Status Reports

I like a good status report. It may contain a few sentences or a page full of data and gauges, but done well it quickly and crisply tells the story of where we’re at on a project or task – the good, the bad, and the ugly! It seems like too often status reports are just ‘something we do’ though, and that is a missed opportunity on both sides.

Missed opportunity? Yepper.

Status reports should be about transparency, and transparency is the best kind of armor. Think about that. If we clearly and openly show ‘this is where we are’ and ‘this is what we’re doing next’, we’re setting expectations and accountability. If someone uphill doesn’t agree with those expectations the sooner we surface that the better.

I know that generating a status report doesn’t mean everyone will read it. Often they get filed. So what? Spending 5-15 minutes each week to go over where you’re at and document it, is that really time wasted?

Leaving out a standard header of some sort and related information, I want to see these three things front and center on every status report:

  • Tasks Forward From Last Report
  • Tasks Planned For Next Iteration
  • Current Roadblocks and New Risks

I’d like to say I invented that, but it’s really the heart of the daily standup in Scrum. It works equally well in any status report. Think about how much meaningful information we convey in those three points.

I’d like to think they are all obviously valuable, but I see a lot of status reports that skip the first one (Tasks Forward From Last Report). Why?  Because we miss interim goals and we don’t want to talk about it, we’ll make it up in the next week. Because it enables – even forces perhaps – the organization to hold us accountable for not meeting those goals.  Because no one is holding us accountable to our commitments.

That doesn’t mean that you’re going to get yelled at or fired every time you don’t deliver. Why matters. What you do to make up the gap or rearrange workflow matters. Understanding that something went awry matters. The problem is that if you don’t face the truth today,now,you’ll keep delaying, pushing work to the end, until finally you realize the end date has slipped…a lot.

What most people see in transparency is the pain, or the potential for pain, but the armor is that you walk out of the meeting clean – the level has been reset, and once you again have set shared expectations about what you’ll deliver in the next interval. No sleepless nights (or at leaser fewer of them!).

You need a report format that forces flaws and weaknesses to be visible. Does it involve money? Track spend to plan. Does it involve hours or tasks? Show a burn down chart (nothing will show the truth quite like it!). Require any change to a milestone or the definition of done to be logged and shown.

I was talking about this with a friend recently and the comment was that what goes in the report is subjective. It’s not, or mostly not. You may include some subjective language about a risk or roadblock or housekeeping issue, but the format drives you to that. The key to the status report is agreeing on what you’ll do in the next interval. That may be a subjective discussion, but when it’s complete you have objective goals to meet.

As I look back at what I’ve written about this it’s not quite enough. I need some examples. Needs some more thinking, does discussing transparency add or detract from the discussion?

For those reading along and thinking about it, take a look at this personal status report. Simple, quick, effective.