Project updates use to be one of my least favorite tasks when taking on the delivery lead role on a project. Over time, this has changed, though, and this post will review the project update and how it can be used.
Whats in the project update?
A project update is an overview of the current state of a project. It might be helpful to think of a project update as a balance sheet, i.e. a snapshot in time. The substance of project update will vary based on the client, the type of project, and the stage of the project. The major components are often:
Recently accomplished tasks/goals
- Current budget
- Total amount spent
- Amount spent since last update
- Percent through/remaining in the budget
- Burn down chart: Weekly view of what’s been spent on the project
- Total scope in backlog
- Velocity – How much work, on average, the team is completing
- Estimated completion date of the work in the backlog
Short/long term road map
- Workshops etc.
Why have a project update?
Atoms work very closely with our clients, and one of the keys to project success is communication. The project update is an integral part of this game plan. It allows clear, transparent reporting to the client that they can easily pass up the chain. Historically, clients find this extremely valuable and appreciate the proactive approach to documentation and reporting.
What I have come to love about project updates is that it is the team’s chance to reinforce the good work being done and to push strategic initiatives to the client while delivering the current details of the project.
Project updates also give a nice historical view of the project through the start of the engagement. The discipline of creating these reports also makes someone responsible for keeping a close eye on the macro view of the engagement. This often gives the team an opportunity to have critical conversations with the client before issues become detrimental to the project, product, or relationship.
Who is the project update for?
Consider targeting this document to the highest level stakeholders for the engagement. Everyone else involved with the Atomic team typically has a solid understanding of the current state of the project by attending daily standup meetings, sprint reviews, etc. Reporting up can be a different story. Often time these stakeholders do not attend many of the agile rituals, and this document can help shape the direction of projects.
Given the target of this document, I tend to make it as clear and concise as possible. This helps ensure the content is reviewed.
Project updates are typically sent out weekly early on in an engagement since things tend to change more quickly in those early stages. As the team gets further down the path in implementation mode, I tend to decrease the frequency to coincide with the completion of a sprint.
How do you execute a project update?
I leverage the Google suite to cut down on the production time of this document. I create the document in Google Slides. Data from Google Sheets can be imported, pointed to, and easily updated with the click of a button. Try to keep the data fresh or add indicators like “new” or a date updated when data is constant on the page for multiple project updates.
The project update is a valuable tool.
Project updates have a valuable spot in a software team’s toolbelt by allowing them to document, share, and influence the direction of a project.