unfortunately, many project teams maintain a similar attitude about project status reporting. I am a project management purist that views project status reporting as one of the critical few best practices that produces positive project outcomes, particularly during the execution phase of the project life cycle.

Nobody reads it, why do it?

1. Facilitates communications – This is the obvious reason – The project status report establishes a consistent and timely vehicle for fact based reporting about the project that can be consumed in a meaningful manner by all stakeholders (core team members, project sponsors, and other interested parties).

2. Establishes a rhythm for project performance analysis – It ensures that on a regular basis the project manager performs analysis on what has been accomplished, how is the team performing, and what corrective actions need to be implemented (to resolve problems, or mitigate risk).

3. Maintains focus on the project team – It highlights where the team needs to focus to correct problems or maintain the progress required to meet or exceed customer expectations.

Using SharePoint to Improve Project Status Reporting

The collaborative project environment created using SharePoint enables capturing project information in a structured and timely manner. This project information provides the ability to create an up to date status report that is available for project stakeholders to consume on-demand. I usually start by creating a new site page for the on-demand project status report. A link to this page is added to the project home page to provide easy access for project stakeholders. The components of the project status report are maintained in separate lists on the project site, and organized on the project status report site page by adding the appropriate web parts. The project status report is as up to date as the individual components are maintained by the project team. The remainder of this blog describes the individual components of the on-demand project status report – project summary information, milestones, accomplishments, risks & issues, budget update, variance explanations, and project trends.

Project Summary Information

At the top of the status report, I insert a list with project header information – project name, project manager, target date, project budget and project phase. Next I add a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) web part that displays the current status for each of the project performance metrics. The KPI information is described in more detail in my blog on Using SharePoint to Measure Project Performance. The project status summary is as up to date as the individual project metrics are maintained by the team.

Project Milestones

The project milestones list is included in the project status site page to provide an overview of the current project schedule performance. This list provides the ability to open up individual milestones to obtain additional information. I will also insert a content editor web part to capture textual explanation of team accomplishments during the current period. I generally update the accomplishments at the same time I make updates to the milestones list.

Project Risks & Issues

The high impact risks and issues view of the Risk and Issue list is included in the project status site page. This view provides a summary of the high probability and impact risks and issues. Because this is an actual view of the list in the status report, the stakeholder has the ability to open an individual risk or issue to obtain more information about the risk or issue. As the project risks and issues are updated by the project team, the most current information is displayed on the project status site page.

Project Budget

I generally maintain budget tracking information in an Excel spreadsheet on the project site. Excel web parts are utilized to display budget summary information on the project status site page. Note that you must define a named area within the spreadsheet prior to setting up the Excel web part on the site page. The budget summary is updated as frequently as new budget information is available (usually once a month). For each cost category, the budget update provides actual costs to-date, estimated costs to complete the project (ETC), estimated costs at project completion (EAC) and cost variances at project completion (VAC).

Variance Explanation

Another content editor web part is added to the project status site page to capture project variance explanations – schedule and budget variances. This section is generally updated by the project manager at the same time that budget or milestones are updated on the site. The variance explanation should describe the source of the variances, as well as action plans associated with the variances.

Project Trends

I will often include a chart maintained within the budget tracking spreadsheet that provides project performance trend information. The Earned Value metrics Cost Performance Index (CPI) or Schedule Performance Index (SPI) provide an excellent mechanism to display overall project performance trends.

Top 3 Reasons SharePoint Improves Project Status Reporting

  1. Current Project Information – Assuming that the project team actively collaborates on the project site, the information displayed on the project status site page will contain significantly more timely information than the project status report updated once a week by the project manager. In addition, the responsibility for keeping information current is shared by the project team – no longer the sole responsibility of the project manager.
  2. Saves Time – Once the site page is created (a “one-time” effort), the project status report becomes a by-product of maintaining key project information on the project site. The project manager no longer needs to dread the weekly task of preparing the project status report.
  3. Ability to “Drill Down” – Your project stakeholders are one “click” away from obtaining detailed information to answer questions about data presented on the status report. In most cases, the stakeholder just needs to open a list item to obtain more details about the information presented.

PM Foundations–Project Status Reporting

For those familiar with the movie classic that pokes fun at the workplace, Office Space, you probably remember the scene where that boss repeatedly nags his subordinate about the importance of a cover page on the TPS reports. This exchange between the boss and subordinate highlights that status reporting is a management mandated activity that does very little in terms of getting actual work done.

Unfortunately, many project teams maintain this same attitude when it comes to project status reporting. This project management purist views project status reporting as an integral component of effective project communications and reporting (no surprise there). In fact, I would go so far as to say it represents one of a handful of best practice areas that ensures success throughout the execution phase of the project life cycle.

Nobody reads it, why do it?

1. Facilitates communications – This is the obvious reason – The project status report establishes a consistent and timely vehicle for fact based reporting about the project that can be consumed in a meaningful manner by all stakeholders (core team members, project sponsors, and other interested parties).

2. Establishes a rhythm for project performance analysis – It ensures that on a regular basis the project manager performs analysis on what has been accomplished, how is the team performing, and what corrective actions need to be implemented (to resolve problems, or mitigate risk).

3. Maintains focus on the project team – It highlights where the team needs to focus to correct problems or maintain the progress required to meet or exceed customer expectations.

Best Practices

From my experience, the best practices associated with effective project status reporting are in the following areas:

  • Format: How is the information presented to communicate the desired message(s) to the different groups of stakeholders
  • Project Metrics: What are the metrics regularly generated and reported to accurately communicate the current and forecasted status of the project
  • Timing: What is the appropriate frequency of reporting status information (timely enough to be proactive, without becoming burdensome to the project manager and/or team)
  • Re-enforce the message: What additional vehicles must be in place to make certain that the important message(s) are understood, and the required corrective actions are initiated

Format: As a consultant, I usually walk into a situation where a project status report format already exists. Rather than irritating the customer by suggesting that the current status report is not adequate, I normally look for subtle ways to enhance the information presented. The goal is to ensure that the status report draws attention to the key information that is required to inform or initiate action. Some of the important elements of the status report include:

  • Project header information – Re-enforcement of the overall project scope/goals, and key stakeholders
  • Overall status – Often expressed as a color (Green/Yellow/Red) with some comments about why the overall status is what it is
  • Accomplishments – Highlights progress in the current reporting period (make sure that the key messages are not lost in too much detail)
  • Risks & Issues – Escalates the “top 3” risks & issues, including the corrective or mitigation actions
  • Upcoming milestones – Focuses on the important milestones, including planned vs. forecasted completion

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    My general guideline is that a status report should not exceed two pages – if it does, stakeholders are likely to miss some, if not all, of the key messages.

Metrics: Project metrics are the primary ingredient of the status report that creates fact based information on a regular basis. These metrics must be generated directly from the project management artifacts that are utilized to manage the project on a day-to-day basis (project schedule, project budget, risk register, change control logs). Because these metrics are created from existing project management tools, there should not be significant effort associated with updating them.

Based upon my experience, the key project metrics presented on the status report fall into one of the following categories:

  • Time – Comparison of the planned vs. actual or forecasted completion dates
  • Effort & Cost – Comparison of the planned vs. actual or forecasted effort / cost to progress to this point in the project (this is where earned value is a useful tool)
  • Scope – Comparison of planned vs. actual scope of deliverables completed to-date (summary of scope changes)
  • Risk – Assessment of the level of risks identified or realized (compared to the initial risk assessment)

Timing: The most important element related to the timing of the project status report is establishing and maintaining strict adherence to a consistent reporting interval (e.g., every other week) and delivery schedule (e.g., by end of day on Monday). This ensures that the stakeholders know when to expect (or look for) the status report. From my experience, implementation of either weekly or bi-weekly status reporting most effectively meets the needs of both the project manager, and key stakeholders, without creating too much project overhead. Specific sections of the status report may be provided on a less frequent basis (e.g., budget information may be updated on a monthly vs. bi-weekly basis).

Re-enforcement of the message: Project managers often fall into the trap of assuming that distribution of the status report is enough to ensure that the key messages are well understood, and the appropriate next steps are completed. The distribution of the project status report needs to be directly connected to other regular team communication events (core team meetings, project sponsor / steering committee meetings) to confirm understanding of the current and forecasted status, escalate issues / risks, and initiate corrective actions.

Delivering the Right Information to the Right People

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In summary, the project status report should not be created with the view that it satisfies a requirement mandated by management, but rather a best practice that creates significant value for you, as the project manager, the core project team, and other stakeholders. Effective use of the project status report is one of the clear indicators that the project is “under control” during the execution phase of the project. On top of that, there will be no need for this conversation: “Hi, Peter. What’s happening? We need to talk about your TPS reports.”