Characteristics of a Good Project Report

The main process involve in project reporting, is to transfer your experiences of doing a project, and the knowledge you have gained, from your brain onto paper in a coherent, logical and correct form. No matter how significant your achievements, if you do not write up your work, and write it up well, you may leave it for misinterpretation.
It is essential to understand that the project report will be read by a number of people with or without a technical background.

How to write the project report
1. Precision
You must strive first to be absolutely precise and very clear about the exact and definite purpose of writing the report. The report should be a valuable document that will give information and guidance to its readers and must cover all aspects of the project. What you write must not be capable of misinterpretation. A project report must cover six important questions: who, what, where, when, why and how.

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2. Spelling and grammar
You must make efforts to spell correctly and ensure that the report is free from errors. Poor spellings and faulty construction of sentences are distractions to the proficient reader and may make their meaning different to the reader. In most cases, there is virtually no excuse for spelling incorrectly; there are many excellent spell-checker programs which make a good job of finding the errors for you, and excellent (paper) dictionaries which will tell you what the correct spellings are. Error in grammar and punctuation can affect both the clarity and accuracy of the report.

3. Illustrations
Your report should generally contain illustrations (figures or diagrams), but they must be relevant. Ask yourself if the illustration helps the reader to understand the report. If the text is readily comprehensible without the illustrations, delete the illustration. If it is not, it is usually better to make the report clearer and incorporate illustrations. In most cases, illustrations provide a catchy and smart look and attract the attention of the reader.
If possible, include figures close to the text which refers to them, rather than putting all together in an appendix.

A typical project report is organized in the following way.
1. Introduction. (The scope of the project, setting the scene for the remainder of the report.)
2. Previous work. (One or more review chapters, describing the research you did at the beginning of the project period.)
3. Several chapters describing what you have done, focusing on the novel aspects of your own work.
4. Further work. (A chapter describing possible ways in which your work could be continued or developed. Be imaginative but realistic.)
5. Conclusions.
6. References and appendices.

In summary, a good project report should be:
• Factual
• Accurate and specific
• Clear
• Complete
• Precise and concise
• Well-organized
• Grammatically correct.

Make your report rock.


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Understanding Project Team Development

Understanding how team functions and what makes teams more effectively can be meaningful in the classroom and in the work environment. Studies show that every team goes through five main stages of development. The first stage deals primarily with the background of the team development and the remaining four stages of team development was developed by Dr. Bruce Tucker in 1965. Dr. Tucker’s theory of team development is famously known as “Tuckman’s Stages”. According to him, these stages are inevitable in order for a team to grow to the point where they can function effectively together delivering high-quality results.

The five stages of team development are:

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1. Forming: This is when the team first meet each other. At this first meeting, the team members are officially introduced to each other by the project leader/manager and get the opportunity to share their backgrounds, interests, and experience and form first impressions of each other. Usually, most of the team members are positive and polite while some are anxious as they have not fully understood what work the team will do. Hence, this initial stage also gives them the opportunity to learn about the project and discuss the project’s goals and objectives and the role each team member is going to play. This stage may last for some time to enable members to get accustomed to each other. It is at the forming stage that the project leader/manager clearly define the project’s goals and the directive tailored to achieve them.

2. Storming: This is the stage where the team members start to compete with each other for status and acceptance of ideas. At this stage, people easily get frustrated as the members of the team may have different opinions and work differently. It is at this stage that the project leader/manager has to provide guidance and lead the team to tolerate each other and learn how to solve problem and function together as a team. The team manager has to have the required soft skills to guide his team through this stage. This stage successfully comes to an end when the team becomes cooperative and more accepting of each other.

3. Norming: This is the stage where team members are more collaborating and working effectively as a team. They learn to respect and value each other’s views and opinions and are able to ask each other for help and also, provide constructive meaningful feedbacks. At this stage, the project leader/manager is not involved in decision making and problem solving since the team is working together and taking more responsibilities. Team members develop stronger commitment towards the project goals and take prudence steps to achieve them. At this stage, the project manager/leader is seen as a coach occasionally ensuring that the team is cooperating and on track.

4. Performing: This is the stage where the team is functioning at a very high level as expected without any friction or whatsoever. This stage is usually supported by structures and processes outlined by the project leader/manager. When disagreements erupt, the teamwork through and resolve them without interrupting the project’s progress. Mostly, the project leader/manager serves as the main channel of communication when certain decisions need to be reached a higher level within the organization.

5. Adjourning: This is the stage when the project is coming to a close and team members are separating into the different direction. It is the stage where team members may be disbanded through organizational restructuring. The project leader/manager have to ensure that there is time for the team to celebrate their success and document all lessons-learned for future use.
It is important to note that every team, irrespective of what they are working on, will follow this stages of development. It is the duty of the project leader/manager to provide the necessary assistance and guidance through these stages to ensure that the project’s goals and objectives are met.

Let the team work.

• The Team Handbook, 3rd Edition (Scholtes, Joiner, Streibel), Publisher: Oriel

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Best Practices in Project Planning

Project Quality Management

Project Quality Management is the process for ensuring that all project activities, that is, design, plan and project implementation are effective and efficient with respect to the objective of the Project. Project Quality Management is not a separate, independent process that occurs at the end of the project, however, it is a continuous process that starts and ends with the project. It is part of every project management processes right from the initiating of the project to the closing phase. It “includes all activities of the overall management functions that determine that the quality policy, objectives and responsibilities, and implements them by means such as quality planning, quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement within the system”.

The three major quality management processes are:

Quality Planning: This is the process of identifying which quality standards are relevant to the project and how best to satisfy those standards. It also involves designing quality into the products and services of the project as well as the processes involved in managing the project. It basically means identifying which quality standards are relevant to the project and determining how to satisfy them. In planning the quality one has to bear in mind:

  • The requirement of the customer
  • Avoid mistakes rather than inspecting the results and repairing defects
  • Cost involved in ensuring quality must be approved by management
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Quality Assurance: It is the systematic process of checking to see whether a product or service being developed is meeting the specified requirements. It involves evaluating the overall project performance on regular basis to provide confidence that the project will satisfy the relevant quality standards. It assures the existence and effectiveness of the process and procedure tools and measures put in place to ensure that the expected level of qualities are reached. Some common Quality Assurance techniques are:

  • Benchmarking: This is the process of generating ideas for quality improvements by comparing specific project practices or product characteristics to those of the other projects or products within or outside of the performing organization
  • Quality Audit: This is a structured review of the specific quality management activities that helps identify lessons learnt, which could improve performance on current or future project.
  • Process Analysis: Is the systematic breakdown of phases of a process used to convey the inputs, outputs and operations that take place during each phase of the project.

Quality Control: This is the use of techniques and activities that compare actual quality performance with goals and define appropriate actions in response to a shortfall. Quality Control is done at the end of a process or activity to verify that quality standards have been met. It provides means to identify problems and suggest ways to improve them. Some examples of Quality Control tools are:

  • Flowchart
  • Pareto Charts
  • Control Charts

Quality Control Management helps in improving shareholders’ satisfaction through continuous and incremental improvement to processes, including removing unnecessary activities. This is achieved by continuous improvement of the quality of materials and services provided to the beneficiaries.

Lead by Example.

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Best Practices in Project Planning.

The world has evolved technologically and all aspects of our daily lives have been affected including the area of Project Management. Despite the odds, organizations expect projects to be completed faster, cheaper, and better. The only way that these objectives can be met is through the use of effective project management processes and techniques. I have listed below, three best practices for managing a successful project in the era of technology.

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Despite the availability of technological tools to ease and quicken a project implementation, planning still remains the important phase of a project. This is the phase where the general idea about the project is conceived. But most importantly, it is the phase if done properly can lead to the most cost saving. This is because planning does not only help us with conceiving the general idea about what the project is about; it also enables us to decide the kind of tools to employ, our methodology and the type of labor to employ. This enables the project manager to cover a lot of grounds before hitting the ground running. Take for example a skyscraper building project, the planning phase in such a project will enable the project manager know what kind of metal to use (steel or aluminum), the kind of technology to use (cranes or manual labor) etc. This when done gives the project manager a lot of room to forecast impending challenges and tackle them.  So to project managers out there always plan!

Look for warning signs

With most of the thinking done in the planning phase and implementation in motion, a project manager ought to anticipate and be curious to look for signals showing that the project may be in trouble. These could include the following:

  • A small variance in schedule or budget starts to get bigger, especially early in the project. There is a tendency to think you can make it up, but this is a warning. If the tendencies are not corrected quickly, the impact will be unrecoverable.
  • You discover that activities you think have already been completed are still being worked on. For example, users whom you think have been migrated to a new platform are still not.
  • You need to rely on unscheduled overtime to hit the deadlines, especially early in the project.
  • Team morale starts to decline.
  • Deliverable quality or service quality starts to deteriorate. For instance, users start to complain that their converted e-mail folders are not working correctly.
  • Quality-control steps, testing activities, and project management time starts to be cut back from the original schedule. A big project, such as an Exchange migration, can affect everyone in your organization. Don’t cut back on the activities that ensure the work is done correctly.

Resolve issues as quickly as possible

Issues are big problems. For instance, in an Exchange migration, the Exchange servers you ordered aren’t ready and configured on time. Or perhaps the Windows forest isn’t set up correctly and needs to be redesigned. The project manager should manage open issues diligently to ensure that they are being resolved. If there is no urgency to resolve the issue or if the issue has been active for some time, it may not really be an issue. It may be a potential problem (risk), or it may be an action item that needs to be resolved at some later point. Real issues, by their nature, must be resolved with a sense of urgency.

Practice the Best!

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Lessons Learned

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is the systematic identification, analysis, planning, and implementation of actions designed to engage with stakeholders. It focuses on the processes of identifying the people, groups or organizations that can either impact or be impacted by the project. In short, stakeholder management is identifying the needs of people with vested interest in a project and satisfying them accordingly as a project manager. Stakeholder management is a set of techniques that harness the positive influences and minimizes the effect of the negative influences. It comprises four main steps:

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Identify stakeholders:
Identifying stakeholders will be done using research, interviews, brainstorming, checklists, lessons learned and so on. A stakeholder map which is a table that shows the interests of the various stakeholders can be developed to aid the project manager in this effort.

Assess their interest and influence:
Each stakeholder will then be classified according to potential impact. This is usually shown in a matrix that estimates interest and influence on a simple scale such as low/medium/high. Those with an ability to directly affect the outputs or benefits are sometimes referred to as key stakeholders and a project manager should be in constant engagement with them.

Develop communication management plans:
This analysis is used to develop a communication management plan. Appropriate strategies and actions are then defined to engage with stakeholders in different parts of the matrix. Communications with stakeholders who have high levels of interest and influence will be managed differently from those with stakeholders of low interest and influence. Similarly, communications with stakeholders who are inherently positive about the work will be different from those with stakeholders who are negative.

Engage and influence stakeholders:
Project managers must identify who should engage with each stakeholder. In many cases, the P3 manager will take on the task, but it is also useful to call upon peers, senior managers or others who may be better placed. Stakeholder management becomes more complex when stakeholders’ views, roles or allegiances, etc. change throughout the life cycle. For that reason, the stakeholder management steps must be repeated throughout the life cycle of the project.

In brief, the steps outlined above help to:
• Analyze the stakeholders expectations and their impact on the project
• Focus on stakeholder satisfaction as a key project objective
• Implement continuous communication with stakeholders to understand needs and             expectations
• Foster stakeholder engagement in the project for decisions and activities

Work as a team, play as a team.

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Why do Projects Fail?

Regardless of efforts put in projects, they do not always end up being completed. The reasons why these projects do not see the light of day can sometimes be attributed to the actions and inactions of project managers and stakeholders. The following are some of the reasons why projects fail.

First and foremost, organizations fail at projects because they sometimes have unclear project objectives. Management set up several targets that are unrealistic to achieve due to time and budget. Many organizations get so busy trying to get the job done, forgetting the key components of success. Every project team needs time out to meet and discuss goals and strategies to reach project goals.

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Moreover, some projects fail due to problems with leadership. Failure on the part of the project manager to find the right level of oversight often times causes the project team to become unmotivated. Hence, making the project to run out of control. Another important cause of project failure is poor communication. Communication issues range from lack of defining what is expected of each member of the team and not communicating the quality requirements of the project.

When members do not have clearly defined roles about what they are expected to do, it leads to overlapping of functions. Unclear roles and responsibilities lead to confusion and gaps. This failure to set up effective communications between individuals, groups or organizations undertaking the project results in the project not being successful.

Lastly, projects also sometimes fail because those who actually perform the work are excluded from the estimation process. Estimation is one of the fundamental reasons why projects fail. When estimation is done based on insufficient information/analysis, projects are very likely to fail. Even after making an estimate, failure to make contingency plans against unknown obstacles which might be encountered can result in the project failing.

Moreover, projects also fail during the testing stage when the test environment that is configured is totally different from the target production, or operational environment in which the project’s deliverables will be used.

If you see something, say something.

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Cause and Effect Diagrams 

Effective Project Communication

Effective communication must be applied throughout the life cycle of a project. Good communication is essential to the success of a project. Nothing is more important to the success of a project than effective communication. Effective Communication involves being fully engaged with everyone on the project team.

Communication can take place in an active or passive manner. Examples of active communication include face to face meetings, video conferences, meeting one on one, or group, telephone conference, webinars, and via the telephone. Passive communication includes email, intranet bulletin boards, blogs, website, and project newsletter – paper-based.

Effective communication involves the use of both active and passive communication. Choice of techniques is based on the situation at hand since projects are usually fluid by nature and ever-changing. Communication involves clear communication of goals, responsibility, performance, feedback, and expectations. In order to make good communication plans, the project manager can ask and address questions such as who needs to be communicated with, how frequent communication is required, and what needs to be communicated. These enable the project to become stronger and easily attainable since it helps to:
• Articulate project goals and objectives
• Communicate risks and issues and possibly solve them
• Build strong team bond
• Understand each team member’s roles and their overall impact on the project
• Enjoy work

Although the Project manager may form plans regarding how to achieve effective communication on the basis of these questions listed above, he/she must be ready to make adjustments and changes when the need arises. The qualities of effective communication involve providing only the information needed, in the right format, at the right time, to the right audience and with the right impact.

To conclude, effective communication is of cardinal importance to the success of a project. Hence, effective communication is required throughout the project cycle. Good communication planning is important in achieving effective communication.

Plan what to say, before you say it.