10

What should I look for in techniques or tools for helping to communicate status well and efficiently to multiple managers with different areas of interest?

I'm working on multiple different projects right now, and need to communicate status to two project managers and my team manager. Each manager sends out their status report (which includes a summary of the statuses of those on their teams) to the rest of the company on a different day of the week, and therefore wants status on a different day. That's three status reports a week, with some overlapping information but some unique information in each, and since they are on different days, my status changes from one day to the next.

I can spend from 10 minutes to an hour on a status report, depending on how useful I want it to be. Even 30 minutes a week, the bare minimum, is painful right now, as our team is dramatically understaffed - but I would love to have more effective status reports also. This "multiple projects' statuses" situation is likely to continue and possibly get more complicated, so I'd like to get a good handle on it now.

  • 2
    Hi Ethel, if you're not getting the answers you're looking for here, we can possibly migrate your post to our Project Management Stack Exchange site for questions about the field of project management. First, make sure all the details are in your question that will help folks understand what the problem is you're trying to solve. Good luck! :) – jmort253 Mar 6 '13 at 13:48
  • Hi jmort523, I thought about that - but PM status reports differ significantly from what I'm needing to write. The answers here are helpful :-) I'm going to wait another day to pick an answer - I like to give time before selecting "The Answer" to be sure everyone has a chance to respond or revise answers. – Ethel Evans Mar 6 '13 at 19:45
  • 1
    Waiting to select an answer is fine, and is encouraged. I just wanted to make you aware of other Stack Exchange site on our network, and based on your needs, we'll keep your post here. Good luck! :) – jmort253 Mar 6 '13 at 22:33
4

So, there's a basic two fold path here, and you might draw from one or both of these options... I'm drawing from a diverse spectrum of IT/develoment engineering jobs and trying to give an a la carte option. :)

Change the Managers

Sometimes, you can talk it through with a set of managers and get an agreement on a One True Status to Rule Them All... this can be easier when your managers are more aligned. For example:

  • on a development team in govt. contracting, you probably have a task manager, a program manager (or deputy), a resource manager and maybe others. One cares about your availability, one cares about cost/schedule, one cares about overall organizational performance.

  • in an IT department, one engineer may "report" to several project managers and a single staff manager. The staff manager really guides the person, but project managers are accountable for different non-overlapping subsets of work.

I hope you can see that these are two very different cases. In the first one, you can get the managers more aligned, because (in the end) they care about all the work you do for the organization, you just need to give them the info they need in a way they can parse.

In the second, the different PMs should not know each other's work. One PM cannot and should not care about a thing you did for the other PM, so status for each has to be separate. If you give them One True Status Report, you'll still have to break it into each PM's area.

The goal with any change the managers effort is to get a common element agreed upon that minimizes the time to prepare your status and makes it consistent so you don't have to context switch much when drafting status. Options might include:

  • common format - with clear subtitles, so they can pick out what they need. Cost-driven manager pulls completion and cost forecasts, technical manager pulls technical tasks and architectural changes, but you provide all of it in one format.

  • common day - how much does it matter if one person gets data that is several days old? If you draft all status reports on Wed, and they get used through the end of the week, is that OK? On a many month project, it should be. Crisises may have exceptions, but crisises are not for every week.

  • common location - instead of hand generated email - can they go to a site or a tool that shows them a report of what they need? This can be as easy as an Excel spreadsheet with a number of views on different worksheets and one data store that only you edit.

The "sell" is important. If you say - "this is incredibly annoying and time consuming" you may not get far. But say:

  • I'm trying to create a streamlined process for creating consistent status reports that are of a consistently high quality...

  • I want to standardize the process for everyone, so you get consistent information no matter who gives you status and which project ...

They may see the big picture and think of you as a go-getter.

Change the Status

Often the path of least resistence. Here's some ideas that assume that your management is set in concrete on this, and simply won't be moved from having their own Super Special Just for Me Status Reports. Cause... let's face it... sometimes status reports are not about status, they are about ego. Here's some tips to minimizing work

  • Never provide more than they want. State it clearly, concisely and unambiguously.. but that often means figuring out what the manager thinks of as "clear", "concise" and "unambiguous".

  • Do not provide extra info unless you need them to take action. And then, consider whether you want it in a status report, or a phone call. Some of this is knowing where the status goes. They are tremendously useful red flags when you know who they will go to and how the reader will be reading it.

  • Due date is usually the LAST date - I have never heard a manager say "hey, you gave me status too early!!!" - minimize the context switch and send status when you've finished the last reportable thing for that project.

  • Keep a secret one true status report - It doesn't matter if it makes sense only to you - a status report that lets you build the others quickly will save a lot of time. It is also a wonderful thing if you work in a high-audit field where people with long lists of questions come to you asking to to prove that you know or did what you said you knew or did.

Summary

Every situation is different, so treat these as items on a buffet. Take what you think will work and try it. The big picture is - there's an organizational cost to companies. Managers need to know status. But what they need and how they need it presented, can a be dialogue between you and them. Some managers will give you a format and a date and they simply cannot change that... but others are often throwing the first idea on the wall to see if it sticks, and they are open to a counter offer.

How you sell your idea will have a big impact on your success. "hey, we're all busy, let's save time!" may work, but proposing something consistent across the company is the same idea, but shows a potential for much bigger impact. Saving your own 1 hour a week is awesome. But saving your whole department 1 hour a week makes you a huge hero.

  • Thanks, Beth. This will be very useful to me, but also to others. This situation is actually a blend of the two - I'm in situation 2, but my managers are using the status reports to build the One True report with a wide audience. – Ethel Evans Mar 6 '13 at 19:35
  • Cool! I hope you can talk them into being consistent, then then it'll help the wider audience. Maybe you all can agree on a status area and they all dip into the well when they need a report? Good luck! – bethlakshmi Mar 7 '13 at 13:41
3

Coming from an agile software development environment, we use kanban boards to track the progress of particular projects including any notes and states that they might hold. Without knowing what your industry is or what the contents of your status reports are, it may be hard to give you something concrete but I know that Kanban is good for collaborations between multiple parties and useful to track progress, time, and overall workflow.

For example, you can check out Trello to see if it will suit your needs. It is a very lightweight and clean Kanban board that can be customized to your states and interests. To share it, you just need to send your managers the link to the board and they can view it. The application also live updates so multiple members on your team can update and insert notes throughout the day.

I'm still not sure if it's applicable but I imagine it will certainly cut down on the email communication if the managers can see the progress of your projects.

  • 1
    Actually also in software (QA), and we use JIRA. Maintaining status in tickets and then just copying and pasting from my tickets in JIRA could be a great way to manage this work. I haven't gotten fully integrated with the teams' JIRA boards yet (testing is new here), but this could be a good motivation to push on that. Thanks! – Ethel Evans Mar 5 '13 at 23:27
  • 1
    I doubt the managers are going to let one person use a different report format. Do these kanban apps have custom reporting capabilities? – user8365 Mar 5 '13 at 23:33
  • Jeff, the managers (in this case) are pretty open to whatever works - it's a mid-sized startup environment. And sharing status in a ticket might actually make their lives easier, for some managers. – Ethel Evans Mar 5 '13 at 23:58
  • @EthelEvans - why aren't they open to getting their reports on the same day? – user8365 Mar 6 '13 at 19:37
  • @JeffO - They send out their project or team status reports on different days, and would need to adjust the day they send out their own report (and adjust the days everyone else on the team or project sends them status, impacting 5 or 6 people). My sending status too early means that their snapshot report that they send to the CTO, etc., is out of date - and could lead to (for example) the CTO trying to take action on a problem that already was solved since I sent status to the PM. Most people in the company are on just one team / project and don't deal with this issue. – Ethel Evans Mar 6 '13 at 19:50
0

Have you thought about proactively publishing a status ('board') that you update whenever it suits you? The people wanting statuses can then just look at that.

That way you decide when to update it.

It might also give you an opportunity to negotiate with the managers about what they really want visible, and shows them the effort required every time they think of new questions to ask, or the effort required in handling/answering their different viewpoints.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.