To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the highlight report. The PRINCE2 term given to a project progress report.
This is, in part, because they tend to describe a project in the present rather than forecasting its state when it is should be completed.
And because they often say very little about who takes what action.
The Highlight Report
Perhaps this is the result of the project manager blindly following process. Believing the highlight report is something that should be prepared and not a consequence of the project control cycle.
Or is it simply a lack project management maturity in some organisations?
So, what is the purpose of the highlight — or progress or status — report?
Put simply, project reporting is there to show to the sponsor and senior stakeholders that the project is on track to deliver the expected benefits.
Of course, in the real world things rarely go to plan so the report is likely to say something about slippage, cost overruns, resource issues, scope etc.
However, before I look at the content I need to discuss a couple of things.
First, project planning. And second, checking progress.
If these things aren’t covered off then you’re in trouble and the highlight report won’t save you.
The project is out of control!
Keeping the Project Under Control
The project manager is accountable for controlling the project and taking any action needed to make sure the project delivers the expected outcomes.
He must create an environment where any change to the project plan is fed back as information. What’s needed is a robust plan plus a means of tracking and managing progress.
The project plan achieves a number of things including:
- a definition of project scope — a specification of the activities that need to be performed to complete the project including target dates and budget,
- assigning accountability and responsibility for each activity — who makes decisions and who completes the work, and
- a baseline against which progress is measured — the project schedule, milestones, costs, and tolerances.
These three important things provide the basis for measuring progress. Of course, the project manager needs to know what’s happening by regularly meeting with the team to check progress, assess any issues arising and to check risks.
And when I say meeting I also mean MBWA!
Be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information
Progress should be recorded by updating the project schedule — completed activities and milestones — spend to date, and forecasts for completion and cost. Once this information is to hand the highlight report is written.
The Progress Report
The progress report — let’s not call it the highlight report anymore — is prepared for the sponsor and key stakeholders. It should be concise and to the point.
But what should it include?
Well I think the following is a good starting point. If appropriate use RAG status definitions to highlight areas needing board intervention.
- Business objectives
- Progress summary and outlook—the highlights and low-lights
- Schedule summary—the milestones
- Budget summary
- Key issues
- Key risks and opportunities
In addition, make sure the original and current baseline dates plus forecast date or actual achieved date is shown for each major milestone.
Likewise, forecasts of project finances should be included since this information tells the sponsor and senior stakeholders that the project is on track. If it’s not they need to act.
And finally. Acknowledge achievements!
How often do you prepare a highlight report or project progress report?
What information do you include? Do your stakeholders use the report?
Images: Bart Everson.
- 8 Bad Habits – Creating and Maintaining Your Project Schedule (pm-foundations.com)
- Confronting the Ugly Truth About Project Scope Creep (pm-alliance.com)