One of the most challenging aspects of successful project management is the ability to collect a vast amount of project data into one place for easy reporting. If you’re like most organizations however, when you get asked for a status report, you can’t just click a button and a report pops up that’s nicely formatted, with current and accurate information, ready to send to your boss or your client. No way. If you’re like most organizations, when you get asked for a status report, you kick into “Report Gear” and start gathering information so you can build your report. You need to request the latest actual costs, you need the latest vendor invoices, you need to make sure you have all the current change orders up-to-date, you need your progress forecasts entered, and on and on. You need to start sending emails and making phone calls and trolling through spreadsheets – to pull together all the details you need to get that report ready.
Any of that sound familiar?
For a project manager, reports can take hours, if not days, to prepare. A guy I spoke with a couple weeks ago explained it like this, “It’s like using a shovel and wheelbarrow to excavate a trench,” he said, “You’ll get it done eventually. But that would be ridiculous. Why would a company provide me with primitive tools like a spreadsheet to do complex work when there are better tools out there? Why am I using a wheelbarrow when I can use a digger and a dump truck?”
Clearly, enabling a project manager to pump out reliable and accurate reports in a matter of seconds rather than hours makes good business sense. The squandered hours cobbling together a report is non-productive time and adds no value to you or your client – even if that guy’s time is billable. That time is effectively lost, and your team’s productivity is at least 10%-15% lower than it could be from just this one thing alone. If you could eliminate that inefficiency, your small team could execute on more projects and bigger projects – and they would provide more accurate and timely reporting to all stakeholders.
So why do these reports take so much coordination to produce? Project reporting has a lot of moving parts to bring together. There’s the budget, the actual costs, vendor invoices, change orders, labor hours, progress data, accruals, earned value metrics, etc. All this data is deeply interrelated and only really meaningful when brought together. When you can see time, budget, cost, units, hours, progress and trend information in the same report, it can enlighten you to know exactly where your project is at and where it’s going. It’s challenging however, to coordinate it all since most organizations store that data in many disparate places. What’s worse than that, is that this critical project data is often collected by different individuals, who log it in spreadsheets that reside on their laptop. A project report then becomes a function of data gathering, then re-keying into a report template. Then fighting with link errors and #Ref errors.
Is that really what a project manager is supposed to be doing?
The solution to the project report debacle, is to adopt a system that automates two things for you:
- A system that automates the data gathering
- A system that automates the reporting
Automate Data Gathering
Easily one of the most time-consuming tasks of the project manager is the effort that goes into collecting all the project data into one place for easy reporting. The good news is that this is a task that is easily taken on by software. The heavy lifting of all this menial data gathering is exactly what software should be doing for you. Here’s how it does that:
- The software has multiple entry points for project data to be uploaded. Whether the data is entered directly (through LEM tracking, timesheets, purchase orders, etc.), or automatically uploaded in from an external system such as the accounting system.
- The software is used by multiple people in various disciplines on the project team. This means that data is not collected in separate spreadsheets then manually pieced together.
- Everyone is using the same system to continuously update their information – eliminating the need for manual exchange of the latest numbers.
The second part of the heavy-lifting done by software is the automation of reporting. Now that all the data is organized into a single place, it becomes a simple task of formatting a report that consumes this data in whatever format you need.
If running projects is the primary source of revenue for your company, the one thing you can do to improve the way you do business, is providing your project managers, engineers, procurement and project controls teams to generate reports in seconds rather than hours. The only way you’ll be able to accomplish that is by adopting project management software tools that take on the burden of effort that your team just shouldn’t have to worry about.