When someone asks me what project management tool or software they should implement, I defer to the easiest, least expensive, and most effective one out there – the weekly progress report. According to ZweigWhite's "2011 Project Management Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms," 70 percent of firms send out periodic project updates, mostly on a monthly basis (57 percent).
The format is straightforward: a few lines commenting on progress to date, upcoming tasks for the week, and any issues the team needs to be aware of. Everyone on the team should be included in the distribution – the client, the client's boss, the principal, internal team, subconsultants, and any other stakeholders that need this information. Don't err on the side of writing too much or too little – just a few lines will do.
Following are some convincing reasons you should be sending these out monthly, if not weekly:
Clients like them – Clients love information and they love it even more when it concerns the investment they've placed in your hands. When the client sees this update pop up in his inbox on Monday morning, he thinks, "Wow, Jane is working on my project and only my project." That makes the client feel special, tended to, and reassured. When he's informed about the status and reads that things are progressing, he can concentrate on other fires. If things aren't progressing as nicely as they should be, this tool documents those issues. Although it shouldn't take the place of a phone call for serious matters or replace a meeting for major decisions, this update preempts that bad news by raising flags well in advance.
Your team will like them – If there is one thing employees say stands in the way of doing the best job for each other and for the client, it is lack of communication between the project manager and the team. Certainly deadlines change, alterations are made mid-design, and other considerations are exchanged all the time through the life of a project, especially at the beginning. The pace is so swift that passing that information along is sometimes forgotten and the procedure by which those details are delivered can be inefficient. This is not to say that important stuff should be withheld until the Monday update goes out, but it does a great job of confirming and reminding, especially if teams are working remotely.
They are a great accountability tool – There's probably no better way to make a person really commit to a task than to put it in an email and send it out to several recipients. When you're the project manager committing to the upcoming tasks for the week, you think twice about whether or not you're going to be able to say the following Monday that you indeed finished them. No one wants to have to explain in an open email why things slipped. This also reminds the subconsultants what they are on the hook for. And if your client has certain information they need to provide, it commits them to the process and also gives them a little pressure to meet their obligations. Everybody knows what everyone is working on and it gives everyone a chance to speak up in case anything might get in the way of accomplishing what the update pledges to complete.
You get paid faster – When the client receives your invoice at the end of the month for hours spent on their project, they reflect on the four weekly updates they received from you. They easily remember that, week after week, you are doing nothing but working on their project. There is seldom any hesitation to sign off on that invoice – and promptly – because they know you've earned it.
Of course, the scale of your project is going to dictate how often you send these updates, but they are useful even for large-scale projects during idle time. This should be a mandatory practice for every project manager.
Read this and more articles about project management at www.aectechstrategies.com/project-management.html.
Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.