A report is described as a document with key information covering a specific time period, and communicated in oral or written form. Or, more commonly, the bane of every project manager’s life!
Between gathering data, accommodating the needs of every stakeholder, formatting, and getting the document distributed on time – project reports are often a time-consuming task. However, there is no denying the value of reports, both as a means of controlling your project and improving team communication. If you want to make reports a little easier to prepare and more useful for your audience, try to avoid these five common mistakes.
1. Not including what your audience actually needs
Before creating a report, take a step back to consider what information your audience needs to support your project. Ideally, the communication preferences of each audience were documented during the project planning phase. Refer to the communication plan to identify key factors such as the frequency or format of a report.If the plan doesn’t exist – just ask!
As the project progresses, remember to check in with report recipients periodically to make sure the information, format, and frequency is still useful to them. Taking time to accommodate these preferences will make your report relevant, increasing the chances of the recipients reading and acting on the information.
Once the report is complete, look for any information gaps or unclear analysis. Your reader won’t keep coming back for further clarifications, potentially delaying important decisions or actions.
2. Lack of standardised templates
Hands up if you have ever wasted hours pulling together and formatting a report only to discover a pre-existing template was ready and waiting for you? Yep, I can own up to that mistake.
Aside from saving time, a project report template provides a consistent format and structure that your audience is familiar with, thus boosting engagement with the document. Why confuse your audience by using purple as a risk indicator if they are used to red?
It’s also important to check the type of report required; a task status report will differ from a risks and issue report. Is your report formal, informal, financial, annual, technical, fact-finding or problem-solving?
If you are using a project management software tool, take a look at available report templates as a starting point. A tool such as BrightWork includes a range of reports for different audiences, which are easy to customize as needed. Work with your stakeholders and team to agree on a format, and ensure this is implemented.
3. Too much information
We live in a data driven world and project management is no different. The right data aligns the team, improves decision-making, and drives success. However, just because you can track and report on every aspect of a project doesn’t mean that you should. Information overload will deter and confuse readers. Returning to the first point, your audience is time-short so it’s best to use summary data with clear interpretations and recommended next steps. What does a resource shortage actually mean? What’s needed to rectify the situation? Who is responsible for each task?
Where possible, provide links to roll-up dashboards to allow readers to drill down further as relevant to them.
4. Not using project reports
With the fast-paced nature of projects, we are all a little guilty of creating and sharing reports, which are consigned to the ever-growing pile of documents on our desk. If this happens often, why bother generating the report in the first instance? Use reports as much as possible, for example, during one-to-one discussions with team members, team and stakeholder meetings, and at agreed intervals during execution. Reports also provide useful inputs when documenting lessons learned and identifying any processes which require improvement.
5. Ignoring a mistake
We’ve all been there – a report sent late or emailed to the wrong person. Incorrect or missing information. A typo on page one. Mistakes can and will happen. The worst mistake is pretending nothing happened or ignoring the root cause of the problem. Reports are part of your communication toolbox; they help build rapport and trust with your team and stakeholders. Your response to a mistake will speak volumes about your leadership and respect for others.
If you do make a mistake with a report, the first step is to acknowledge the error and correct it. Don’t blame others or become defensive. Next, look for ways to prevent the mistake in the future. Do you need to create a recurring calendar reminder to circulate the report on a given day? Should the team review and change how they provide information to you? Mistakes are a great learning opportunity so make the most of them to demonstrate you are a proactive and trustworthy manager.