+++ Requirements for a Modern and Efficient Reporting in Project Management +++
By Johann Strasser Read article in German
As the PMO, you are responsible for the reports in project and portfolio management (PPM). This encompasses not only the structure and the selection of the presented information. The PMO has another important responsibility that is not always simple. They have to ensure the quality of the reports with regard to currency and correctness.
The problem: When introducing project and portfolio management solutions (PPM) the reporting topic is often considered too late. Does that sound familiar?
It would be ideal if the PMO put reports at the very beginning. In such a case, the PPM system would be planned around the reports and their users.
For reports make you realize what is happening and what needs to be decided. They help you focus on the essentials and get the most out of your PPM system.
But this is only half the battle. To enable you to react as fast as possible to the developments in the project environment, your reports need to be up to date and flexible, too.
Therefore, we aim to present the most important determining factors for a modern IT-supported reporting in this article. On top of this, you will receive a checklist and examples of what could go into individual reports you as the PMO could use.
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Requirements for PMO Reports in Project and Portfolio Management
These days, IT allows us to present reports quickly on the screen, both in color and in the desired level of detail. When it comes to what information e.g. a PMO envisions for the company, classic fixed notions for the preparation come into play:
The actual reporting requirements are more realistic. They can be summed up in one sentence:
So you should always ask yourself this question when setting up a reporting system:
- What do I aim to plan and control?
- What information will I require for this?
- Which level of detail makes sense?
- What do I want to achieve with which report?
- Who will be working with the reports afterwards?
- Will the recipients of the reports be able to grasp the contents?
Tip: Honest answers to the questions are an important prerequisite for your future reports. Their generation needs to be efficient, without unnecessary data baggage. A prior stakeholder analysis is advisable at any rate.
Reports for Different Stakeholders at the Company
As a rule, every company has several different levels requiring different reports. The higher up in the hierarchy, the more condensed the information needs to be.
Still, a drill-down to the details needs to be possible on demand. This makes it possible to comprehend the consolidated report information in the case of inquiries.
- Top management requires consolidated information for management control on a regular basis. For instance, they consider the adherence to the strategic focus, risks or investment risks.
- A PMO often prepares the reports on projects and resources at portfolio level for top management. It requires a project list with the status to be able to check with project managers when this seems necessary. Any escalations identified are reported to the top for decision-making.
- Team leaders are responsible for their resources. For this, they require the corresponding overviews of their teams’ workload and availability. In addition, they need to be able to make reliable resource commitments for the projects to the project managers.
- When planning individual projects, the project manager uses e.g. the status report, the work breakdown structure, the milestone overview or possibly a Milestone Trend Analysis.
- Project team members want to see their work packages. What is more, they are interested in who else is working on the project and in time recording. This is less about classic reports but more about available information.
Reporting Periods in Project and Portfolio Management
Reports are the basis for coordination meetings. They help to understand what is currently happening at the company. And where decisions are at present necessary.
The higher up in the hierarchy, the more condensed is the information and the less frequent the reporting.
Figure 4 clarifies how the reporting periods at the individual levels result from the individual meetings. Relative to the hierarchical level, the information becomes increasingly condensed. At the same time, the frequency of reporting decreases accordingly.
What decisions may or must be made where? Subject to this, you need to ensure that the required information is available in the form of meaningful reports.
In the process, you also need to decide which element is useful for which report. This should not be detrimental to the clarity of the overview or the intelligibility.
What Reports Make Sense?
The question of which reports are useful always requires a very individual answer. The figure below provides an overview. It shows which reports make sense across the hierarchies. Naturally, this depends to a large extent on your company’s:
Unfortunately, there is no ONE report that is right for all. While reports tend to look similar, they have to be adapted to the respective processes and needs of the company. This always depends on the intended use and the recipients.
You can find further information on the report types below in the article 5 Important Reports for Project, Resource and Portfolio Management.
Example: Portfolio Dashboard Report
Example: Project Pipeline Report
Example: Resources & Roadmap Report
Example: Simple Project Status Report
Find out more in our article on the contents and process of the Project Status Report.
Example: Team Planning and Commitment in Response to Project Requests
Tip: As the PMO, it is wise to keep an eye on the number of reports. Over time, this is very likely increase, as new ones tend to be added continually. A periodic consolidation can ensure that your reporting retains its efficiency as a whole.
Selection in the Multi-Project Environment
Often, the PMO is responsible for the preparation of the portfolio meeting. In a multi-project environment, the selection is the challenge. From the project portfolio, which can be very substantial, you need to select certain projects. These need to be the ones which can be covered during the portfolio meeting.
This ensures that the need for decisions is identified early enabling you to make the necessary decisions, too.
The following list provides criteria by which you in the PMO could make a project selection for review:
- Declared need for decisions (manually set indicator)
- All projects with status RED (Overall, resources, schedule …) + 3 YELLOW + 3 GREEN (as samples to check for data quality, more detail further below)
- All project in the top 3 risk categories
- Top 10 in terms of variance (cost, schedule, work)
- Top 10 strategic contribution / priority
- All projects above a threshold value (order / investment volume, contractual penalty …)
- Problem areas (technology, regions, project manager, product categories …)
Possible Contents for Reports of Individual Projects
What information should the reports of individual projects contain? Possible information on results, deliveries and states could be:
- Achievement of milestones (standard milestones)
- Completion of phases (phase model)
- Acceptance of deliveries planned / effected (payment milestones)
- Completion of work packages / deliveries (definition of “finished”)
- Completion of tasks (not started / in progress / finished)
- List of open issues (open / started / finished)
- Earned Values Analysis (Baseline and %Physical Complete)
- %Complete (no appropriate statement below 100% … 99% syndrome, i.e. the danger of the permanent 99% value)
For quality assurance, the report should include plausibility checks, such as:
- Comparison between remaining effort and reported stage of completion
- Relation between %Cost / %Work / %Time / %Physical Complete (relation of the values to each other)
To determine the plan-actual variance we recommend the following information:
- Deliveries: Plan / actual of quality, scheduling, effort, cost
- Work outstanding: Clarity of proof of concept, work / budget, cost / budget, schedule / plan
- Resources: assign, shift, withdraw
When it comes to decisions on the next steps, the following information is helpful:
- Order / follow-up: entered or not (continue regardless?)
- Budget: available or too low (continue only after increase?)
- Resources: committed or too few (escalation or postponement?)
- Risk situation: manageable or unfavorable (any known alternatives?)
- Chosen option: Method A or B (documentation of the decision including reasons)
Once the PMO has prepared the meeting, it is important to ensure one thing. During the meeting, the necessary data to provide answers to the decision-makers’ questions need to be available – preferably at the push of a button.
Tip: The report after a meeting is also an important medium. Communicate the results of the meeting to all parties concerned. This is the only way to make them adjust their further actions to the results of the meeting.
Efficient Data Collection as the Basis for PMO Reports
At many companies, collecting the data for the reports takes longer than the actual analysis and preparation.
This can be handled much more efficiently once you do not have to collect various Excel files and consolidate them.
It is best to work with a suitable database from the start. This database should allow integration with other systems and a central data evaluation for reports. This leaves more time for the analysis of the reports. This analysis in turn enables well-founded and fast decisions based on up-to-date data.
Ensuring Data Quality
The PMO is also responsible for ensuring the reports’ data quality. But how do you recognize whether the data of a project report are complete, correct and up to date?
The challenge is to determine which projects vary from the plan, e.g. with the aid of plausibility checks. Is the stage of completion, which the project manager indicated in the project report, actually correct?
The PMO’s goal is to identify the critical projects. Only these should undergo a detailed scrutiny in the portfolio meeting.
Among others, the following information can help to check whether the data are complete, correct and up to date:
- All projects (vs. operations)
- All deliverables per project
- All relevant resources with all activities (project availability)
- Check for planning plausibility
- Complete coverage of all cost types and efforts
- Stage of actual completion
- When were the data entered?
- At what time was the transfer of data from external systems?
- When were the reports created?
Tip: Use samples to improve data quality. Project managers have a tendency to make their reports look particularly inconspicuous. As the PMO, you should therefore pick out a few projects with green status alongside those with red and yellow status indicators. This takes away the certainty from project managers that a green traffic light will keep them “off the radar”.
Determining Factors for Modern Reporting
Do you want to modernize your reporting? This checklist with the ten most important questions can help you to think in the right direction:
Checklist: The 10 Most Important Questions on Reporting
1. Who should have permissions for what?
2. How often should the data be updated?
3. How often should the reports be issued?
4. Do the reports have to be available online or offline?
5. Do you require ad-hoc analyses?
6. Will the reports need to be printed?
7. Should there be an option to comment on reports?
8. Do the data need to be historized?
9. Will the reports need to be archived?
10. Do you wish to be able to modify reports?
Below, you will find a few additional notes on some important points from the list.
Permissions control who is allowed to see what. Implementing them can cause a lot of effort. If you decide for too much complexity, adjustments can become very complicated when people change roles. It is also important to involve the employee organization regarding the internal resource data.
Comments in reports should point very clearly to issues that require particular attention. This enables the reader to grasp the critical points quickly. Explanations for the states presented are also advisable. For instance, they might tell you why a traffic light is red.
If a report is historized, that means the state of the report on a particular date can be retrieved at a later stage. On the one hand, the underlying data from that time need to be available. On the other hand, the original layout of the other page needs to be recoverable pixel-perfectly. Archiving is best managed by creating PDFs. It is possible to save them automatically to a database. In such a case, they can be retrieved specifically in their original version, even after a long time.
Tip: Use standard tools! If you in the PMO are able to modify reports, you have greater flexibility. For this reason, you should use standard tools as much as possible. You can make changes as required, fast and without external help. > Training events for reporting can equip you with the necessary know-how regarding the tools.
Conclusion – PMO Reports for Project and Portfolio Management
This article has introduced you to the requirements for PMO reports in project and portfolio management. You have learned what reports make sense and what questions you should be asking yourselves in this context as the PMO.
- That you require different depths of information and frequencies of coordination for the different stakeholders at the company
- Which criteria are important for a project selection when preparing your next portfolio meeting
- What information you should be able to find in reports
- How you cater for quality assurance, record plan-actual variance, and prepare decisions on the next steps.
In addition, you have found out:
- That an efficient data collection is the basis of a fast and reliable reporting system
- How you can check whether the data are complete, correct and up to date
Last, a checklist has familiarized you with the 10 most important questions on reporting – as a guideline for your next steps.
Do you have any questions or feel we have missed an essential point? Please write to us in the comment area below. We look forward to your receiving your comment!
Interested in PMO Metrics? Have a look at this partner article: 25 Metrics for a PMO Dashboard.
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