When it comes to managing an ERP project, one thing is virtually certain: even the best-laid plans are likely to go awry. As such, the Project Management Office (PMO) is tasked with preventing your project from derailing when unforeseen issues and circumstances inevitably transpire. One of the PMO’s most important tools for anticipating, mitigating, and tracking obstacles to project success is the weekly status report.
Unfortunately, the poor quality of many project status reports can actually exacerbate problems by allowing risks to go unmanaged, issues to be downplayed, decisions to get delayed, and actions to get lost. Some common pitfalls are:
- Reports tend to be informative, but not actionable. They catalogue what you did last week and what you plan to do next week, but provide limited insight into the impact of things that are starting to slip.
- “Red / Yellow / Green” status indicators tend to be too subjective and arbitrary. Not only do individual teams have different thresholds for the relative severity of problems, but a reluctance to raise the “caution flag” can motivate teams to keep things “Green” in the false hope that they will be able to get everything back on track before things actually go “Red.”
- Reports lack the appropriate context to help identify negative trends. Once again, simply regurgitating a list of tasks does not help the PMO identify developing problems and take appropriate, corrective action. Without some indication of whether a particular task is on track vs. running behind, problems tend to get lost in the shuffle.
The good news is that by following some simple guidelines, you can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your team status reports.
1. Focus on the exceptions
Don’t just recount last week’s progress, but clearly highlight any and all deviations from the plan. Each exception should then be linked to an appropriate Risks, Actions, Issues, and Decisions (RAID) item which can be tracked and managed, such that the report helps you understand:
- What didn’t go according to plan?
- Who owns the problem?
- How are we going to get back on track?
- When do we expect the issue to be resolved?
- Is it a “repeat” or intractable issue, and do we need to escalate?
2. Balance color coding with facts
Include supporting details wherever possible. Processes like testing, mock conversions, and sprints produce a wealth of metrics that should always be included to provide an objective measure of project health. Furthermore, it’s always better to show performance over time as opposed to weekly “snapshots”. Here are a few examples:
- Backlog / “MVP” status. Backlogs are good for managing Agile projects where scope is fluid and timelines aren’t fixed, but ERP projects have timelines that are expensive to change as well as fixed scope requirements, a.k.a. the “Minimum Viable Product”. Consequently, the size of the “MVP” and progress towards its completion need to tracked over time, so that you can effectively manage MVP scope against team size and actual resource requirements.
- Sprint velocity over time. If velocity is consistently falling short of assumed productivity, additional resources might be required.
- Metrics, metrics, metrics. Whether it’s testing, data, development, training, or configuration, you should be reporting weekly progress against the plan. These workstreams are too complex to be summarized with a single color, and without the supporting details you are much more likely to get blindsided.
- RAID log turnover. Showing the rate at which the backlog of RAID items is growing over time can help to proactively identify bottlenecks that need to be addressed.
3. Hold your PMO to a higher standard
Far too often, the weekly status report produced by the PMO is simply a compilation of the lower-level team reports. Especially when there are a million other things going on, program status reporting can fall to the bottom of the priority list. But in order to be effective, the PMO has to do more than simply “assemble” team status reports into a PowerPoint deck. The PMO needs to take an active role in pressure-testing the team status reports to ensure consistency and transparency across teams:
- Are “Red / Yellow / Green” indicators aligned with facts?
- If Risks / Issues have been formally closed, is there a corresponding “Action” in place to ensure that any mitigations or tactics are in place and can be tracked?
- Do reports contain sufficient details so that you will be able to read it in 3, 6, and 9 months and understand what actually happened?
Attention to rigor is a critical success factor of any ERP project. When done properly, status reports are an excellent way to enforce rigor and identify where lapses in rigor may contribute to program execution risks. By applying these basic principles, your status reports will become a valuable tool for identifying, mitigating, and escalating problems, improving both the effectiveness and the efficiency of your project management and governance processes.