The need for clear, concise project reports
Project managers deal in details; management wants a snapshot. How can you translate your project details into a brief summary which clearly conveys the status of the project? This page offers methods for how to create clear, concise project reports along with a few tips on what to report when you don’t know where to start.
In the illustrations which follow, you will learn more about these areas:
- The ready-for-prime-time project status report
- What to report when you don’t know where to start
- Budget status presentations
- Get the most information on a single-page report
- Viewer-friendly earned value reports
- Summary reports with drill-down
- Baseline and current schedule reports
- Major milestone summary reports
- And much more.
Is your project presentation ready for prime time?
Your presentation report is finished. You are ready for the status meeting with your client.
Or are you?
After creating a presentation report, ask yourself:
- Does the report explain itself, or need minimal explanation? While you won’t just say, “Here’s the report…see you later,” a professional presentation will be easy to read with clearly defined content.
- Can it be interpreted in more than one way? Generally, a good project report will be interpreted objectively. Items on the presentation chart should be unambiguous and easy to read with minimal explanation.
- Is the report flexible enough to respond to your audience’s questions? A flexible report can show a project overview with the ability to drill-down to the details when needed. Or, if the customer asks, “If Date X changes, what will be the impact on Date Y?” Can your report show the impact on dependencies?
- Can you distinguish between projects, phases and tasks? An indented outline, as well as text styles and highlights, clearly separate areas of the project report.
PROJECT REPORT CHECKLIST
The project report is:
- Clear and concise.
- Easy to interpret.
- A summary of key project indicators.
- Separated into distinct areas of focus.
- Be prepared with detail about all tasks and projects.
In this sample report, it’s easy to see at-a-glance how five projects are doing.
The legend clearly explains the meaning of all items on the schedule and provides an excellent overview of 5 projects.
The “pie indicators” show the % complete for each project and the stoplights show overall status.
This schedule is ready for prime-time!
“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”
— Buckminster Fuller, architect, engineer
Present projects clearly using consistent symbology
Project communication is clearer if consistent symbology is used for your project presentations. You will spend less time explaining the meaning of the symbols on your schedule and will have more time available to clarify your project’s progress.
While there is a wide variety of project management symbology to choose from, and it’s unlikely that all companies and government agencies will ever agree to a standard set of symbology, project managers should make an attempt to come up with a standard set of symbology to use throughout their organization for the duration of their project.
In a big company, it is a good idea to agree on standard company-wide project symbology so that executives who attend many project status presentations do not have to be briefed on the significance of the symbology before each presentation.
If a circled red diamond means “critical” for project A, it should not mean “completed” for project B.
Here are some simple guidelines:
- Use simple, intuitive symbol and bar choices.
- Be consistent in applying the symbology.
- Use color to distinguish between event types.
- Clearly define the meaning of each symbol in a legend.
Show Many projects on a single page
- Show as much as possible in a condensed form.
- Use well known acronyms to conserve space.
- Keep the chart clutter-free for ease of presentation. Verbally present details.
In this Milestones Professional schedule example, since there is no legend, it is important that the audience be familiar with the acronyms.
Integrated Master Schedules
An Integrated Master Schedule (or IMS) is the top level schedule which shows a “big picture” of often very complex projects. It may be a schedule for several components of a larger project and is typically linked to lower level Integrated Master Plans. Milestones Professional makes it easy to create and maintain Integrated Master Schedules.
Symbols in the IMS can be updated from other Milestones Professional schedules using “symbol linking”. Symbols can also be linked to Microsoft Project or Oracle Primavera P6 and updated using a “refresh” process.
Highlight important milestones
Your project has 30,000 tasks and you are called on to make a project presentation. Obviously, passing out a 90 page report to meeting attendees isn’t a great idea. However, depending on your project, you might be able to distill it down to a one-page chart.
In this Milestones Professional project schedule example a very complex 20 year project has been distilled down to a single page project report.
“The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, instead of promised joy!”
The 18th century poet, Robert Burns, got it right when he wrote that well-meant plans will often change.
And your project report needs to display those changes against your original (well meant) plan. Presenting baseline and current progress offers one set of information, but it’s possible to present even more status information concisely.
In this Milestones Professional project schedule example:
- By default status is to the current date (dashed gold line).
- A status symbol (gold arrow) is added to the tasks that are ahead or behind the current date.
- A Status Date SmartColumn fills based on the current date or the placement of the status symbol.
- The percent complete of each task is shown by the filling in of the symbols and bars up to the status date.
- A Percent Complete SmartColumn shows each task’s percent value and a percent pie symbol.
- An Ahead/Behind SmartColumn shows the days ahead or behind along with an indicator, red to show tasks that are behind, yellow to show task on track, or green to show tasks that are ahead.
Nobody has to tell a project manager that cost is a key consideration when managing a project. No doubt the project manager dreams about budget vs. actual, cost over-runs and so on.
When presenting a project, executives will often be interested in key cost indicators.
In this Milestones Professional project schedule example:
- Baseline Cost and Actual Cost values are entered for each task.
- The Cost Status column is a Milestones Professional Calculation/Indicator column. The simple calculation Baseline Cost – Actual Cost is done and a stoplight is added. Red = Actual Cost > Baseline Cost , Yellow = Baseline Cost = Actual Cost and Green = Baseline Cost < Actual Cost.
- Baseline Cost (red bar) and Actual Cost (points) are graphed cumulatively below the schedule.
Report Project Costs
Add indicators for “at-a-glance” understanding
In a report that contains extensive data, how can action-items be quickly highlighted and addressed?
Indicator symbols are a great method for determined, at-a-glance, which project items need attention.
In this schedule:
- The Ahead/Behind SmartColumn displays values along with built in predesigned circle indicators red indicating negative values, yellow indicating zero values and green indicating positive values.
- The % Complete SmartColumn shows percent values with pie shaped indicators.
- The Contractor column is a Values SmartColumn that looks at the text in the Task column and fills the cells with color and text accordingly. For example, if the task contains “Excavation” the cell is colored purple and the Daren Digs is shown as the contractor.
- The Cost column is a Stoplight SmartColumn. Cells are filled with indictors based on the number entered in the cell. 1 = green dollar, 2 = red thumbs down and 3 = gold check mark.
Tips for indicator symbols:
- Use distinct shapes and colors to clearly separate one indicator from another
- Rely on the indicator’s shape, not color, when printing to black & white
- Clearly define the indicators in a legend
- Use logical symbols, such as check-marks for completed activities
- Display “pie fills” to show percent complete.
Present Earned Value
“Earned value is the objective measure of work completed.” Tell that to a lay audience and you’ll get blank stares.
Show them a graph of earned value as it compares to cost and budget, and you’ll get a better response.
In this schedule:
- The graph shows Earned Value (BCWP) is more than or equal to the Budget (BAC) which is more than the Actual Cost (ACWP)…which means this contract is in great shape!
- For additional detail, numbers that drive the graph are available in columns with some columns providing indicators for at a glance review of the Earned Value metrics.
- On the following page the information in the schedule is used to generate a variety of Earned Value Reports.
Get more on a single page
There must be something magical about a one-page report because that’s what most managers want.
There-in lies the challenge… how can all of that fit into a single page?
In this schedule:
- Many projects are summarized on a single page.
- Only selected milestones display on summary rows.
- Meanings of symbols are defined in the legend.
- Major milestones are marked by symbols with abbreviated text
- Project details can be revealed by “drilling down” to show hidden data. The Red triangle collapse/expand indicators are selected to hide or show the details.
Single-page project road map
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
While it might take more than 1000 words to accurately introduce this schedule, some projects require so much attention to detail, that a one page “talking-schedule” is imperative.
What makes this road map example below, an effective reporting format?
- High-level events on a single page
- Simple, clear symbology for milestones, activities and critical tasks
- Calendar expansion and coloring to highlight important date ranges
Create Presentation Reports for Microsoft Project and Primavera
KIDASA Software’s Milestones Professional offers a direct interface to Microsoft Project and Primavera XER, making it easy to generate presentation report formats beyond the standard formats offered by these systems. Presentation reports can be kept updated with the latest Project or Primavera dates using Milestones’ “refresh” capability.
Build Milestones reports for Microsoft Project from one or more Project files.
- Build reports using the Project to Milestones wizard, or build them “ad-hoc” by linking selected tasks from Project.
- Keep schedules up-to-date with Milestones refresh. Refresh from one Project file or from several.
Share your reports with a single click
Good news! Milestones Professional offers many ways for you to quickly and easily share your reports.
Milestones lets you …
- Create a PDF of your report and share it with a click of your mouse.
- Send the actual schedule to a colleague. (They can view it with their software or with our Free Milestones Viewer!)
- Save your schedule as an HTML page (which can include hyperlinks to other schedules). You can then share the HTML page with anyone you like.
- Copy all pages of the schedule to PowerPoint.
- Include the schedules in other documents, such as PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and other Windows documents.
- Publish a complete hierarchy of schedules for Internet/Intranet use.