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

The Limits of Status Reports: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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: 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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

The silhouette of a famous fictional detectiveSome Truths About Lies: I
However ethical you might be, you can't control the ethics of others. Can you tell when someone knowingly tries to mislead you? Here's Part I of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
Humans aren't the only species that communicates by facial expressionsDismissive Gestures: II
In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
Boston in 1826Inbox Bloat Recovery
If you have more than ten days of messages in your inbox, you probably consider it to be bloated. If it's been bloated for a while, you probably want to clear it, but you've tried many times, and you can't. Here are some effective suggestions.
A Celebes Crested MacaqueEthical Debate at Work: I
When we decide issues at work on any basis other than the merits, we elevate the chances of making bad decisions. Here are some guidelines for ethical debate.
A lightning storm over New York CityComfort Zone Discomfort
The phrase "comfort zone" is a metaphor that can distort how we think about situations in which we feel comfortable and confident. Here are four examples illustrating how the metaphor distorts our thinking.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An abandoned railwayComing August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
A dog playing catch with a discAnd on August 28: Playing at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership 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. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about 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 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.