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