The creation of regular project reports on the progress of the project in terms of content, schedule and costs is a core task of project reporting. The aim is to prepare current information in condensed form as a basis for decision-making for a defined target group.
Project reporting is the formalized recording of project progress and (interim) project results. On the basis of a target/actual comparison of the individual controlling aspects, project status reports are created and presented to a defined target group. This usually consists of the project manager, the project client and (if available) the steering committee.
Goals of project reporting
- Deviations in the course of the project are documented (ongoing target/actual comparison)
- Structured and standardized communication about the current project status to relevant target groups (e.g. project client, project steering committee, project team, ….)
- Ongoing written documentation of the current project progress
- Protection of the project manager
Depending on the agreement, other target groups may also be included in the project reporting process, for which the reports may be specially adapted. The basis for functioning reporting is the planning of adequate reporting structures in the project start phase.
The following must be planned for project reporting:
- What will be reported?
- Who reports what to whom?
- At What intervals are reports made?
- How is the information prepared? (form, structure, medium)
- How are the reports structured?
The concrete structures for project reporting must be agreed with the participants in each project. For the most important reports, it is advisable to create templates that employees can use to orient themselves. This also promotes clarity throughout the entire reporting process.
However, the templates should not restrict the employees, otherwise they will be used insufficiently or not at all. When creating the templates, it is important to make sure that they are as user-friendly as possible in order to ensure that they are accepted.
Project reports provide an overview of the current status of a project.
Project Reporting Tools
In order to use a reporting tool, certain prerequisites must be met in the company. Most implementations fail because the company-specific requirements are not clearly defined. For this it is necessary that methods and techniques (PM procedure), processes and procedures as well as the organizational structure of the project management are clearly defined, established and described.
Central questions before deployment
- Objectives and tasks of project reporting: What is to be achieved through project reporting?
- Contents and form (layout) of the reporting: What information is necessary? Who wants what in what form?
- Development process of project reporting and data quality: How does the information come about? On what assumptions are they based and how reliable are they?
- The parties involved in reporting: Who are the addressees? Who are the information providers? Can and do the addressees use the information?
- Standards of project reporting: Which standards and rules are required for effective reporting in the company? How much uniformity is necessary for project reporting? A harmonized, generally valid project procedure is a prerequisite for the meaningful use of tools. What use is the best tool if not everyone adheres to the necessary rules?
- The use of project reporting: What happens to the information? Is the information used?
- Open communication and intensive cooperation: They are the prerequisite and result of reporting. Every project manager must be judged by the extent to which he succeeds in achieving a trusting cooperation with all project participants.
Critical success factors in choosing tools
A lot of continuous text input and detailed explanations should be avoided, graphic elements loosen up (a picture says more than 1000 words).
Data should not have to be entered more than once, thereby reducing the acceptance of the participants and the timeliness of the data.
Reports should be created without much learning effort, a familiar interface is recommended; this also has a positive effect on training costs.
Complexity of the system
The complexity of the tool should be as low as possible (both technically and organizationally) in order to avoid errors and reduce maintenance costs. Otherwise, it can happen that the entire system comes to a standstill in the event of a „failure“ of the expert.
The need for project reporting should be recognised by top management, which thus provides the necessary resources. The quality, completeness and timeliness of the reports should be demanded from the highest level.
Regularity and periodicity
The project reports are to be prepared regularly at intervals to be defined. Even if there is supposedly nothing to report, this must be „reported“ accordingly. These intervals should be the same for all projects, a gradation according to the size of the project should rather be based on the content (degree of detail). Deviating reporting intervals of a project should only occur in exceptional situations.
Establishment of a project reporting process
In order to ensure structured and sustainable project reporting, a uniform PM process (at least all reporting activities) must be defined and introduced.
Useful tips and tricks for practice
- KISS: Keep it small & simple – long reports are neither gladly written nor gladly read.
- Reports should be simple and clear; graphics often help to clarify what is written.
- The flow of information should run in both directions: whoever reports (= provides information) also wants to receive information himself (e.g. about the overall status, decisions made, changes,…).
- The regularity of reporting conveys security and continuity.
- Meeting plan and reporting are closely linked.
- Timing: meetings that logically follow one another should be close together in terms of time (e.g. project client or steering committee meeting shortly after the project controlling meeting); the energy in the project can also be controlled by the timings.
- The periodicity / frequency of meetings and reports should be selected according to the project: for example, in a 4-month project, 1-month intervals are too long, whereas in a 15-month project, they are quite appropriate.
- Especially for projects with long intervals between meetings, a regulation should be made on how to deal with „ad hoc“ decisions.
Frequently asked questions about project reporting (FAQs)
The best project planning is useless without adequate project controlling. And this includes project reporting, which is often criminally neglected. If you do it right, the effort is kept to a minimum. Below are a few questions, including answers, that keep cropping up in the course of establishing reporting structures and creating project reports.
Is a written project report really necessary?
YES. Projects are unique projects that rarely run one hundred percent as planned. In the course of each project, decisions have to be made again and again and minor or major course corrections have to be made. In order to quickly and efficiently find the best solution for the further procedure in the project, it is necessary to be able to use the current information from the project as a basis:
- Where are we right now?
- What have we achieved?
- How much of our resources have we used?
- What problems are there?
- What alternatives do we have at the moment?
Only if you know where you stand can you find out how best to reach your goal. The project report ensures the traceability of decisions.
As long as everything runs smoothly, this may not be so important, but at the latest in crisis situations it is good to know for what reasons certain paths have been taken and certain measures taken. Without written comprehensibility there are often annoying discussions. As a project manager, it is a good feeling to know that the course of the project is comprehensibly documented.
What must a project report contain?
The principle here is: Keep it small and simple. Long reports are neither gladly written nor read. The report should be simple and clear. Minimum contents of a project status report are:
- What have been the activities since the last report?
- How well are we on schedule? Are we on schedule?
- Where did problems arise and decisions have to be made?
Graphics often help to clarify what has been written. A common graphic element for reporting is the traffic light system:
- „GREEN“: everything is ok; there are no problems
- „YELLOW“: we have a problem, but we can solve it and are already doing that
- „RED“: we have a massive course deviation from the plan and it needs a quick and serious intervention to get the project back on track.
In principle, everything that is planned should also be reported on regularly, i.e. costs, resources, budget, milestones, risks, etc. The reporting depth and the interval must be defined according to the project.
Is it possible to establish project reporting later in the middle of the project implementation phase?
Ideally, the basis for project reporting is already laid in the initial phase of a project. It is usually one of the last tasks in the project planning process. But it is never too late to start. The following requirements must be met:
- A project order coordinated between the project client and the project manager exists
- A work breakdown structure has been created and all work packages are defined.
- The work package managers are defined as follows
- Deadlines and milestones have been set for the time schedule in the project.
- The project resources (persons, funds, equipment, materials, etc.) are planned on the basis of the work package description.
- The project organization is established; roles and tasks are described.
- The flow of information in the project is regulated by a communication plan; decision-making, reporting, information and escalation paths are defined.
Who should receive the project reports?
The project reports should be available to all project members, for example for download on a project server, so that everyone can inform themselves about the current status of the project. In any case, defined persons in the project should receive the report directly. These active reporting paths should at least roughly emerge from the project organization.
Reporting is done „from bottom to top“, as is usual in the company organization. The person responsible for the work package reports to the sub-project manager/team leader, who reports to the project manager, the project manager to the project client or the steering committee.
The larger and more important the project is for the company, the more report levels are run through. It may also be possible to involve stakeholders from the project environment (customers, media, etc.).
How detailed should a project report be?
Depending on the recipient of the report, the content and level of detail of the project report must be carefully selected. As a rule of thumb, the deeper in the project hierarchy the more detailed the reports are. The project client may want to be informed about every problem. The management usually doesn’t care about operational difficulties in detail and only wants to know whether the deadline will be met with the planned budget.
The project report to the client or steering committee best presents only the relevant information in the project in a short and concise form.
In case of doubt: Make a report proposal and clarify directly with the recipients what information is desired and in what detail it should be reported. This saves time and energy, which you better spend on other activities in the project.
Tip: Even if there is nothing to report, this should be reported. If there is „None“ in the open points section, this has more information content than if the open points section is simply omitted.
At what intervals should a project report be created?
The longer a project lasts, the greater the intervals between project reports can be. A project that only lasts half a year may require 14-day status reports, while a 2-year project may require a monthly project report. In practice, the project progress and especially the speed of the project shows how often reporting is required.
If the same thing is reported three times in a row, either the project has fallen asleep (there is an urgent need for action here anyway) or the reporting period is too short. Conversely, the monthly periodicity in the hot phase of a two-year project can also be too long. Then at the latest, you should consider shortening the reporting intervals and defining how urgent problems can be escalated outside the reporting structures.