Communicating Project Status to an Executive

In many ways, developing valuable communication to an executive is one of the hardest tasks on any assignment. The person you are reporting to is insanely busy, has many people reporting to them, but still needs to make fast and informed decisions. In this article, you will learn how to present project status to an executive effectively.  

Know Your Audience

There are two core considerations you need to make when delivering a message to an executive:

  • Understand that each executive is unique
  • Know what kinds of information you should share and what needs to be conveyed

Each executive is unique. They have different temperaments and needs. A successful approach, when setting the first communication, is to develop three very different project status documents and review them with the executive. You will get feedback from all three options that you can then consolidate into a single document.

With that said, you won’t need to share all information with your executive teams. Here are four types of information that you will want to share:

  • Perception: Be clear on how the project is being perceived and use agreed-upon success metrics to validate the perception
  • Data: Data does not lie, be clear on how the data reinforces the values of the project
  • Impact: What are the achievements, milestones, and how does the progress compare to the project goals
  • Blockers: Where do you specifically need the executive’s help

The bottom line is that your status document must be succinct. One way to do this is to give the status document to a teammate, give them 30 seconds, and then quiz them on the document. The goal—can you accurately collect information in less than a minute?

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Presentation Formats

There are many ways in which to display executive content. Tools I have used in the past that have been very useful include fall into two categories:

  • Word Documents with a summary followed by a lot of detail (if the executive requires detail)
  • PowerPoint presentations

PowerPoint, while not always ideal, requires that you use a limited amount of space to present the content you want to share. You can do a Google search to find the hundreds of available templates. One template I like to use is an A3. An A3 template is a Lean Six Sigma tool. The A3 is broken into the following components:

  • Project Title
  • Problem Description
  • Goal
  • Cause and Effect
  • Sprint / Start Date / End Date
  • Problem Category
  • Expected Benefits
  • Cost Analysis
  • Corrective Actions and Quick Wins
  • Team Structure
  • Implementation Plan
  • Results
  • Actions

The following is a sample A3 you can use:

Leveraging agreed-upon templates across teams can help you to have conversations without executives having to hunt for appropriate information.

In addition to the tools listed above, you can also leverage dashboards from Jira, Microsoft Project Server, and Office 365 Planner. As with tools developed using Word and PowerPoint, you will want to ensure that the dashboard data you are presenting meets the needs of your audience.

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Writing Techniques to Focus Your Message

There are three techniques you can use when providing a status. They are:

  • Use bullet points
  • Create succinct summaries
  • Follow the ten-second rule for readout

Whichever solution you choose to use, a key element to success is to communicate in bullet points. Bullet points force you to distill your thoughts to one line. The objective of using bullets is to keep the content succinct. With bullet points, you can do the following:

  • Limit content to one line
  • Stack related data points together

Note: Try to limit the number of bullets between three and five (more than that and the list of bullets looks like a paragraph)

There will be times when you do have to use paragraphs to share information. But, you still must keep the sentences you write short and to the point. You will want to aim for one to three lines in a summary paragraph. If you write four lines or more, you may be accused of “writing a book,” and the content will be ignored (yes, I am speaking from experience here).

The final test for your project status document is your verbal readout. Readouts come in different forms including:

  • Formal readouts
  • Hallway conversations
  • Opportunistic meetings (such as elevators, conference calls, etc.)

No matter what the opportunity is, you should always bear in mind the ten-second rule. Can you effectively communicate a point in ten seconds? For instance, when presenting a success story, can you identify the success, how you measured and decided it was a success, and what it can lead to. The same can be said when communicating bad news. You need to be able to identify the issue, what problems it is causing, what the root causes are, and what your mitigation plan is. 

When using the ten-second rule, you will find that you are speaking in bullet points. This is a good thing. Get your information and point of view out and then open the floor for a response from the executive.

Everyone is an Executive

The final concept is simple—treat everyone as an executive. Some have the title of Director or Vice President, but others do not. However, all of our time is valuable. To make the best use of it, you really should try to use these communication tips and apply them to everyone you work with. 

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About the Author

Matthew DavidMatthew David

Matt is a Digital Leader at Accenture. His passion is a combination of solving today's problems to run more efficiently, adjusting focus to take advantage of digital tools to improve tomorrow and move organizations to new ways of working that impact the future.

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