Best Practice Project on a Page Template

An eye catching summary status report can transform your project

This may be obvious but it’s worth saying if only because it’s so obvious that it’s easily forgotten when you are busy… Simple, clear, concise project status reporting can transform the success of your project and the way your are perceived by key stakeholders.  Over the years I’ve attended many project management workshops and training sessions and they nearly all focus on the technical aspects of managing and budgeting within large projects. If reporting and communications is considered at all they tend to assume that all your stake holders are equally engaged and skilled at reading summary reports.

Senior management seldom have the time to read through a 30 page progress report, what they want is a Summary on a Page (SOAP). In this blog I will share with you a “Summary on a Page” template that I’ve now used on numerous projects with great success.

The Project on a Page Template

You can use this project on a page template as it comes but I suggest instead that you or someone in your companies marketing department adapts the colour scheme, fonts, branding etc to match your companies house style or style guide for best results.

Project Summary on a Page Template

 

Let me talk you through this simple one page summary report step by step:

  1. You need to decide on your reporting period. I’d recommend the project manager produces a summary report on Friday after having walked around all the key players to ensure that report is as up to date and as accurate as possible. Doing this on a Friday lets you be clear about what’s been done that week and more importantly be precise about what must happen next week to keep the project on track.
  2. The Management Summary box should be used to give a very brief commentary on where the project is – certainly no more than 100 words. You should leave the bullet points to do most of the talking. Focus on what has been done and then what needs to happen next week, only picking on the 2 or 3 key things that need to be in the management summary. Remember that in a summary “Less is more”.
  3. Key Issues or Key Risks: As a project manager you should be maintaining a risk register.  One the summary report you need to use your skills to pull out the 3 to 5 key risks items that you want to communicate.  Feel free to include the full risk register as an appendix for anyone who wants all the details.
  4. Actions this week: You’ll no doubt have a long action list or work break down from your project plan.  In your summary report pick out 3 to 5 high impact actions that you want to communicate. Technically if you have items on a critical path these really should be on the management one page summary. I always include the full action log / register as an appendix (see below).
  5. Key Milestones: Pull out of your project plan all the key milestones. At a summary level just use simple RAG Reporting (Red=Bad/Trouble, Amber=Slipping/Needs attention, Green=On Track). This lets the summary report focus on the out come or delivery rather than how you get there in detail.
  6. Summary Gantt Chart: I like to include a very high-level timeline or gantt chart just pulling out the key milestones / activities.  You can show plan and actual on here.

Don’t feel constrained by how I’ve used the space in my template.  I’ll routinely rework this from project to project depending on what is most appropriate. In this template I don’t for example have a summary box for Budget but reporting if actual or committed spend is on track is often a requirement on larger projects.

As a project manager I find that focusing on clear concise reporting actually helps me manage the project and find the time taken to produce these reports to be time well spent actually managing the project better. Use the report as a working document, try not to have separate documents so your are not wasting time duplicating content.

Project Action Log TemplateAbove is a simple Project Action Log template that I’ll normally include as an appendix to the summary report for anyone who wants to see the detail. The action log is the detailed list of all the work that needs to happen on the plan and any follow up actions that are identified during project review meetings.

Project Issue List Template

This is the issue list template that I typically use.  The key is to make sure that every issue has a clear owner and a priority (RAG status). You will normally also want a column for the agreed completion date.

TIP: Don’t have a group of people or a department as the owner on issues – make sure it’s a named person with ownership and responsibility for seeing that the issue is resolved to the agreed schedule.

Summary Report on a page template – click here to download

Good luck using the template. I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions for improvements. I plan to update this template from time to time as a I receive feedback.


Web page forms and date field best practice

I was prompted to write a quick blog post about entering dates on web forms after a painful experience on an insurance quote site at the weekend.  I needed to retrieve my quote by had to enter the reference number, my postcode and my date of birth.  I just couldn’t get the site to return my quote, it just kept saying it couldn’t be found. After phoning their helpline and spending 20 minutes listening to their music on hold they just said have are you putting the slash signs in? e.g. 10/08/1966 instead of 10081966.  There wasn’t a single clue on the page that that was required.

Dates on webpages which can be accessed from anywhere in the world are a problem due to the way dates are formatted differently around the world. Generally when displaying dates it’s best to avoid any confusion by spelling out the month e.g. 10th August 1966 instead of 10/8/1966 which could also be read by some as 8/10/1966.

When asking for a date of birth I prefer to separate the fields and make it clear to the user what is required as shown in the example below. Even if this page is accessed from a part of the world where the month is traditionally positioned at the start of the date the user won’t be confused about what they need to enter.

Best practice for date entry on web pages

Also notice that for Date of Birth we don’t display a date picker / calendar component. Using a date picker for and having to scroll back a number of years would be painful. The lesson is to seriously think about what the date is and why you are asking the user / customer to enter the date.  In this example you’ll notice that the year isn’t a drop down box.  Displaying a list of 80 or more dates isn’t a great user experience, it’s quicker to just key in four digits.

Entering dates in the future on web forms.

I love this website and the skill that has gone into making it really easy to use.  It’s for a UK hotel chain where people are booking rooms in advance. Note how the form is pre-populated with today’s date (March 17th 2014).  This is great from two perspectives. Lots of people leave booking their hotel rooms until the last minute incase their travel plans change so this means that a lot of the time you don’t actually need to enter a date at all.  Having the date pre-populated also acts as a visual guide to reenforce subconsciously with the customer how the date should be entered.  The date picker is also really well thought through. So many of the off the shelf date pickers are styled with quite a small font, this is big a bright and it’s obvious how to use it. The current date is nicely highlighted.  The developer has also taken the time to consider that you can only book a hotel room for future dates, so previous dates are greyed out.

Next time you need to ask a user for a date on a web form:

  1. Think through what the date really represents.
  2. What is a sensible default.
  3. Should it allow dates in the past and the future?
  4. If future dates then how far into the future? For example if you are asking someone to pick a delivery date why not just display the next 7 days and let them pick one of those dates from a drop down?
  5. Is the format of the date clear to an international audience and people from different backgrounds?
  6. Does a date picker make sense? I’d suggest it seldom makes sense on a date of birth for adults but may be if your developing something to record the date of birth for infants it does make sense.

Bonus tip: I’d always encourage good semantic markup but I have noticed that the default rendering on HTML date fields can yield pickers which are not optimised to the context of the date you want the user to enter. Think carefully before you leave this to chance.  For now I’d always code 3 input fields like you’ve seen in the above examples.