Sunday, 11 May 2014

Status reports versus Progress updates

The difference between a status report and a progress update.

As much as the uninformed would have some people believe, no it's not semantics.

For example, a team member has a series of tasks to complete a user story; a requirement. Let's say those tasks are to load and stage the latest development build, and then execute a series of tests to determine if what is new in that build 1) does the functionality that was added, 2) has not broken anything that used to work, and 3) does all of that with the same or better system throughput performance. Let's also say that the original estimate for that work is three-and-a-half days. Further, let's say that equates to 7 story points.

A status report is "I've got the build and I'm continuing to stage the software." A status report or update is focused on the past up to that point in time. And until somebody invents a time machine where people can go back in time to to change things, this is a waste of people's time; including the person giving the update.

A progress update is "I've got the build, I started to stage the build this morning, and I ran into one small problem, so I spoke with Julio and he was able to help me out right away. He discovered there was an error in a default setting for our test environment. So all things considered, I believe the work will still be finished as planned on Friday." A progress update or report is future focused. It focuses on where things are headed and gives people a proactive opportunity to avoid risks while that work is ongoing or for the next time such a set of similar tasks is being performed.

In the status report, there is no way to know whether the work is on, ahead, or behind schedule, or worse, completely roadblocked. It does not support clear visibility into the progress of the work being done. No one knows to offer help if the tester is roadblocked, and for all anyone knows what is occuring with these series of tasks could be the first indication that the project could be completely riding off the rails.

I've heard some people say "well, that's the project manager's job to ask questions to clarify that." And for me, that is completely and utterly obtuse for two reasons.

One, if the project manager has enough time to remember to stay that on top of every task then either the project isn't very complex or the project manager is being under-utilized. Either way the company is wasting money.

The second reason is that I suspect in a lot of situations those same team members would probably next be screaming about being micromanaged if that was happening. And if they aren't, hopefully the project manager is thinking something like "my god, what am I doing here?! Isn't there something better I could be doing with my life?!" In short, the project and the organization in actuality are circling the drain.

In summary, a progress update creates value-added visibility with opportunities to create even more value beyond that specific point in time. A status update takes people away from the value-add they are doing in their individual jobs so they can hear each other ramble on for probably longer than necessary, add just another layer of distraction that further reduces their value and productivity in each of their roles, and creates unnecessary overhead.

Think I'm wrong? Listen to the updates from yourself and other team members in your next scrum session, stand-up meeting, or whatever you want to call it.