Saturday, January 20, 2007

Week 20 - (Building a PMO) Reporting

I’ve been thinking about reporting a good bit lately. What makes good reports? What type of reporting is the PMO responsible for? When? What? To whom? And so on. I have been working recently on streamlining the reporting we are doing on the project and yet providing more information in a more useful and timely manner.

I am a minimalist at heart. I believe in one-page. From a reporting perspective, there may be a need for more than one, but I think that the PMO that provide management with a one-page comprehensive status report has found the Holy Grail of reporting. My quest is probably equally romantic and impossible, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement out there.

Let me start with two components that I have been struggling with lately – I call them the “Justs.” They are Just enough information and Just in Time. I’ll start with the latter as that is the more familiar.

Just in Time started as an inventory management practice and Dell showed the world how effective and profitable this can be. Just in Time reporting refers to the freshness of the information. We have all walked into a meeting with management to review the reports we sent out yesterday knowing that some (perhaps many) pieces of information were no longer accurate. Face it, by their nature, projects change quickly and frequently and they have a terrible habit of being unpredictable. Part of the problem is the ever popular hierarchical reporting methods.

To use my current situation as an example, I have a weekly board meeting every Wednesday morning. At this meeting we discuss the current issues, action items, and status for the two programs we are managing. These programs consist of multiple projects from multiple departments. One of those departments is IT. I get the final set of IT information on Monday afternoon for presentation on Wednesday morning. Let’s look at how that information gets to the board.

Working backwards – On Monday the consolidated IT reports are reviewed by IT management and approved for general release. These reports are created on the previous Friday afternoon from a collection of status reports by each project. These individual project reports are due by end of day Thursday. Each project team puts their report together in the day or two preceding Thursday. In this case the IT information that the board reads on Wednesday morning is a week old. A lot can change in a week. Unfortunately this means that we often report tasks as incomplete and behind schedule when they were actually completed on time.

We take a different approach on the business side. Here, there is a full program meeting on Tuesday morning. At this meeting, each project leader and team member reports their status as of that moment. The project manager updates the schedule, issues and action items right there. The program level report is published immediately after the meeting. Since the PMO is present in these meetings, we are able to produce the business components of the weekly status right after the meeting as well. This means that on Wednesday morning the board is hearing about information that is less than 24 hours old.

There are two circumstances that influence the difference. First, the business organization is less hierarchical and less formal than IT. This allows much quicker communication. My observation is that IT is oriented around structure, process, exactness and consistency – all of which contribute to some excellent, stable and reliable systems. Unfortunately, this means that non-emergency information has a long way to go to be seen.

Secondly, the PMO is directly present in the lowest level of the business meetings while we are not present in the lowest level IT meetings. This means that we get the unvarnished “raw” information straight from the people who know it the best. This enables us to better understand the information and to weigh its importance and urgency. This is not the case with IT.

I think the solution is two fold. First, set up a system and process that has the shortest amount of time between the collecting the information and reporting it. Second, eliminate every step possible between the collection and reporting. The fastest this can be done is obviously to have the person collecting the information turn right around and report it. Even better have the recipients of the information hear it first hand. Of course, it is rarely possible to get today’s busy executives to spend that much time listening to details. Don’t forget, your value-add in the reporting cycle is to aggregate, summarize, separate useful from useless, and elevate the important.

To parallel this to Just In Time supply management, getting information from the business is like going to the orchard to pick the oranges while the information from IT has to be obtained by driving to their grocery store and waiting until it is stocked on the shelves. Go to the orchard, pick the best fruit and get that to your board right away.

1 comment:

olivia jennifer said...

I would say that a PMP is highly respected within both IT & non-IT communities where strong project management skills are required. If you plan on a long term career as a project manager, then yes, even with your level of experience, I would suggest getting your PMP. You can prepare yourself for the exam in one of the leading training providers like . You can do minimal prep-work to get 40 PMI® Contact Hours and apply to PMI for PMP Exam before the class begins.