The 5 Characteristics of an Insightful Project Report
Accurate, informative project reports are a crucial GRC tool for audit teams striving to communicate effectively with organizational leadership. Unfortunately, producing a thorough, incisive, yet readable report can be challenging, even for experienced auditors.
No two projects are alike — which is why taking a one size fits all approach to report writing can be counterproductive. Nonetheless, there are a few characteristics shared by virtually all high-quality project reports. For example, it is important to ensure that project reports are:
1. Logically Structured
A well-structured project report facilitates quick access to relevant information, regardless of what any particular reader may define as “relevant.” This is achieved by ordering information hierarchically, with the broadest and most widely applicable facts highlighted first, and the more technical details following in subordinate sections. This enables executives to gain a quick yet holistic understanding of the work being done, while also giving managers closer to the project a logical way of finding and reviewing the information most pertinent to themselves and their departments.
Theoretically, project reports should be one hundred percent objective. In reality, they are created by human beings tasked with analyzing other human beings — a process that is certain to yield some degree of subjectivity and opinion. This is why backing up your evaluation and perspective of the situation with cold, hard facts is so crucial. “Justify every opinion and source every claim” is a good mantra for auditors to live by. Identify the crucial key performance indicators (KPIs) for the project you are reporting on, and utilize those whenever applicable in your report.
Whether created post-mortem or mid-project, a good report always focuses on the status of each task necessary for completion of the broader goal. Which milestones have been reached? Which milestones are on track to be reached before their deadlines? Which tasks are behind schedule and/or over budget? Regarding such tasks, how significant is the scope of the problem, and what dependant processes will be affected? Defining a complex project in such linear terms can be challenging, but can ultimately help leaders make better big-picture decisions.
Even projects that are progressing smoothly tend to demonstrate one or two weak points that could lead to trouble down the road. Business is similar to medicine in this regard: the early a problem is identified, the easier it is to treat — and by the time a problem has become symptomatic, it may already be difficult to treat. This is why a good report writer is never overly optimistic. Drawing attention to topics of concern empowers management to correct issues before the become too severe.
Writing a project report means acting as a liaison between decision-makers and the people who make those decisions a reality. In certain cases, this may mean recommending a certain course of action or advocating for a particular change to be made. The overarching sense of impartiality and objectivity should never be lose — but auditors should also be aware that sometimes, they are the only ones in a position to catalyze necessary adjustments within a project or workflow.
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