IT Best Practices

The Difference Between Reporting and Communication

Reporting is a subset of communication, usually structured and formalised. Reports, such as a project status report or the minutes of a meeting, are the formal record of status, what took place or decisions made / actions agreed. By their very nature reports don’t capture the nuances of feeling or specific detail. It’s also important to realise that as reports are aggregated and summarised through a hierarchy from delivery teams to project managers to programme managers it’s inevitable that they become more formal and less detail oriented. In a perfect world, or when things are going well, this is not a problem – but the formal reporting environment can often mask underlying concerns or early symptoms of problems, or even worse communicate a false impression of the state of the project leading to the “90% Syndrome” where a task or even a complete deliverable seems to be “stuck” at a reported status of “90% complete” for a significant period of time. Many investigations into project failure turn up responses like “I could have told you that” or “yes, everybody knew – but nobody did anything”. Why might this be? Could it be because the managers were too busy reporting to have enough time for communicating and managing? Might it be because the lone, or few, dissenting voices were masked by the leveling effect of the reporting process? Reporting should be devolved to the lowest possible level, to gather as wide a range of views as possible which allows earl y warning signs of failure or dysfunction to be observed and then acted upon. It’s also important to keep a record of status reports to watch for changes over time, like the early onset of the “90% syndrome.” Delegating the power to control the content of reporting is meaningless by itself – the responsibility for the accuracy of the information must also be devolved and followed up, but this must be a positive experience for all concerned. Exceptions reported or observed must be followed up by effective communication to determine the cause of concern, agree a corrective action or actions and monitor the effectiveness of the action taken. By distributing the burden of reporting across all levels of the project, and automating the collation, aggregation and presentation of information, it’s possible to spend more time actively managing and communicating and less effort passively reporting.

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