“Did you get that memo?” ~Dom Portwood
I’ll be the first to admit that I was adamantly against weekly status reports. It felt like no one was reading them. It wasn’t fun or interesting to do them. They definitely weren’t challenging or mentally inspiring. And there was no sense of accomplishment when I completed them. The complete opposite of a good, juicy coding problem that required my undivided attention for days to solve.
And yet, reporting is the most critical of all my responsibilities and a direct reflection on my ability to successfully manage a project.
Why? I am glad you asked…
Pointless? Mindless Paperwork?
“Yeah. I got the memo. And I understand the policy. And the problem is just that I forgot the one time. And I’ve already taken care of it so it’s not even really a problem anymore.” ~Peter Gibbons
This is from the cult classic (and personal favorite) Office Space. They’re talking about TPS Reports which essentially mean “pointless, mindless paperwork.” Yikes! Oftentimes, sharing progress updates feels like a distraction from the real objective of actually solving the problems. And that was my natural instinct when I was asked to provide project status reports. I did them because I had to. I wasn’t very consistent and eventually just stopped doing them because it didn’t feel like the best use of my precious time.
One day, I raised my concerns with my boss. We had an enlightening, open conversation about their purpose, why they’re important and how I needed to approach them with a different perspective. I think a light bulb came on that day. In fact, I started looking at everything I was doing with a critical eye. I realized my developer tendencies were holding me back as a manager. From that moment, I started writing down observations of how I was doing this role…and thus we have this blog. Hashtag true story.
Reports declare your ownership of the project.
“Samir and I are the best programmers they got at that place. You haven’t been showing up and you get to keep your job.” ~Michael Bolton
“Actually, I’m being promoted.” ~Peter Gibbons
Perception is an important component to the inner-workings of an office. You can’t deny it. Regardless of content, weekly project status reports are a single communication point that very definitively, and broadly, state: I got this.
This is MY project and I know what’s happening to it. I am actively working to ensure its success. I am escalating when risks threaten it.
When you build strong, concise reports that you consistently relay, your stakeholders’ and peers’ trust in you will skyrocket. It does not matter if they read them or not. In fact, it’s safer to assume that they actually will not read them. More on that to follow.
Reports allow busy people to be busy people.
“Not right now, Lumbergh, I’m kinda busy. In fact, look, I’m gonna have to ask you to just go ahead and come back another time. I got a meeting with the Bobs in a couple of minutes.” ~Peter Gibbons
Once they know you’ve got it under control, your leadership can comfortably back away and let the project run its course in your capable hands. There’s no need to micromanage. Good reports usually answer the most important questions leadership has at the onset.
When your team sees these reports coming from you to leadership and stakeholders, they see you actively communicating the state of the project. It sends a message to them that you’ve taken ownership and, more importantly, accountability for the entire project. They will realize you are dependent on them to do good work. It will encourage them to make sure they accomplish things that can be shared regularly.
Side note: really good reports can backfire if you solely depend on them for relaying communication. When trust goes up and people start thinking it’s safe to put the project at arm’s length, they may not be fully absorbing the details of your report. Make sure to follow up and double down on critical information in one way or another.
Reports document the project’s evolution.
“It was a ‘Jump to Conclusions’ mat. You see, it would be this mat that you would put on the floor, and it would have different conclusions written on it that you could jump to.” ~Tom Saykowski’s and his million dollar idea
I have been in the situation where I’ve skipped a few reports right as the project’s risks came to fruition. Suddenly, I’m scrambling to tell the story of why the project went off the rails. Time is fickle and people easily forget. Consistent reporting permanently tells the story of how you got from point A to point B and how point C even came about. The devil is in the detail, so to speak, and should the day come where you need to explain your project’s devil, your reports have the details.
Everything that I have only in my head is a huge problem. Not only is there the Bus Factor, but the stress factor of trying to retain all these details. I want (and this is an underlying theme to this blog) to walk away from work stress-free and disconnected, allowing my reports to be the source of information and truth.
“This isn’t so bad, huh? Makin’ bucks, gettin’ exercise, workin’ outside.” ~Peter Gibbons
Finding peace is a constant journey for me. I don’t want to be doing “pointless, mindless paperwork.” I want to accomplish something every day and I want to actively be living. At first glance, reporting doesn’t seem so important, but can be crucial to keeping powerful forces at bay that allows you that peace of mind. Effective communication is a key responsibility of a project manager and your reports should operate as the crème de la crème of that skill. I now respect and prioritize my reports and cherish the opportunity to briefly grab my peers’ attention to remind them of the awesome things we’re doing day-in, day-out.