The Lesson of the Quarterly Status Report

Pay attention to all project deliverable obligations, even the status reportsWhen I thought about it afterwards, I could have written a book. In the time it took me to research, compile, write, and produce two years of quarterly status reports, I could have written a full-fledged business book.

Our firm had a project that was flailing (and failing). We had gone through several Project Managers, none of which were able to right the ship. I was next on the rescue wagon/chopping block with instructions to fix it or shut it down.

It didn’t take me long to determine the problem. No, our team wasn’t innocent in how matters got to this point. But neither was the client. It was obvious that the client’s Project Manager did not like us, and it appeared that he wanted us to fail. (How is that for judicious use of an organization’s time, effort, and treasure?)

No matter what we tried, there was no righting this ship. It was obvious (certainly to me) that I was not the right person to negotiate the project shutdown. We brought in some heavy hitters from corporate and the negotiations proceeded. I became our firm’s point man to uncover details to be used in the negotiations, to keep our staff from bolting before the final solution was agreed upon, and to wrap up any loose ends.

So, what does all this have to do with writing a book and quarterly status reports, you ask?

Well, there was one giant, in-your-face, loose end remaining. Apparently, our previous men and women in charge had failed to complete a contractual deliverable related to the project management obligations in the contract – the quarterly status reports. As the current onsite manager, I was tasked to complete all missing status reports going back two years. Then, and only then, would the client pay for that portion of the project. At that point we could close out the project in a face-saving way for both organizations.

Do you know how challenging it is to write eight status reports, spanning two years of project work, when you were not part of the project and had only a modicum of the history? I thought it would be tedious, but not difficult, given that the monthly reports had been produced timely.

Was I wrong! The contractual format of the quarterly report had sections that could not be taken from the monthly status information. Forecasting each “next” quarter in hindsight made no sense. Filling in details that were not elaborated elsewhere required interviewing client and project staff – many who were no longer on the project. Some of the missing information needed to be deciphered from past versions of the project schedule, all of which contained more than 10,000 tasks.

In fact, the whole exercise made no sense. If these reports were so vital to the health of the project (and they were designed to be exactly that), then why did the client wait until now to require them? Why did our Project Managers not think to produce these reports, which were clearly delineated in the schedule of mandatory deliverables? How had we been billing the client for the monthly reports and ignoring the quarterlies? (I had other questions as well, but they would advance this article in a positive manner.)

The main question still eluded me: Why would the client require us to produce retroactive reports that would obviously not benefit the project at this point? Answer: Because the contract required it. In fact, we were fortunate the client did not trigger the penalty clause for late deliverables.

This was the lesson for me: monitoring and controlling procurements/contract performance is the job of both the contracting organization and the contractor. It takes diligence and much effort, but the reward is a much smoother running project engagement.

Oh, and about writing that book: I calculated that at 30 pages per status report, it came to approximately 240 pages. That is the equivalent of researching, compiling, writing, and publishing a complete business book.

Perhaps it’s time …

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