PM WoW- Project Management Words of Wisdom

Inspirational Site for Project Managers

The Stop Light Report

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The stoplight report is the most simple and basic form of communication a Project Manager has.  What is often overlooked is how effective this form of communication can be. Whether you’re communicating the status to your team, your sponsor, or your client, the stop light report can serve as an invaluable tool.

Lets start with the basics.  You don’t want your reports to have too much, or too little information in them.  You need to ensure you are catering your communication to your audiences.  For example, a report that is going to your project sponsors should be extremely high level and focused on the overall status of the project.  Remember, your sponsors are your greatest asset as far as kicking things in gear.  Don’t be afraid to use them.  When your timelines are starting to slip, or your budget is starting to run out, the sooner you communicate this information the better. 

Use Yellows and Red statuses appropriately.  Remember, you are the messenger and the manager of the project.  If things are starting to go astray, make sure it is not only communicated in your status report but also noticed.  I have worked with MANY, MANY project sponsors that only look at the comments following the yellow and red markers.  They admit to opening every status report I send them, but if it’s all green, then they close it without reading it.  If it’s yellow, they know that I need them to step in, ideally before it turns red.  When the status is red, typically they expect me to meet with them and discuss the possibility of the project failing, going over budget, or running out of time.

Your team should also know that when a project goes yellow, expect to hear from the sponsor and/or client.   If it’s red, prepare for possible project cancellation or other drastic changes to happen.    I remember the very first time I had to put a yellow status on a report.  I didn’t want to do it.  I didn’t want the client to know that our team was messing up.  I went and spoke to my manager about it, and he told me the best piece of advice I ever received. 

“As a Project Manager, it is your job to remain neutral, and report on the projects progress.  Sometimes it means being the bad guy and delivering bad news.  9 out of 10 times that bad news will spark things into action.  Your client will probably want a conference call, bring the leads in, and explain the situation.  It’s better for them to know whats going on, and plan accordingly, than to be surprised with missed delivery dates, or a bill they weren’t expecting.”

Honesty really is the best policy when dealing with timelines, budgets and project scope.  Hiding the truth from anybody, only ends up hurting the entire team in the end. 

At the beginning of every project I do the leg work to create a template that can be used by every team lead, to report on their progress.  This makes it easy to compile the information into a single one page executive report.  I introduce the reporting template at the kick off meeting.  The template is structured in such a way that it forces the team to report on facts, and has enough room for comments so that the leads have room  to explain any differences in the actual vs scheduled items. 

I use the templates that I receive from the leads as the details for my reports.  I compile the high level statuses into a one page executive status report.  Always keep your executive facing status reports to one page.   The executive status report goes to both the project sponsor and the client sponsor.   I always send the compiled version of the executive status report to the project team leads first to ensure everything is correct.  Once I get the leads to sign off, I send the report to the sponsors.  Again, transparency is key.   Often times, this is the only status report I do.  On rare occasions there is a need for a more detailed report.  Typically when that is needed, the work is already done, because of the information I receive from the leads to create the executive level report. 

If anyone would like to see a sample of the templates I use, send me an email and I will send you some samples.

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Written by mariegatticlark

June 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm

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