Learning Project Reporting on the Fly

I recently became the project manager for a project that was started this past August. The project contributes to a strategic corporate initiative and has high visibility. Given the project had already been in progress for 2 months, I assumed that much of project plan and reporting structure was already in place. This was not the case!

There was progress being made. However, there was no formal communication/reporting protocol with upper management and the various project stakeholders were not working to an aligned plan. Before I formally took over the program, my manager and I reviewed the overall status and decided we needed to hold a workshop to bring all team members/stakeholders together.

We held a two-day workshop with the goal of formalizing the project plan and WBS to meet the target launch date and shipment quantity. The workshop was very successful and the team left feeling aligned and empowered. However, there was also a feeling of uncertainty.

As project manager I was given the task of developing a dashboard to communicate the project status on a weekly basis: project timeline with key milestones, materials procurement, CAPEX (capital expenditure), and hiring. Being new to dashboard development, I embraced the challenge and compiled the required data.

Much like the examples found in the textbook, my dashboard includes a Gantt chart for project milestones. Within the Gantt chart I also included initial production quantities, weekly spend requirements for materials purchases and CAPEX expenditures, and weekly hiring requirements. Additional tables were included to better quantify the information in the Gantt chart. I was amazed at how much information could be displayed on a single chart!

Once the dashboard was complete, the reason for the team’s uncertainty at the workshop’s conclusion was clear: the project was significantly behind schedule and under-staffed.

How could such a discrepancy exist? No detailed planning was conducted at the beginning of the project. Yes, key milestones were defined along with primary deliverable, but the detailed investments required to support the project were not effectively communicated until the workshop. At this point, the only way to refine the project plan was to proceed like Dilbert:


After working backwards and compiling a daunting list of overdue expenditures, the team leveraged the dashboard to inform upper management of the current project status. Naturally they were not impressed and requested the team to drive improvement. We are now in catch-up mode and working to fulfill the initial plan as much as possible. The team is in a difficult situation as product performance has been agreed to with the customer, and senior management has mandated that all costs be minimized while fulfilling the target launch date and quantity.

We are committing to the realistic schedule/quantity and reporting this as baseline during our weekly meetings. Now we just need to get senior management on board.

Have you ever worked on similar projects that were behind schedule, over budget, and under-staffed? Please share your experience!


5 thoughts on “Learning Project Reporting on the Fly

  1. Great article Daniel. Just like you I have found myself working on similar projects that were behind schedule and under-staffed; while stakeholders had no idea what was going on until someone presented a pretty “PowerPoint” with minimal information showing the status. I agree that a dashboard is a great way to communicate project status to upper management and the stakeholders. I have used several dashboards and scorecards to report the department’s budget, hours spent on projects, engineers working on projects, etc. By using a dashboard, one can be proactive and see where help is needed to meet the milestones. Even if one does not have experience developing dashboards, one can download a few from various sites as a starting point.

  2. I totally understand the feeling. My husband has a small residential and commercial remodeling business. We are always understaffed. I remember I saw a survey from a magazine stated that more than a third of small construction business report being understaffed. So it’s pretty common. I feel like it’s a vicious cycle. When the project has a low cash flow, we are unable to hire more people or more qualified workers. Therefore, it has many potentially risks that comes from running an understaffed operation. Such as missing deadline, increased expenses from delay, decreased customer satisfaction and so forth. Usually when a project is on hold by understaffed and money worries, the strategy we could use is stress management. Let the crew know what the situation is, if they can finish the project on time, they can have extra bonus. Extra bonus is always less than the money spent due to project delay. Also we need to talk to the client early if we know we won’t be able to meet an agreed-upon deadline.

  3. Hi Daniel, Great blog post! It’s refreshing to hear that not all projects go as smoothly as one would hope. Not every project will succeed and that’s fine too as long as you understand what went wrong and know how to correct it going forward. Also knowing that a project didn’t work can be helpful for the future. I’ve been in situations where people have come up with ideas to improve processes and we would have the documents to prove that those ideas didn’t work. It saved a lot of time and energy from other people to have to go through all the work when it was already done.

  4. I can definitely relate to project structure miscommunication. It sounded like you walked into a project where many had different ideas of the structure and initiative. The workshop sounded like a great idea to get everyone on board with the plan. This is proof that communication is the absolute most important part of a projects success. Keep up the good work Dan. Look forward to talking about the progress of your project.

  5. Daniel, this must be very stressful for you. You inherited a mess and kudos to you for stepping in and stepping up to do the right thing and work to get this on track. Unfortunately, that means a lot of additional work for you. I have been throw on projects in the middle and told to catch up so this can be a very hard situation to be in. I would imagine that tackling the communication issue first is most important! From, there, some of these other issues might naturally work themselves out. The comic you chose is absolutely perfect to highlight the absurdity of your situation. You can only do the best you can and damage control is probably going to have to cut it.

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