All projects have risks (things that might happen) and issues (things that are happening) to deal with. This inherent uncertainty means that PMs must use their technical knowledge (the science) and their judgement (the art). Good PMs formally report to a project board on a regular basis and they must present the status, next steps and key decisions required in a manner that allows those not close to the detail to be able to make rational and auditable decisions.

Making things clear is not always easy and presenting to the senior team can be uncomfortable if there is bad news; but in my experience clarity is always welcomed in the long run. There is a real skill in how to explain the state of the project to the senior team or project board. There is no point simply reporting the worst case or being overly optimistic and only reporting the best possible position. You are looking to reach a shared view of the project and what needs to be done. From that you will form a relationship built on trust and you can all accept responsibility in a team like manner. I think there are three key things to consider if you want to achieve this position.

The first is the use of what I call relentless logic. There should be facts that are followed by analysis from which the conclusions should naturally flow. There should not be gaps or big leaps of faith in your logic or your interpretation of the management information. If the senior team cannot follow the logic of an argument you will get challenged and they will show signs of concern. Being rigorous is the only way of achieving this position, and taking the time to do this well, will always be fruitful.

The second is to make clear the context of any report or advice. There is no good suggesting a course of action without making clear what the potential issues or risks might be. Are you having to make a rushed decision on imperfect information? If you are, make sure that all parties know that. It is essential to make clear what is fact, what is an estimate or even what is a guess. Senior people are well used to making decisions when faced with ambiguity or poor information, but help them by explaining the context.

The final suggestion I would offer is to imagine winding the clock forward six months. By this I mean, imagine that your advice is followed and in six months’ time it goes wrong and you have to explain yourself to the board or an auditor. Imagine what you would write and how you would say it. If your imagined response doesn’t convince you now, it will certainly not hold in the future. However, if you are sure all parties will be able to stand united and remain convinced they took the right course then carry on as planned. It is also good to do this exercise with the senior team and ask them to consider the same question. Ask them to be sure that they are comfortable and encourage them to debate this question.

So, whether you are preparing or on the receiving end of a PM report in the future, check for relentless logic, clear context and then wind the clock forward six months. If it passes this test it will serve you well.

by Paul Wilson
Managing Director at Provelio

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