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Status reports

I wanted to solicit some advice regarding status reports. Let’s say you’re managing a project with several participants. Do you require them to submit weekly status reports?

I am of two minds about this. On one hand, I can see where the reports would be useful. It would be interesting to have a list of what people are working on and the problems they’re running into all in one place. On the other hand, I have always hated writing status reports and swore to myself that I would never make anyone write them.

My philosophy was that by providing people with good collaborative tools, you wouldn’t need to force them to spend time writing status reports. We have an issue tracking system that we use to organize our work, and a version control system that is hooked up to a mailing list for commits. So I know exactly who’s checking in which files and which issues they’re closing at all times. That obviates the need for a lot of the stuff ordinarily found in status reports.

What I’m wondering though is whether getting rid of the obvious stuff may lead to the production of more useful status reports, rather than eliminating the need for them completely. Do you find status reports to be essential? What should go in a good status report?

6 Comments

  1. I have a weekly meeting scheduled for enternity with my manager. When he needs an update on a project that wouldn’t come from looking at commits or filed issues I give it to him. Sometimes he updates me on things that are happening “upstream.” It’s flexible and I usually find it well worth the time.

  2. I only ask people to write weekly status reports when I think they need them. Writing the report can help someone keep organized and some people need that.

    If you’ve never tried Scrum style daily meetings, I’d encourage you look at them. When I manage teams we meet daily for 1-2 minutes per person. Everyone answers 3 questions. What did you do yesterday? What problems did you have? What are planning to do today.

    That keeps me (the tech lead) up to date with everyone’s work, keeps us all talking, etc.

  3. I use and recommend a ‘4W’, the Four Whats.

    What’s New – This is the stuff I did in the past week, using high level actionable terms that everybody associated with the design doc / project spec knows. What’s Next – This is what I plan to accomplish this week. (Depends on whether your statuses are on Friday or Monday). What’s Wrong – These are the issues that have arisen that nobody already has the answer and priority for. Using details that should eventually become high level actionable terms. What Cost – Hours & Expenses

  4. I like the idea of using blogs for status reports. Give everyone a blog, have them write an entry when they’ve done something, encounter issues, etc. They should be readable in a single feed, so the whole team keeps up to date with what everyone is doing.

    Balancing signal/noise could be an issue, if some people use it as a place to blog whatever they’re into, others could tune out.

  5. The answer (to me) depends in part on whether you have a project manager and how your group is functioning. With a PM, status reports are less important since the PM should be tracking current status via group meetings or (preferably, IMO) informal one-on-ones. The PM should be generating more detailed reports.

    I do like the idea of a short status report showing progress and plans for next week (Cobb’s “What’s new” and “What’s next” above) since it makes sure that the team are aware of the schedules that I’m promising to the outside world. I also try to get “What’s wrong”, but find that people have a harder time judging what’s useful. I haven’t used “What cost” as much, but I can see that it could be useful. (I’ve got a couple people putting in monster hours right now because they need to hit a deadline they signed up for, and it would be easy to miss some of their efforts if you weren’t in touch with them. And if you’re billing clients, that would be more of an issue.)

    IMO, getting simpler status reports helps reduce the risks of me miscommunicating with my management. But, as with any policy I try to come up with, I try to remind people that rules are no substitute for judgment.

  6. I personally cannot stand them. I don’t like to do them, and I do not like to ask my people for them.

    The only people I ask to do them are consultants billing for their hours. All of my folks are on salary, and it is obvious who is, and isn’t working.

    If it is a team I hand picked, then I never do it. If it is a team I project I have recently taken over, I might ask for a week or two of reports just to get up to speed.

    But weekly status reports seem to usually be done just for the sake of doing it, and that is waste of time.

    Of course I also hate micromanagement and don’t run any of my projects that way. 9 out of 10 PM’s at our company micromange to a fault in my opinion.

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