Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 4;   January 28, 2015: The Limits of Status Reports: Part II

The Limits of Status Reports: Part II

by

We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.
The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airliner

The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airliner. Airbus cockpits, like most modern cockpits, are designed along the lines of the "dark cockpit" principle. This design paradigm limits interruptions of pilot attention. Essentially, if all is well, the instrumentation refrains from announcing to the pilot that all is well. And when an anomaly arises that requires pilot action, the annunciator itself is the device that the pilot must use to take that action.

We can't do quite that well with status reports, but removing from the stream of reports all those reports that do not require management attention would be a good first step. A more advanced, but just as worthy, second step, would be to remove from reports that are filed any materials of the "all is well" type.

Photo by Timo Breidenstein.

In Part I of this discussion of the limits of status reports, we emphasized the experience and emotions of report authors. Let us now examine five more needs of report authors that arise from somewhat more concrete origins.

Situationally driven report cycles
The report cycle is the interval between successive reports. Calendar-driven or clock-driven report cycles are probably most common. Situationally driven report cycles are those in which events in the project trigger reports.
In relatively quiescent phases of projects, calendar-driven or clock-driven report cycles inevitably lead to reports that contain little useful information. When report authors are repeatedly compelled to generate such useless documents they sometimes develop a cynical attitude toward status reports generally, which can blossom into disrespect for supervisors, policy, and project governance. To reduce this risk, require reports on a calendar-driven or clock-driven schedule, but only if the situation warrants — that is, only if the report has useful content.
Adequate time and resources
Useful status reports highlight important information, distinguish new items from previously reported items, and include projections of future conditions and the assumptions that justify those projections.
Authoring status In relatively quiescent phases of
projects, calendar-driven or clock-driven
report cycles inevitably lead to
reports that contain little
useful information
reports that are actually worth reading requires time and effort. If time and effort are unavailable or severely limited, authoring reports conflicts with other efforts related to the task for which status is being reported.
Budgetary consistency
Projects already underway are operating with existing budgets, which were developed under assumptions regarding status-reporting procedures that were in place when the budgets were last revised.
Revisions of status-reporting procedures that create time and effort burdens significantly greater than those that were assumed in those budgets will compel report authors to reallocate time and resources, or worse, to find ways to circumvent the intention of the new status-reporting procedures. Budget revisions should accompany any changes in status-reporting procedures that require significant additional effort.
Necessary tools
Authoring status reports can be as simple as composing text documents — or not. If high quality reports require access to data, or data analysis, a lack of appropriate tools can make authorship a real burden.
If people lack the tools that would aid them in producing reports with data-related content, the quality of the reports will undoubtedly disappoint. Be certain that the necessary tools are available, and that report authors (or their assistants) know how to use them.
Necessary knowledge
In large projects, status reporting can require compiling reports from component elements of the project. Report authors can be completely dependent on cooperation by the leaders of those component elements.
Such cooperation is possible only if the conditions described above are met at every level of the project that must contribute to the higher-level status report, and if organizational leaders make clear that cooperation is expected.

If status report quality in your organization is disappointing, investigate. How many of these conditions are satisfied? How many are not? First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Bottlenecks: Part I  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGWTfslBGvxcUcfhEner@ChacNAvSruLmZFyhYFUJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

A happy dogWhy Dogs Wag Their Tails
If you've ever known a particular dog at all well, you've probably been amazed at how easy it is to guess a dog's mood, even though dogs can't speak. Perhaps what's more amazing is that it's so difficult to guess a person's mood, even though humans can speak.
Henry David ThoreauEncourage Truth Telling
Getting to the truth can be a difficult task for managers. People sometimes withhold, spin, or slant reports, especially when the implications are uncomfortable or threatening. A culture that supports truth telling can be an organization's most valuable asset.
A hug about to happenUnwelcome Workplace Hugs
Some of us are uncomfortable about workplace hugs, and some want to be selective. Sometimes hugs are simply inappropriate. Here are some tips for dealing with unwelcome workplace hugs.
Former Illinois Gov. Rod BlagojevichMasked Messages
Sometimes what we say to each other isn't what we really mean. We mask the messages, or we form them into what are usually positive structures, to make them appear to be something less malicious than they are. Here are some examples of masked messages.
Word salad with font dressingVirtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention
If you've ever led a virtual meeting, you're probably familiar with the feeling that some attendees are doing something else. Here are some indicators of inattention.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenTeiyXXYlxIMobboxner@ChacDOzfXoWszeCmOFzeoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.