March 26th, 2019 by inflectra
When we focus on reporting, we often fail to recognize value using benefit delivery. Instead, many view reports only as a transactional instrument. Based on my experience in managing the program management office, and being a change agent for a product development framework, I believe the purpose of a report is to tell a story! The story not only should tell what has happened but also give a preview of what may come!
I am not sure if all of you have seen the movie, “Tomorrow Never Dies.” The villain in that movie mentions in that movie, “The key to a great story is not who, or what, or when, but why!” This statement really captured the purpose behind a report. Using voluminous data as the backbone of the report, it is possible to create an automated or scheduled report to be in everyone’s inbox or provided to the management meetings. But, that doesn’t tell the story behind “why” things slipped, why we need more money, why quality can’t be compromised, why risks have now materialized, etc.
Using the story as an analogy, there have to be several elements that play along to make the story come out alive! Think of the Harry Potter movies. Without the backdrop of the Hogwarts school, specific characters that bring life to the story, the journey these stories create for us from the beginning till the climax is not completely present. Similarly, the report should state the status quo with an impact on the forecast.
From a project, program, product, account or portfolio perspective, when you put together a report, think of what you are planning to communicate and who! Excellence, therefore, should be not in the transactional updates on status quo but also on the transformational updates on forecasting. Every report should communicate a purpose. Just like every scene in the story of a movie builds the momentum towards the climax. Based on my own experience, I have synthesized that reporting is based on a PIE format. It could be persuasive, informative, or explanatory because not all reports are created are equal.
Persuasive communication lobby various stakeholders for support and will require one to understand the power, influence, interest, threshold, and tolerance to navigate through the stakeholder journey. So, some of these reports will not only have quantitative information but will have a lot of qualitative discussions. For example, think of SWOT, PESTLEED, TOE principles we had discussed.
Informative communication is short-term focused and brings status-quo updates. These are often captured in many dashboards based on workflow, ALM tools, etc. For example, code coverage, requirements traceability, velocity burndown are all telling how we are doing what we said we will be doing. It may spark discussions on what to do when there is a schedule slip or cost overrun.
Exploratory communication will focus further on addressing a reactive issue or a proactive problem. For instance, based on market needs, we may end up exploring a specific need using a prototype development or proof of concept starting with a business case. It could also be addressing an internal or external issue. You may want to recall what I mentioned about the cost of quality here in terms of costs of conformance and costs of non-conformance. Forecasting metrics like the Earned Value reports specifically Estimate to Complete is a good one to look at. Change approvals on new programs or project charters may also start from here.
Extending the analogy of a story, the main reporting consideration is the setting. Specifically, what are we going to measure and why. This measure should be appropriately aligned with strategic benefit and value. The date, time, and place the report is delivered also customizes the way the report is presented. Sending a scheduled report for a daily update may be acceptable but doesn’t help the management see the value if the measures are not aligned to how the benefits are delivered.
Now, Think of the stakeholders reviewing the report along with you or in your absence. Depending upon whether they are policymakers or decision makers, their tolerance (i.e., the degree of acceptable variations on the specific measures) may be different. When the report goes without a proper explanation, then, how do you think the report will settle with them? This is one of the reasons why there is a flurry of emails before a steering committee meeting where people question everything.
As a result, the stakeholders may have to be engaged appropriately either in a 1-1 setting or in a facilitated group session. If you deliver the report virtually, there may have to be additional planning – such as delivering an audio or video presentation to help them see the context.
Finally, reports can also be focused on alternative generations to address risk, governance for decision making and specific action items to be followed through before the next report is generated and the meeting is convened.
In light of the agile framework delivering projects in smaller increments iteratively, let us take a look at what the state of Agile reported on agile initiatives. You can see that customer satisfaction, on-time delivery, and business value continue to be at the forefront. These relate to the value proposition and benefit delivery. Then comes the quality, productivity, and predictability imperatives. Then, we come up with the visibility and scope and process improvement.
The story is not strong here and is somewhat disappointing too! If customer satisfaction is paramount, then, the value of the benefits they derive from the product should be higher too! But, if the agile initiatives are not measuring the how the backlog is aligned to the roadmap and the customers’ needs or how the processes are meeting operational excellence considerations supporting and improving the benefit delivery, then, reports do not tell a story that management must see!.
So, what are the elements of agile reporting that one has to understand? What are the author’s thoughts on a vowel soup for excellence in reporting? How do you measure the cost of non-delivery?
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Dr. Sriram Rajagopalan is a project management guru with extensive software development and project management experience in many industries. Dr. Rajagopalan lead Inflectra's agile project management training course: Journey Into Agile With Inflectra - A Free Webinar Course