Project managers need data-driven reports from their PPM solution to help them make better business decisions. I hear that in almost every conversation I have with PMOs. If the PPM solution cannot present the right data to produce the right reports, its value is significantly limited.
Part of the challenge is that you will have to deliver reports at all different levels. For example, you have to produce team member reports. An example of a team member report might be something to answer the question what should I work on right now, and such a report might include a list of tasks, the priority of the project that those tasks are attached to, and timelines. You also have to deliver reports to the c-suite, mid-level management, and across the organization.
The purpose of a good PM report is to facilitate decisions and action and for starters, you need to know the decisions you are trying to make. Unfortunately, when people look at reports, the questions they have in mind frequently are a level or two away from the real decisions. These are questions such as:
- What things are going to get done and when?
- Who is available?
- How is this project going?
- How much money have we used?
Those are all good questions with important answers to know however these are background questions. The answers to these questions might help you make the decisions, but the decisions you need to make which will drive action are usually more like:
- When should I tell people to start activities or expect deliverables?
- Who should perform this task?
- Should we reduce the scope of this project?
When I have the answer to “Should we reduce the scope of this project?”, then there will be an action that follows that. To get the right reports out of your PPM solutions, you must make sure you’re asking decision-based questions or decision-driving questions. That’s where you must start.
IDENTIFY WHAT NEEDS TO BE KNOWN TO MAKE THE DECISIONS
The next thing you need to do is identify what you need to know to make the decisions that you’re trying to get to. This is where questions like “Who is available?” fit in. You’re going to want to keep context in mind. For example, let’s say there’s a decision about who should do a given activity. Who’s the person who is making the decision? At one point in the process, is that person making the decision? What information is available to them to make this decision? What actions might they take after the decision is made?
Keeping that context in mind, you’re going to want to understand what the data points are that drive that decision. For example, if you have a decision about who is going to do a specific activity, the data you might require is who is needed, when are they needed, who is available during that timeframe, and how important is the particular activity?
And to take that back a step even further, what are the other activities that person has on their plate that might trump this particular one? If I were going to start staffing people to projects, I would want a report that says here is the need, here is who is available, and here’s what else they’re working on. And then I can take that information and determine who I’m going to put on this project. I can take the appropriate actions such as inform that project manager about the allocation.
KEEP THE DECISIONS FOCUSED
We don’t want people overwhelmed with things that are tangentially related or kind of nice to know. We want the reports focused on just what they need to know to make a decision. In some instances you may have reports that facilitate a number of different decisions and that’s perfectly fine. But whatever the decision or set of decisions the report is facilitating have to remain the focus of the report. That means the report should only render data that’s really essential or has a significant influence on the decision.
You should also put items into reports that facilitate follow on actions. For example, if you are putting someone on the project, you might not necessarily need to know who the project manager is for that project. However, once you’ve made the decision, you’re going to want to know who it is to make the follow on action go more smoothly. The smoother the follow-on action the better the alignment between the decision and what happens next. So you might want to include the project manager’s contact info in the report, even though it’s not crucial to the decision because it’s an inherent piece of the next action.
The last piece I want to note is that we have to make sure the data is trustworthy. We’ve got these reports that we’ve developed to be focused on the decision and to facilitate making those decisions and following through with action. They can be the greatest reports in the world but if you don’t trust the data that’s behind them, they’re not going to get used.
Are your project reports designed to help you make good business decisions? If not, send me an email and we’ll see how you may need to redesign your reports.