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5 Things You Need to Know When Presenting a Project Progress Report

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This article lays out five key points that you need to know to give an effective presentation and update everyone on the progress of your project.

Regardless of whether you are a CEO reporting to shareholders or a child reporting to a parent, we all will face a moment when we are asked to give an update on what we are doing.  From the curious mind wanting to know how something works to the overbearing boss who needs to know everything.  These five points will help you to clarify your thoughts and perspective of your project so that you can report clearly and concisely to anyone at anytime.

Know your project

I’d like to think that this point is obvious, however I have come across more than one person who says ‘I’ll wing it’ when it comes time to deliver their project progress report.  If you know your project intimately, then no question can come as a surprise and you’ll always be prepared to report.

There are certain occasions however, that you may be a little behind in knowing your project.  Sometimes you will be brought in to a project midway through completion, sometimes you will be the one to start the project from scratch, and other times you may even volunteer to take on the management of a project.

If you feel that your knowledge of the project is lacking try a few things to help familiarise yourself:

  1. Familiarise yourself with any company/project procedures and protocols.  
    Quite likely there is a particular chain of command that you are expected to adhere to.  If you report to the wrong person you may not only annoy the person you are reporting to, but may also jeopardise your relationship with the person you are supposed to be reporting to.
  2. Familiarise yourself with any recording or archiving system.
    If the project you are working on has a particular method or service for recording and storing information then you have hit pay dirt.  In any given system you will have to filter your way through the information to get what you want.  Over time, you will find the patterns you need to find the information you want.  More than likely, there will be instructional and planning documentation available on the project.
  3. Try to teach someone else what you want to know.
    One of the best ways to understand something is to teach it.  When you’re put in the position of a teacher you are faced with the task of explaining things simply and clearly so that any newcomer to the project can learn from you.  You can only explain things simply and clearly when you understand it yourself.  The added bonus of teaching someone new is that you will be exposed to questions and comments that you won’t hear when working alone.

Know where you are

When presenting your project progress report, it is important that you know at what position the project is at compared to a certain benchmark.  The are as many different benchmarks as there are projects but some things are common to all projects.

A good project manager knows how much cash is in the bank.  A better project manager knows how much money he needs to have in the bank.  The best project manger knows how much money he will need to have in the bank tomorrow.

Regardless of how good a project manager you are, eventually the topic of the budget will arise. Are you ahead or behind your budget?  Do you need to ask for more money?  Or will you be asked to give up some of your money?

How operationally ready is your project?  In some cases, a project may start producing before it is finished.  For example, let’s say you’re an IT consultant building a nice shiny new server for a client.  You can get the box up and running and let your client access some services such as email while you continue working on getting the proprietary applications up and running.

Know where you’re going

There’s no point in walking out the door if you don’t know where you’re going.  After all, how will you know when you get there.

Projects, generally speaking, have an end result or product to achieve.  Some projects are perpetual and instead have a series of destinations over time.  Regardless of the project type, if you don’t know what the end result or product is supposed to be, then you can’t know how to produce it.

Take the example of IT consultant again.  He may know that the client wants a shiny new server, but does he know what it should look like once he builds it.  If he goes to all the trouble of building a server only to switch it on and discover he didn’t install enough hard drive space for his client’s applications, then he is going to look pretty dumb in front of his client.

So always have a destination in mind so that when you look at what you have accomplished you can compare it to your expectations.  You’ll also be better prepared to describe why you do what you do when you present your project progress report.

Know how to get there

Once you know where you are going, you can take some time to work out how to get there.  Knowing how to get where you’re going is the most visible part of a project progress report.  This is where we get to celebrate our milestones and hang colourful Gantt Charts from the walls.

It is also the most fluid thing you need to know when presenting your project progress report.  As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.  For any given problem there may be several different solutions each with there own advantages and disadvantages.

You need to know this point, because this is like having a road map to follow.  Have you ever been in the situation where you travel to an unfamiliar city?  Perhaps you fly to and arrive at the airport.  Now you know where you are.

You go to the airport’s car rental kiosk and rent yourself a nice car.  You’ve been told to go and check in at the local Hilton Hotel so you know where you are going and what you expect to see when you get there.  You have an address for the hotel, so you enter it into the GPS.

The GPS easily calculates the fastest route for you to drive and you trust that if you follow it’s directions you will get where you’re going.  What happens, when the road is blocked and you need to detour?  Do you still think that you’ll get to where you’re going.

Presenting a project progress update is much like being the GPS.  There are people who only know the basics of where they are and where they’re going and everything in between is left to you.  You may not be the one drawing the map, but you still need to know that despite any detours you will still arrive at your destination.

Know your audience

I consider this point the most important for several reasons:

  1. The people you will report to expect information from you.
    Whether it be investors, managers or customers they all will want to know how the project is progressing in one way or another.  Investors will want to know that their investment remains as secure as they were promised, your managers will need to pass information to their managers, and customers want what they pay for.  At the core, the information you present will be the same, the way you deliver it will be different for every audience.
  2. You know more than everyone else.
    If you’re the one presenting the project progress report then you are the one who knows everything, even if you think you don’t.  If someone is expecting you to give them a report, it is because they don’t know what you know.  They are expecting to receive new information, and quite often will only want small bullet points or diagrams rather than long narratives.
  3. Answer the question the way it was asked.
    If you receive a question in an email, then reply to the email.  It may seem obvious, but consider that an email may get forwarded several times when it contains relevant and worthy information.  That is information that you may have to repeat over and over again wasting your time if you answer an emailed question face to face.  If you are asked a quick ‘how is the project going?’ then say how the project is going, don’t go into more detail than the answer requires.  Be careful not to be misleading or make the project out to be better or worse than it actually is.  The point is to keep it simple and clear so as not to confuse you or anyone else.

I hope these five points have given you something to consider the next time you have to present a project progress report.  We’ve only touched the surface on project management reporting, there are hundreds of books and articles about project management you can look up when you get stuck.

If you have experience presenting these types of reports then leave a comment below about what works for you so that others may learn new techniques for their reports.  Share your stories and anecdotes and together we will grow.

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