Progress Reporting

John F. Gravel

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes…and perhaps progress reports. Maybe not part of the age-old axiom, but it should have been.

I recently reviewed a legal brief against a large mining company being sued by investors for losses. What amazed me about the brief was not the overall preparation of the claim or the fact that many confidential internal company documents were included, but that the plaintiff’s lawyers managed to get their hands on most of the monthly project reports.

The common belief that monthly reports are confidential and likely never to see the light of day is far from the truth, and a misperception we must break. When projects get into significant trouble, soaring over budget and past deadlines, there should be no surprises because each of the issues was to have been recorded in the monthly report.  Unfortunately, variances between monthly reports and significant events point to project management issues, including simple negligence.

When working with progress reports, the magic rule is quality over quantity… Reports should be clear, concise, and valuable, delivering no more than precisely what is needed. Important to remember, monthly reports can be used in legal proceedings and should be treated accordingly.  Facts win over opinions and conjecture.

Over the life of a project, monthly reports change to reflect the project’s progress.  What can also change is the quality of the monthly reports, either positively or negatively. Regardless, the actual progress and the original baseline should be maintained in all reports and graphs throughout the life of the project.

A good sign that a project is going off track is when reports and tables begin to omit baseline progress curves and data. A second simple check is to make sure the current report harmonizes with last month’s report.  We are amazed sometimes how progress can go backwards in a month.  Another sure-fire sign that a project is in serious trouble is when progress data is changed from curves with baselines, to curves with no baselines, to flat plain data tables.

We sometimes see contractors’ progress reports copied and pasted in project progress reports. All parties should take the time to read the contractor’s monthly reports to ensure the integrity of the information. There are sometimes comments or graphs in a contractor’s monthly reports, which hint to the real progress and should be investigated.

Monthly reports should always be a fact of life on a project, no less certain than death and taxes. And indeed, in reading the monthly reports on this project, they had mistakenly made public comments that were not aligned with the monthly project reports which were themselves, very poorly written.

So, the moral of the story is that the development of monthly reports takes a significant amount of diligence in preparing, reviewing and approving.  This should be a small investment on behalf of all parties. There is often perceived pressure to give the best possible outlook on what might be a not so attractive picture. Monthly project reports can be used in court.