Complicated projects within state governments usually span several departments and bureaus that all have a vested interest in the success of the project. To provide oversight and decision-making authority, many states will create a steering committee comprised of departmental representatives. These members will ultimately be responsible for and provide direction to the team or teams implementing the project.

Project teams are responsible for tracking and executing the tasks necessary to implement the project. They usually have assigned responsibilities concerning policy, field service, information technology, legal, and training. A good project manager will be able to facilitate the project meetings between the teams and keep the project moving.

Another major role of the project manager, specifically for complex inter-departmental projects, is to utilize the steering committee to make decisions that the project teams aren’t able to execute on their own. Whether the project teams don’t have the authority, or perhaps they can’t reach an agreement, the steering committee is tasked with decision-making without intimate knowledge of the project details.

This is where the reporting to the project steering committee comes into play. No one likes surprises, especially senior department members of bureau management. Making tough decisions is something that they are more than capable of doing, but filtering the necessary information to reach these conclusions can sometimes be tricky.

An overview is prepared to communicate project status to the steering committee; typically, in the form of a simple, one-page dashboard, along with underlying documentation if required. To facilitate reporting, these dashboards are broken down to include the following critical sections:

  1. Color-coded milestones including high-level project milestones, baseline due dates, revisions to schedule, actual completion dates and status

Identifying all recently completed milestone tasks allows the committee to quickly judge the project progress without walking through the details of a complex project plan. By utilizing and defining the Red/Yellow/Green status identification, committee members can quickly scan the section and see areas of concern to the project team. This section also provides a high-level view into the detailed project plan.

  1. Key project-level risks with potential outcomes

This section is where risks that potentially will require steering committee guidance are documented and explained. By presenting the potential risks before they are realized, the committee will be able to have time to digest and develop potential solutions. Identifying risks without a potential solution is not acceptable and will lead to questions about the stability of the project. The risk remediation solutions aren’t necessarily the final solution, but they will demonstrate the thought process of the various project teams.

  1. Key project level issues and tasks

This section informs the committee of the various tasks that the teams are performing as well as the issues that they are encountering. Typically, these issues do not yet require steering committee intervention, but by being exposed to these tasks early they can gain an understanding of the issues that they may encounter.

  1. Key Accomplishments for the period

The purpose of this section is to show progress and enough detail to provide context for the status on the milestone documented earlier. Pointing out the successes of the various project teams will give confidence to the committee that the project teams are working toward their goals.

  1. Key activities for the next reporting period

This section should cite the major tasks that the project teams believe will be completed prior to the next steering committee meeting. These activities will provide additional insight into the progress being made, or not made, by the project teams. This section will provide the basis for questions from the committee members at the next meeting as they review the progress of the project teams.

While this information is usually enough to present the status of large projects to the steering committee, there are two more items that are critical when running meetings of this type: detailed notes and an Action Item Log.

Ensuring detailed notes are taken during the meeting and presented in a concise and standardized format. Not all members will be available for all meetings and detailed notes keep them in the loop. Meeting notes should be sent out right after the meeting as well as included with the dashboard prior to the next meeting to provide a refresher.

Documenting and tracking action items in an Action Item Log is critical for these types of committees. The action item logs created from the meeting are developed to hold everyone, even members of the committee, accountable to the tasks or decisions that they are assigned. Peer pressure is a great motivator, and by reviewing the Action Item Log at the end of each meeting, we get decisions made more quickly.

This type of dashboard reporting allows everyone to review the past, present, and future of the project status at each meeting. It provides the committee with the information they need to maintain a controlling interest in the project with minimum surprises.