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Too often, these project reviews are unnecessarily painful for all participants.  Help is on the way.
Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.          

Few Project Managers look forward to presenting the status of their project to Senior or Executive Management.  Senior Management may have little interest in the specifics of a project or they may be interested in probing every last detail.  Frequent are the reviews with marathon preparation sessions, relentless questioning, and embarrassing silences when requested information is unavailable, management frustration and disappointment, and a feeling of trepidation following the review.  The lives of Executives, Senior Management and Project Managers need not be so difficult.  Utilizing best practices can improve the effectiveness of status reviews and contribute to success of your projects.

 

Status Reviews for Senior Management - Simple in Concept, Complex in Reality

Theoretically, project status reviews for Senior or Executive Management (we'll call them Senior Management Reviews in this article) are a valuable forum for exchanging information that can help projects proceed successfully.  The concept is disarmingly simple:

Unfortunately, implementing Senior Management Reviews effectively is anything but simple.  Many factors can complicate the process of reporting status to senior management, eroding the potential benefits of status reporting activities. Yet, these reviews are important for all project organizations.

 

Why Hold Senior Management Reviews?

Countless times, I've encountered organizations with ineffective status reporting mechanisms.  One such organization had about a dozen projects underway, but there was no mechanism in place to inform any Senior Management about project activities. In fact, the Director would learn of project status and significant issues primarily through informal hallway discussions.  Miscommunication was pervasive, resulting in Senior Management's frequent disappoint in project performance.  Lost was the opportunity to leverage Senior Management's expertise.  Without any structured support, Project Managers were alone in their quest to prevent project failure.

The use of an excellent project plan does not eliminate the need for conducting status reviews.  In a static, unchanging work place, this plan could probably be used without change for the life of the project.  However, in the real world projects are subjected to an unending set of forces that that work to invalidate elements of the project plan - a project might see people leave or join the team, the project scope may have increased, the project team may be making slower progress than anticipated, budgets could be reduced, etc. These factors and the need to recover from their effects are primary reasons for holding status reviews with project team members and with Senior Management.

Best practices from the Software Engineering Institute advocate the use of Senior Management Reviews. The Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) offers excellent guidance on holding status reviews with Senior Management: "Review the activities, status, and results of the process with higher level management," for the purpose of providing senior management with appropriate visibility into the project's operations.  Senior Management Reviews provide a forum for examining objective data from project activities and results, openly addressing complex issues, and disseminating key project information.

The benefits of Senior Management Reviews, and of status reporting in general, are significant for all stakeholders.

 

A Roadmap for Introducing Senior Management Reviews

Focusing attention on the structrure and effectiveness of project status reviews is often brought about by a recognition that there are problems that must be addressed.  By establishing a foundation for project status discussions with Senior Management, useful reviews can become a longlasting component of the organizational fabric.  Here is a straightforward approach for introducing (or improving existing) Senior Management Reviews in your project organization:

  1. Understanding the requisite information that all Project Managers should be using to plan, track and manage their projects.  Included are methods of obtaining this information and guidance on how it could be effectively used.
  2. Selecting, from the core project information, the data to be presented in Senior Management Reviews.  These are essentially the requirements for reporting status to Senior and Executive Management.  Consistency in project reporting is a goal, enabling effective use of Senior Management's time. Each project also needs the flexibility to present additional data that is germane to that project.
  3. Establishing a reasonable schedule for presenting status.  More complex, risky or critical projects will need more visibility to Senior Management, and their formal face-to-face reviews should be more frequent.  Projects that present status less frequently should submit interim written status materials to Senior Management for review and comment.
  4. Training for all:  Senior Management and Project Managers will be best equipped for success if they understand the goals, approach, details and protocol of Senior Management Reviews.
  5. Committing to the discipline.   Senior Managers must make it a priority to attend and actively participate with a positive approach.  Project Managers have a responsibility approach reviews with accurate information and a positive attitude.

 

Obstacles to Implementation

Unfortunately, the expected benefits of Senior Management Reviews can elude those organizations that lack a structure for managing and monitoring team projects.  I've seen two major categories of obstacles that act to prevent a successful implementation of Senior Management Reviews - do either of these look familiar?

Introducing Senior Management Reviews to an organization can be fraught with pitfalls that will derail even the most earnest attempts.  Here's a checklist of behaviors to avoid:

 

Are Senior Management Reviews Worth the Effort?

There is no question that Senior Management Reviews are essential for every project organization.  Organizations that rely entirely on informal (and probably inconsistent) methods of keeping Senior Management informed are a breeding ground for poor project performance.  By committing to Senior Management Reviews, Senior Management can have immeasurably more influence in guiding projects towards successful completion and helping the organization improve.

How effective are your Project Status Reviews for Senior and Executive Management?  With a critical, yet fair, appraisal of your current methods, make a determination if improvement is would be beneficial to your projects; if so, the steps outlined here can guide your journey.