The reporting process is part and parcel of the programme management process. However, not all reporting is good reporting. Over-reporting can be as damaging to progress as under-reporting. It is vital to ensure that the reporting process is streamlined enough to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time, without creating unnecessary work for key team members who would be better off spending their time implementing rather than reporting.
Programmes and projects consist of many moving parts. Communication between team members, managers, contractors and stakeholders is vital. When it comes to running a programme that may consist of many different projects, all working towards similar or complementary outcomes, things get even more complicated. It is important to monitor the interdependencies between projects within the programme, and prevent problems and delays affecting one project from having an impact on others. This means identifying and communicating factors that need to be reported, not just within project management teams, but also from one project team to another.
Effective reporting systems allow for essential communication across large and complex programmes. It allows project managers within the programme to keep up to date with the progress of other projects that will impact theirs. Reporting also allows the teams delivering the benefits to assure those waiting for them, such as senior management, stakeholders and end users, that the projects are progressing well, that the programme is working, and that the benefits are likely to be delivered in full and on time.
When project management teams regularly and efficiently report to sponsor teams, everyone benefits. Good reporting procedures give everyone a sense of ownership and involvement. Clear reporting can relieve sponsor time pressures by ensuring that management, stakeholders and customers are aware of how things are progressing, and if there are delays, why those delays occurred, and what is being done to alleviate them. Programme managers may be reluctant to communicate bad news to stakeholders, but stakeholder management is an essential part of programme management, and good reporting can ensure stakeholder buy-in.
Under-reporting and over-reporting
Both under-reporting and over-reporting are damaging to effective programme management. However, it is not always easy to create a perfect balance. A lot will depend on how agile the organisation is, and the tools in place for effective programme management. A rigid approach with specific reporting structures, templates and software that all teams must adhere to, regardless of how relevant they are to a particular project, may result in over-reporting and time wasted on reporting progress rather than actually making more progress.
An agile approach will allow for customised levels of reporting, taking into account the complexity of the programme. Ideally, reporting should supply everyone with the data they need, when they need it, without distracting them with irrelevant or untimely information.
Many programme managers are keen to ensure efficiency by providing information strictly on a need-to-know basis. This approach ensures that just enough information is reported to allow key project decisions to be made. This may work well in situations where the programme management team has the trust and understanding of the sponsor team, but can cause problems if the stakeholders and other members of the sponsor team misunderstand this commitment to efficient reporting, and see it instead as a lack of transparency.
Other programme managers choose to deliver far too much detail to stakeholders. This is rarely welcomed and, depending on the complexity of the programme, can often obstruct the reporting objective of clearly communicating progress. Too much detail, data and unnecessary information is hard to digest, and can even imply to the sponsor team that the programme management team is trying to hide important information among a sea of jargon.
Good reporting procedures have a lot in common with good programme management. It is advisable to agree on reporting structures at the beginning of the programme, at the same time that all other deliverables are being agreed upon. This involves agreeing upfront with stakeholders, other members of the sponsor team, and other project management teams within the programme, what will be reported, in what depth and at which points during the implementation of the programme. It can be helpful to set out the following:
- What data should form an essential part of reports?
- What data is irrelevant and can be left out?
- How often will reports be delivered?
- Who will read which reports and why?
- Is there a culture of trust that allows efficient, need-to-know reporting?
- What reporting tools will be used?
- Are there alternatives (such as project management dashboards) that can be used to minimise formal reporting procedures?
The more agile the approach to programme management is, the more agile the approach to reporting can be. It is possible to build in flexibility, allowing bare bones, need-to-know reporting to be the norm, but agreeing that more in-depth reports will be generated if a complex or unforeseen issue arises.
Reporting best practices
While no reporting system is perfect, there are certainly some best practices that should be followed. When it comes to reporting procedures in programme management, it is essential to consider the objectives of reporting and put in place a strategy that allows all relevant information to be reported to all relevant teams and individuals, without wasting any more time than is necessary on the reporting process. To ensure maximum efficiency:
- Agree who needs to know what, when and why
- Put in place an efficient reporting system
- Consider project management software that allows for ongoing communication
- Create formal reports only as often as necessary for the success of the programme
- Do not provide detail for the sake of detail – summarise the essential data and information
- Establish trust between the programme management team and the sponsor team
- Generate reports at regular intervals to create continuity and expectations
- Do not let reporting get in the way of implementing
Ultimately, reporting procedures should be made as efficient as possible.