How do you organize the progress reporting of a project?
About project size, human behavior and frequency.
Who determines the progress? The project manager or an employee? How to decide if one or the other should do it? How do you ensure that the progress information is in fact reliable? After all, incorrect information can result in serious consequences in terms of meeting the deadline and the budget. In this blog post we will discuss concrete tools on how best to organize progress reporting.
First of all, let’s take a look at the value of progress reporting. What’s really the point of doing it? The answer is simple: because only looking back (actual vs. budget) provides real insight, but it does not necessarily say anything about whether the outcome will be as expected. And if you’re working according to the Agile method, then you often won’t have information on actual spent hours. Accurate progress reporting gives you the opportunity to make any necessary adjustments in time in order to meet deadlines and bring the project in on budget.
That means you need to look ahead during the project. With progress information such as percentage complete and estimated hours to complete the work, you will be able to make powerful forecasts of the expected budget result and the impact on planning. For more about this, read the blog post 2 Killer KPIs for forecasting in projects.
Of course, the company and its project manager must be able to rely on the progress information, otherwise wrong decisions may be made. Obviously, the progress information needs to be based as much as possible on objective data and as little as possible on optimism. But how do you organize that?
The person who does the reporting
The project manager and the employee can both determine the progress of project tasks. The size of the project, in particular, will determine who is best able to measure its progress.
When it comes to small projects. the project manager is best positioned to determine the progress of all tasks. He has a bird’s eye view of everything and due to the limited scope of the project, he also has a sense of the workings of the whole process. The project employees will obviously provide the project manager with the ongoing status of tasks. Because the project manager keeps track of the progress him or herself, this would take place in a uniform manner throughout the project.
In large projects involving dozens of employees, it would be impossible for the project manager to keep track of the progress of all tasks personally. The project manager would be too far removed from the actual work. He or she may even be working with project teams that have separate team leaders.
In this scenario, the operational staff member would obviously report on the progress of the work. Is there a team of people working on one task? If so, then this method certainly won’t be the most beneficial. In such a case, it would be more convenient for a designated foreman or team leader to assume the task of reporting progress.
The impact of progress reporting
When keeping track of the progress of your projects and tasks, this could affect certain employees. Some employees may find this a problem. Generally, employees tend to suffer from a ‘psychological phenomenon’ that makes them always want to report progress, even when there is none. That’s because they equate progress with work done. They may have worked hard during the past week and this may not coincide with the feeling that no progress was made.
Because of this phenomenon, employees often tend to report minimal progress of, for example, 1 percent, even when there has been no progress at all. And they’re not the only ones. Project managers also suffer from this phenomenon when they have to report progress to stakeholders. When it comes to a large capital-intensive project with, say, 35 employees, it can be stressful to sell no progress in the past week to stakeholders.
The way in which progress is established is therefore a crucial aspect of reporting. If you have created a report based on these results and you are halfway through, is the progress then 50%? Some would argue that a midway report has no value. You can read more about this in the blog post 3 preconditions of project progress reporting.
It may also happen that the project has deteriorated due to additional work having been added. It is therefore important that the project manager stays in touch with his or her employees and that a culture is cultivated in which it’s ‘okay’ if there is no progress, or even if a setback in the project is reported. This will ensure that the reported progress remains realistic and reliable.
How often do you need to report on progress?
One of the most important factors about reporting project progress is that it should become a habit. It should become part of the daily or weekly routine.
We regularly contact users of our planning software about this. We recommend reporting progress at least weekly. The project manager will then receive timely information in order to implement any necessary changes to the planning. Reporting progress daily is very useful for short-term projects and especially when there’s time pressure involved.
Monthly reporting may be another option for projects that run on for years, but in principle we don’t recommend it. Simply because the period that has lapsed between the time that employees carried out their tasks and the time that they actually report the progress on those tasks, is too long. This may affect the reliability of their reports because there is a strong probability that employees have already forgotten the details of tasks carried out. This means that the project manager won’t receive sufficient information in order to respond to problems in the project planning in a timely manner.
Reporting progress is an indispensable part of reliable project planning. It gives project managers the opportunity to make a reliable forecast of the final result and to make any necessary adjustments in a timely manner. As discussed, it is important to carefully evaluate how to shape the process of progress reporting. Project managers who are too far removed from the project and try to keep track of the progress themselves may well run into unpleasant surprises. The same goes for the situation where employees are too optimistic about their progress.
The three main pillars on which the process of reporting rests is the way in which progress is established, discipline in reporting, and an atmosphere of openness. As an organization or a project manager, you need to pay careful attention to this, because if built on a shaky foundation, a project can easily falter.
Mark de Jong
Mark is Sales & Marketing Manager at Timewax. He has a background as a project and resource manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consultants with expertise in the field of Professional Service Automation (PSA).