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The 10 Commandments of Project Control

2020-06-06

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Prof. Dr. Ulrich Anders

By definition projects are one-off activities that are limited in budget, time and resources. Most projects are complex in nature — technologically, organizationally or both and not seldomly require significant investments or expenses. To achieve the planned project result is, therefore, often of utmost importance for executives, customers or stakeholders. As a result projects often find themselves under a lot of management attention, scrutiny, or political pressure.

In order to not get lost in all this complexity a rigorous project control is necessary. The result of the project control is a regular status report. This status report fulfils three purposes:

  • It generates the necessary transparency on the overall status for the whole of the project team.
  • It helps the project management to take the necessary actions.
  • It satisfies the need for information for all stakeholders surrounding important projects.

But what makes a good status report?

But what makes a good project status report? Neither the suggestions from textbooks, nor from the academic literature, nor from the variety of software tools on project management have converged into a standard of a widely accepted template for project reporting.

Such a standard could then be the basis for further improvements or individual refinements.

In order to add to the discussion, this article suggests 10 criteria, that are important for project status reporting. These criteria will in the further course be called the 10 Commandments of Project Control. They have been battle tested in projects over time, but research on them is still going on.

  1. Add transparency on status and make sure all issues are visible that could affect project success.

    Every project status report should be as clear as possible. If project success is defined as: in scope & quality, in budget, in time and with customer satisfaction, a status report should have corresponding ratios to inform about the current status in exactly these dimensions. All ratios should be easy to understand and it also should be comprehensible what their basis is and how they are computed.

  2. Support the manageability of projects and reduce complexity.

    A status report should help managers to manage the complexity of a project. Complexity can be reduced

    • by modularization, e.g. into streams or layers,
    • by displaying hierarchies of information from general to specific,
    • by visualization, e.g. through the help of traffic lights.
    • by suggesting potential actions that could follow a non satisfactory status, e.g. by showing comments on ‘non-green’ traffic light.
  3. Prevent only summary numbers from being displayed. They hide the visibility of individual critical topics.

    What is the aggregation of ‘green’, ‘green’, ‘green’, ‘green’, ‘green’, ‘green’ and ‘red’? Most status reports answer this question with ‘green’, because the majority of the issues is ‘green’. However, the correct answer is ‘red’. Project management attention is needed for the ‘red’ issues. So they should not be averaged out, because they may become critical if not attended to.

  4. Only present information that can trigger management action.

    Controllers make reports, managers organize and take decision. So a report from a controller to a manager should be such that it can actually trigger management action. If the manager — after reading the report — cannot take an appropriate action, the report largely fails its purpose. The action can also be an active decision to take no action. But this is then a deliberate choice and not the consequence of puzzlement.

  5. Clearly reflect the responsibilities for every deliverable or quality assurance. Keep the responsibilities unique.

    Projects are a set of deliverables. For each deliverable there should be a uniquely responsible person. Status reports need to show the deliverables and the responsibles. If deliverables have no clearly assigned responsible person then status reports need to reveal this problem. Having no clear responsibles is one of the major causes for project failure.

  6. Show the degree of completion for each deliverable and the whole project.

    One of the key ratios for the project as a whole and for of each individual task is its degree of completion. The degree of completion is easy to understand and tells everybody the status of the project or deliverable. It further is the basis for the calculation of any kind of projection on how long a deliverable will take until completion, how much budget will be expended or how much time will be spent.

  7. Provide forecasts about the likelihood of achieving the individual results, the overall scope and quality, budget and time goals, and customer satisfaction.

    A project status report should not only be backward looking and reveal the current status, it should also be forward looking to make appropriate forecasts. After all, the project status report is an instrument that should help managers to take appropriate actions. As such a good project status report should also have early warning information. If an issue is ‘green’ at the moment, but it is already known now (by someone, somewhere in the project), that it will turn ‘red’ in the near future, a good status report should reveal this already and lead to the required action.

  8. Inform about the quality of each task completed and delivered.

    A project is a set of deliverables that build on each other. Each deliverable has a responsible owner and is delivered to a recipient. The recipient needs to evaluate quality. Measures need to be taken, if the quality of a deliverable is not appropriate, because other deliverables may critically dependent on it. So, the quality of what has been delivered so far needs to be revealed by a good status report. Not having this is another significant cause for project failure. If the quality of deliverables has not been signed off and if this is not transparent to the involved persons in the project bad quality may later and too late show in the project.

  9. Use well-defined status rules, be objective and avoid green washing.

    Status reporting has one purpose: to honestly and objectively show the status of the project. No person should be able to influence the status based on power are personal interests. Also status reports should not give a status that is better than reality, a situation that can be often observed and which is known as ‘green-washing’. In order to be as objective and independent as possible a status report should therefore be based on clearly defined rules so that everybody involved in the project knows information are gathered and how evaluations are achieved.

  10. Keep track of all project activities so that a project review can be carried out at any time or after project failure.

    Status reporting is a sequence of status reports that are accompanying a project over its lifetime. As such, status reports not only serve as a basis for generating the necessary transparency, they also are a basis for documenting the project evolution over its lifetime and prove accountabilities. Therefore, status reports should keep track of all changes and should not been overridden.


© Prof. Dr. Ulrich Anders

prof.anders@online.de

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