Improving Project Status Reports with Visual Reporting

Visual Status Reporting using a Work Breakdown Structure

Written By Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.

Google has over 13 million pages that describe project status reports.  If you read all of them, you’d find a lot of discussions on the purpose of status reporting, key components and numerous templates.  I’ll save you the time reading 13 million pages and provide three useful formats to include in your project or program status report deck.  The key to these formats is to use visual reports to convey status rather than reading lengthy missive on this week’s project status.

My unscientific observation is people skim rather than read an entire status report or presentation.  I’m sure you’ve had the experience where an executive, customer or key stakeholder skims through the first few pages of your meticulously wordsmithed presentation only to stop at the one key slide that holds their interest.  The entire purpose of the status report is to inform the project stakeholders of project progress and have a conversation about the scope, resource and timeline concerns.  Having a conversation using paragraphs of text is difficult for both the presenter and the audience.  Visual formats help make the conversation easier.

I’ve always been a fan of a visual one page status report to convey overall project status.  Clark Campbell even wrote two books on using a one-page status report for both information technology and non-IT projects.  Be sure to check out The One-Page Project Manager: Communicate and Manage Any Project With a Single Sheet of Paper and  The One Page Project Manager for IT Projects. I’d also readily admit a one-page status format may not meet all stakeholder communication needs.  To address different communication needs, I’ve used the following one page visual reporting formats to improve the status reporting.

Work Breakdown Structure Project Status Report

The figure below depicts all the reports, interfaces, conversion programs, enhancements and forms (or screens) required to be developed in a systems project.  Each deliverable in the WBS can be color coded based on progress, issues and risks.  The color blue is used to indicate a completed deliverable, yellow indicates an at-risk deliverable, red indicates a late deliverable and green indicates the task is on schedule.  A quick glance of the graphical WBS indicates the project’s interfaces and screen development have the greatest number of problems and the conversion branch is also at risk.  By adding a visual layer to quickly summarize status, project teams can focus on the issues affecting the impacted work.

Visual Status Reporting using a Work Breakdown Structure

Figure 1 – Visual Status Reporting using a WBS

The graphical work breakdown strucutre was developed in Mindjet MindManager.  Using MindManager, project managers can import MS Project data,  assign task start and end dates and display red and yellow indicators based on the current date. I’ve used this visual status reporting format on larger programs and found it helpful in reporting a summarized status of the complex projects within a program.

A Graphical Timeline View

Every project status report needs some type of time-phased Gantt chart to indicate progress against due dates.  Prior to MS Project 2010, Gantt chart reporting was difficult to easily depict meaningful tasks in a graphical one-page view.  Fortunately, with MS Project 2010, you can create a timeline view and add select tasks rather than adding every task or milestone in the project.  The following link contains my tutorial on how to create a timeline view in MS Project 2010.

Microsoft Project Timeline View Visual Status Reporting

Figure 2 – Microsoft Project Timeline

The timeline view is a useful view however, large scale projects and programs often have many workstreams and phases that require an integrated view.  MS Project 2010 users can create multiple timeline views and embed them in a single PowerPoint slide or a manual phased-based Gantt chart can be created in Visio, Excel or another graphic program.  The challenge with these solutions is they all require tedious graphic manipulation when the project data changes.  If you are looking for a configurable, one-page snapshot based on your project schedule, then take a look at Chronicle Graphics OnePager Pro tool.

With OnePager Pro, I can quickly develop a one-page snapshot, report baselines, critical path, % complete and add my own annotations.  If the underlying project data changes, I click a button and the graphical data is updated.  Try doing that with a complex chart in MS Powerpoint and you’ve just wasted another hour tweaking and shifting data and Gantt bars manually.

Chronicle Graphics Visual Status Report

Figure 3 – Chronicle Graphics Visual Status Report

My One Page Project Status Report

If I had to include one slide to in a status reporting deck, I would use this format.  The format combines text and graphical indicators that include subjective sections and objective metrics like SPI and CPI.  By combining the achievements, top issues, risks and schedule, stakeholders receive a comprehensive view of the project all on one status report.

One Page Status Report

One Page Status Report Example

I’ve used this project status report template  for small projects, large projects with several workstreams and large programs with many sub-projects.  By assigning one-page to each workstream in the project, the project manager gets an consolidated view of all the work in the project.  As new scope or phases are added, another one-page sheet can be appended to the status reporting deck.

Once I have the various one-page snapshots assembled, I insert the images into a MS Powerpoint presentation in the following order:

  1. Title Slide with date and presenter
  2. Status Based WBS (Figure 1)
  3. Graphical Timeline View (Figure 2 or 3)
  4. One Page Status Report (Figure 4)
  5. Appendix
    1. Detailed Issue, Risk Log
    2. Summarize Project Schedule
    3. Budget Detail

Additional one page status reports are added for each project in the program.  Depending on your need, adjust the slides based on your audience.  Thinking visually and communicating in visual formats help comprehension and communication.  Pick one of these reporting formats and test it out in your organization.

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