How to Conquer the Project Reporting Mountain
In mountain climbing, the key (and biggest physical challenge) is moving up the mountain with as much efficiency and as little expenditure as possible. Project management (though generally not as physically demanding) works in a similar fashion – project managers must manage through and complete each part of the project as efficiently as possible, so they can deliver on time with as little cost as possible.
This, of course, sounds much, much easier than it is. Today, I’ll be focusing on the challenges of a particularly difficult part of project management, which is project reporting.
Reporting on project data is not a simple task. Standard project management is an involved process and requires thoughtful planning, as well as robust tracking, to manage projects successfully. While keeping your plans simple may make the tracking of work easier, it may not give you the information you need to actively manage and complete your projects successfully (e.g., on time and on budget).
Scaling the Mountain: Project Reporting Challenges
In addition to determining the appropriate level of detail for planning and tracking, challenges for effective project reporting generally fall into 3 categories:
Managing assignments and tracking work with dispersed project team
According to the World Economic Forum, flexible work, including virtual teams, is “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace – so, that means the percentage of remote workers will continue to grow and become more of a workplace norm than outlier. Having a project team dispersed across locations is practically a foregone conclusion when planning your project, but will undoubtedly come with a myriad of challenges:
- Regardless of where the team member works, they need access to the system for planning and tracking.
- Everyone needs to be tracking their project data in the same way. Otherwise, you cannot see an accurate representation of progress for the overall project.
- Determining capacity is necessary to figure out who can do the project work, and future scheduling and availability is key to understanding how a project’s delivery dates will be affected.
- Team members in various locations need to coordinate with each other and understand how other work progress will affect their own assignments.
Real-time data for project status and timely adjustments
Tracking data that is detailed enough to help you spot problems and make adjustments is only helpful if you get that data soon enough to do something – which necessitates real-time collection of that data. Without real-time work data, you cannot determine if projects are in danger of running over time or over budget and find/adjust the problem(s) quickly.
Reconciling project management with the finance/accounting project costing process
The project management group has specific needs for planning and tracking projects effectively, but those requirements may not sync up with the way finance and accounting reports on project costing and profitability. More often than not, this leads to some compromises where neither group gets the reporting data they really need, especially if that data cannot be synced easily across key systems.
Conquering the Mountain: Project Reporting Solutions
While project reporting can be a trial, your choice of systems, design of your processes and data integration with other key business systems can make conquering your reporting challenges possible.
The Right Project Time Tracking System
With the right system for tracking project work, your dispersed team can enter or capture time in one place from any place they work, as well as track it in the same way using the same shared, consistent data set.
They can also share their schedules and view all of their various project assignments to determine capacity and availability. Then, the team and project members can report on availability, plans and progress that allow them all to effectively manage their project work because they have all of the needed information.
The Right Process Design
It is possible to track projects at the WBS (work breakdown structure) level that allows you to understand status, while making it easy for your team members to submit their data. With a process that shows your team only what is relevant to them, you can keep their view simple while automating the rest behind the scenes.
Reporting is also a whole lot easier (and more up-to-date) when you’ve got all your data in one place. A process that brings all of your real-time project data together in one system provides you with options to report on project status and how it’s affected by other resource constraints (e.g., competing projects), capacity, progress to date and future scheduling/availability.
The right process for project reporting should also include the ability to see provisional data as soon as it is collected, as well as the data that has been reviewed and approved – or “blessed” as final and good.
The Right Data Sharing and Integrations
Integrations with other business systems (such as PPM or accounting/ERP) are a key component for tracking information consistently. They are also the best method for sharing data throughout an enterprise. Consistent data pulled from the “system of record” or “authoritative” system ensures everyone is tracking information in a way that they can all use in their specific processes, while also rolling up to the system of record.
Specific to project reporting, integrations with accounting and ERP systems allow project management to track data that meets their own requirements, while rolling that data up to a level that can be shared with finance/accounting for project costing and profitability.
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