Oh No, It’s Month End Again!

Are you a project manager who inwardly groans at the thought of preparing the report for your project at the end of the month? I often hear managers saying ‘they’re too busy to write a report’ usually because they’re wrestling with avoidable problems.  Many of the reports which are written fail in their objectives and might as well not have been written. However producing a well written monthly report provides the manager with quality time to take stock and not only record achievement, but also to plan the way forward.  So don’t despair – invest time in your monthly reporting and you’ll find your project will run more smoothly and with less personal stress.

This post describes common faults I often see in reports, gives some tips for writing a good report and points readers to some other report writing resources.

Common Report Faults

Here are some common faults (in no particular order) I’ve observed in Monthly Project Reports which are best avoided:

  • No effective summary for the busy executive or other reader receiving the report
  • Too technical for the target reader
  • Too much detail in the report body which should have been placed in appendices
  • Looking backwards only with no planning for the coming period
  • Report doesn’t provide comprehensive coverage of the project
  • The implications of the current status for the project out-turn aren’t clear i.e. lack of forecasts
  • Misleading statements made in reports hiding the true picture in the hope that the problems can be corrected later
  • Reports assembled to a formula without being given any thought

Of course, it’s not uncommon to find projects with no reporting at all.  I recall one particular case where I had the task of auditing after the event – a hotel developer received misleading reports pre-construction and no reports during construction. He learned 3 months before the scheduled handover that the project was going to be delayed by 6 months and the final cost was going to be 50% above his authorised funding!  Imagine the developer’s reaction….  My audit was commissioned to identify the guilty and for the developer to obtain recompense from them.

Writing an Effective Monthly Report

General Approach

Report Writing Process

My Report Writing Flowchart

The approach I take to writing all reports is outlined in the flow chart to the right.  Go through this process fully at the start of the project.  At later stages you can abbreviate this process.

In the course of following my process, you’ll outline a template for your reports.  However, remember that as the project passes through different phases your template is likely to require review and updating.

Consider your readers

Always think about your reports from your readers’ perspective.  They may not be specialists in your field.  In my case, the real estate and construction sector, report readers may be from diverse backgrounds – real estate surveyors, bankers, and others.  Therefore avoid:

  • overly technical language
  • acronyms without explaining them on their first occurrence in the report
  • trade jargon

Remember that your readers are generally busy people.  Providing a concise executive summary of the principal sections of your report will save them digging through the body of the report, or even worse, the appendices, to get at information and will earn you credit.

Draw attention to the critical issues

Draw the reader’s attention to the critical issues facing the project, particularly in the executive summary.  I use a traffic light system, but there are many other viable approaches using colour codings, usually on a red, orange/yellow, and green basis to quickly show the degree of concern about an issue.

Use your report to plan ahead and avoid fire fighting

A monthly report should not only look backwards to the achievements during the reporting period, but should also identify the tasks and objectives to be achieved in the next reporting period.  I generally create 2 columns under a heading – firstly, “Achievements in the Last Period” and, secondly, “Plans for the Next Period”.

A little time spent planning will help you avoid the future problems which will have you fire fighting leaving little time for planning and reporting.

Provide forecasts

It’s not sufficient to just state the current status.  An effective project manager interprets the data and advises his project sponsor and other readers.  Let your readers understand the implications of the current status by providing forecasts e.g. forecast completion date, forecast final cost, etc.

Be factual and truthful

It’s very tempting to hide problems in the hope that you can solve them later.  Unfortunately, hidden problems only tend to get larger and by hiding them you lose an opportunity to enlist help and support in finding solutions.  If it is not possible to overcome a problem, at least being truthful allows others to prepare and adopt contingency plans to minimise impact.

Use appendices

The body of your report should be sharp and concise. Don’t clog it up with supporting material which could easily be summarised in the report body and the detailed data placed in an appendix.

Be concise

Always be concise and direct in your reporting.  Use diagrams, graphs and figures where possible.  They can illustrate a relationship, trend, process or issue much better than many words.

Appearance matters

Proof read your report before issue to ensure that there are no glaring errors.

Don’t just grab the ‘jazziest’ template for your word processor.  Use or develop a template which gives your reports a consistent professional appearance.

Professional looking reports and documents gain credibility for your message and impress your clients, managers and colleagues.

Benefits

A well written and presented monthly report will:

  • plan the tasks and objectives to be achieved in the coming period, reducing risk and giving you time to manage rather than fire fight
  • focus attention on any problems and win support in finding solutions
  • give your career a boost!

Report Writing Resources

There are many useful web resources which will help you to write more effective reports.  Our Link Directory provides links to selected effective report writing resources.

The web also offers many report writing templates.  However, don’t slavishly follow the templates – give some thought to the specific needs of your project and at least customise the templates to suit your precise requirements.  Again we’ve included some links to templates in our Link Directory.  If you’d like to widen your search, many other resources can be found on a Google search on the terms project monthly report template.

Improve this Article

You can improve this article by using the comments area to give tips and advice from your personal experience.

About Sandy McMillan

Sandy, who semi-retired in 2011, is the former COO of development and project management businesses operating in the construction and real estate sector throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He holds university degrees in civil engineering from the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, and is a Chartered Engineer, a member of the UK's Institution of Civil Engineers, and a Member of the Association for Project Management. Since graduating, Sandy has more than 35 years management experience with the last 20+ years being in the fields of development and project management. While his early experience was in the heavy civil engineering sector e.g. power stations, he has operated primarily in the building sector since 1988 where he has managed development of retail, office, residential, and industrial properties. When Sandy's not travelling around EMEA on business, he has a home in Warsaw, Poland.
Project Management in Practice, , , , , , , , , Permalink

Comments are closed.