The value of exception reporting

In this week’s Project Management Insights episode I talk to you about the value of exception reporting. I explain what it is and why it is valuable.

In order to use exception reporting on your project, you need to have the trust of your Executives, your Project Sponsor or Owner and the Project Control Board.

When you do, exception reporting makes your life and your relationships easier.

Podcast Script

Hi. Welcome to Project Management Insights podcast number four, the value of exception reporting. I know we all hate reporting on our projects. At least I did most of the time as to me it felt like a waste of time. What I’m going to talk to you about today though is exception reporting.

What is exception reporting?

Well, it is succinctly delivered reporting and for me, that’s usually no more than three pages, four pages at the max, including a title page. It shows and highlights anything that looks like disrupting your project delivery in any of those three key areas. You know the ones that we normally have to report on, scope, budget, and timeline.

In order to do exception reporting, you need to fully understand your project scope, budget, and timeline for delivery so that you can report on anything that disrupts any of these. And the other thing that you need to do, allows for risks to be highlighted and mitigated as they arise. This is the other really, really key part of exception reporting.

Why exception reporting is of value

Why I see it’s a value. It shows that you’re in control of what’s happening or not and if you’re managing your project, it is simple to gather the information together in a short space of time. And notice what I said, if you are managing your project, it’s simple to gather the information together in a short space of time, so therefore it’s easy to deliver on a regular basis.

It’s also of value because it shows that you understand how important time is to your sponsor and your PCB members. And I’ve personally found it’s less stressful for you to prepare it because you’re not trying to gather mountains of information and produce a 24-page document that contains all this information that tomorrow’s going to be out of date.

I guess that’s the other aspect of it too. The value is in the timeliness of it because it is that snapshot peace in terms of reporting and it’s more succinct because it’s up to date in terms of right here, right now when it’s created.

There’s a real importance to building up trust with your business owner or project sponsor and the PCB members so that they’re comfortable with exception reporting, and this is a really key aspect. If you don’t have their trust, they’re not going to want to see exception reporting they’re going to want all of the finite detail.

What do you need in place in order to do exception reporting?

  1.  A strong and well-built business case that clearly defines project scope and deliverables or success factors. Without these, you have nothing to really report against. This is where I go back to the fact that a strong and really well-built business case is key.
  2. Confidence in your team. That’s your stream leads, your delivery managers, any of those key people that are going to be reporting to you; you need to know that they will tell you the truth about the project progress and any issues as they arise.
  3. You need a no blame culture and this is really key. Blame cultures won’t work when you’re doing exception reporting. If you have a blame culture, forget about it.
  4.  You also need to be fully in control of your project and by that I mean you need to be really comfortable that you are managing it.
  5. A project sponsor or a business owner that you can educate. You must have that trust and you must also have the ability for them to be open enough to educate them about exception reporting; the value of it, what it’s going to mean to them and how it is that you are going to deliver to them reporting that is going to work for them and that they can trust.

So what does an exception report do?

It explains where you’re at in a succinct manner. Key things like we’re on track with delivery; we’re on track or over budget or better yet under budget; we’re within scope and anytime you look like you need to adjust your scope, you’d put up a one page document outlining how you want to adjust the scope and why you want to adjust the scope and a recommendation as to what needs to happen in order to adjust that scope.

And this must go to your PCB for approval. And yes, some of you might call this a change request and it depends on which environment you’re working in. It needs to be documented and it needs to be approved through your PCB. Your exception reporting should also be graphical, providing the information in an easy to understand format for these senior executives.

As we know most senior executives like things in pictures, it’s easier for them to understand. Don’t spend your time creating documents that are full of words, they will not read them and they will not take it in. Make it graphical, a picture, create a picture for them.

You also need to be able to and be prepared to, explain or answer any questions that arise regarding any further detail behind your exception reporting. So you need to be fully on top of everything that’s going on, any issue that’s raised you need to or any risks that are raised, you need to understand the detail of why it’s a problem or what’s going to happen or how are you mitigating it or what’s happening in terms of resolving issues. You are going to be asked or could be asked to provide that level of information and that’s about having them be certain that you are managing and on top of what’s going on.

The one thing that exception reporting does do, if your PCB is willing to take it on is it shows that they trust you, and this is a really good thing. If they trust you, they’ll be very happy to have this exception reporting as it means they don’t need to wade through pages and pages of detail that they don’t really need or want to understand. They want to be comfortable that you’re doing your job and you doing your job is managing the project to scope, to budget and to on-time delivery. And as long as they comfortable that you are doing that and managing that, they’ll be really happy with exception reporting.

Is your current project reporting adding value to your Project Control Board?

I ask you this question because if it’s not, what could you do to change the value of the reporting so that your PCB trust you more than they currently do? And I’m not saying they don’t trust you, only to notice if there are areas that the trust isn’t as strong in or perhaps the one member of the PCB doesn’t trust you as much as others.

It’s really valuable to look at the reporting aspect and in the best possible scenario, build the trust, build the education, and get your project sponsor and your PCB onboard for exception reporting. You’ll be really glad you did.

See you next week for more Project Management Insights. Next week’s insights talk about winning with your project sponsor.