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SHARP Status: Highlights

Car_4 When driving, it can be very challenging to be behind a vehicle larger than mine.  I can't see very far down the road, and I have no idea what lies ahead.  Project managers are faced with this dilemma every day.  We get caught in the issues, the problems, the risks, and the drama of the project.   It is difficult to see what lies down the road, let alone communicate it, when trapped in the "administrivia" of day-to-day project activity.

That is where HIGHLIGHTS come into play in a status report.  They allow project managers and our status-reading audiences to see beyond the day-to-day tasks and issues and look further down the road.  Providing that milestone look-ahead adds tremendous value to the big picture thinkers.

In the January 15, 2006 entry of his blog, Robert McIlree does an admirable job commenting on "The Worse Type of Project Manager" who is able to politicize better than he can produce; however, milestones don't lie.  When a project manager sets a milestone, s/he is communicating to the world a stake in the ground.  Still, in communicating milestones, I try to communicate a balance between flexibility and accountability by telling who owns the milestone, what the milestone is, and when it is expected to be done (note the word choice; saying a milestone is expected by a certain date rather than saying it will happen on a certain date leaves room for ever-present assumptions and risks).  Examples:

OK:  The test plan will be complete on November 15.

BETTER:  Tom will lead the QA team to complete the regression test plan, expected to be complete by November 15 (previously listed as October 31).

Not only can you use this section to list milestones; it is also useful for sharing pending or approved change requests.  Any major activity that impacts the long-term scope/condition of your project is fair game.

Remember:  This is your chance as project manager to set (and reset) expectations.  Be honest if you must move a date.  Be selective and communicate the milestones that are of greatest interest to your audience (key deliverables, critical path dates).  Let your readers see the road beyond the big hulking vehicle that is blocking your view with all the trivial day-to-day tasks, meetings, and issues.  Just one more way to keep your status SHARP.

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