Why Projects Fail Part 3: Communications and Reporting

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In Part 2 of this series on Why Project Fail, I looked at Project Steering Committees including the role of chair, and how important these issues are for project success.  In the last of this series, I will turn my attention to communications and reporting.

Project Fail #8: Poor Internal Communications

Central to the effective operation of Project Steering Committees is communication – communication of expectations of committee members, communication of decisions made and communication of project information.

We have already looked at the importance of effectively inducting new Project Steering Committee members and setting expectations for their involvement and engagement in meetings in Part 2 of this series.  However, reminders can be helpful throughout the operation of committees to ensure members remain engaged, focussed and alert to project issues.  It can be easy at times for the pressures of a “day job”, outside the Project Steering Committee to result in poor attendance, poor preparation or a lack of attention during meetings by some members.

Communication of decisions made, issues discussed and risks identified, is typically done through the preparation and distribution of minutes.  These are generally supported by action lists to keep track of outstanding tasks.

Project Tip:
Keep track of decisions made in a Decision Register to avoid having to sift through lengthy meeting minutes to find information about what decisions have been made in the past during Project Steering Committee meetings.

Project Fail #9: Poor External Communications

The Project Steering Committee chair or other accountable individual should ensure a good stream of information flows into and out from the committee.  Committees often need to report their progress, escalate issues and request approvals from the boards or management teams that established them.

Equally, Project Steering Committees should regularly communicate with the business to provide project updates to teams to keep them abreast of project issues and achievements.  It’s good practice for committees to document a communications plan, identifying which stakeholders should be communicated with using what method and with what frequency.

Project plans often include a chart where stakeholders are identified with a RACI role, where R = responsible, A = accountable, C = consulted and I = informed.  A communications plan can be overlayed with the RACI matrix to show what method, frequency and information should be shared with different stakeholders, particularly those who should be consulted and kept informed of project decisions.

Project Tip:
Ensure project plans contain RACI matrices based on stakeholder mapping to inform communication plans.

Project Fail #10: Poor Project Reporting

There are two elements of project reporting to focus on.  Firstly, the information provided to the Project Steering Committee through meeting papers is often a source of frustration for committee members.  Meeting papers can be voluminous, technical and poorly written to make reading papers and preparing for meetings overly difficult, time-consuming and arduous.

Papers should be well-written, timely, succinct and structured.  Papers should be approved and distributed with sufficient time for committee members to read the papers.  It is typical for this to be a week prior to the meeting, but there is a trade-off between sufficient time and timeliness of information.  One way to deal with this, is for the majority of papers to be delivered early, with a short update of recent events provided just before the meeting.

Papers should be marked as “for decision”, “for discussion” or “for noting”, or using some similar wording to indicate what Project Steering Committee members are expected to do with each paper.  They should have a cover page which clearly states this information, together with a name for the paper, short description, author and approver.  Where a large amount of technical information accompanies a paper, it is often good practice to include it as an appendix.

I find that many Project Steering Committees are dissatisfied with the papers they receive, yet find it difficult to articulate what they would like.

The second element of reporting to consider is the project status report.  These are often known as a “report on a page” due to the short overview provided which can be made to fit on a single page.  They usually contain some graphical elements, such as burn-down charts or traffic lights to indicate the overall status of a project.

The project status report is one of the most important documents received by a project steering committee and I suggest is absolutely essential in ensuring a shared understanding of the critical issues facing a committee and key decisions that need to be made, including a decision to cancel the project or terminate the project manager.

Project Tip:
Ensure the project status report includes all the elements you need to understand the current status of a project, including any changes in risk ratings since the last report.

There is no doubt that project management is a difficult undertaking with many factors that can come together to cause projects to drift off their scope, overspend their budget or fail to achieve their intended benefits.  Hopefully, these reasons project fail, together with some tips for achieving project success will be helpful in avoiding some of the pitfalls.

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Tim Timchur is the Digital Governance Technologist in QUTeX. He is a qualified accountant and chartered secretary with over 30 years’ experience implementing technology solutions across a wide range of sectors and industries. Tim operates a business driving digital transformation through cloud computing, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and cybersecurity solutions.

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