Creating Useful and Appropriate Project Reports


Advances in Project Management Series


Dr. Alexia Nalewaik

United States



In almost every online project management community, there is a question that is posted every few months: “I have been asked to create a project report. How do I do this?”

There is no short and definitive answer to the question. There are countless ways to combine project information into a report. Ideally, the nature (timing, format, and content) of a report should be specific to the stakeholders who will receive it. The project team gathers data from available sources, and packages it for consumption by stakeholders, who will then use the report to learn about project status and risks and make decisions. Reports are also a necessary part of project governance, accountability, and documentation, providing visibility to problems and opportunities. There are many different formats for reports, and plentiful techniques for visualizing data. Stakeholder needs, roles, and expectations are the key to guiding development of each type of project report.


Just as beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, the same is true for success. Different stakeholders have different definitions of success. Because stakeholders each have their own motives and perspectives, these definitions of success can be widely divergent, such that a project can conceivably be considered both a success and a failure at the same time. It seems impossible, even ridiculous, but it is true. While cost, schedule, and quality are common measures of success for projects, some stakeholders may judge the success of a project by other measures, such as degree of acceptance, level of prestige, the way the project reflects on them, and much more. Understanding stakeholders is, thus, the key to benefits realization. This article describes some categories of people who define and can directly or indirectly influence project success.


Simply put, decision-making requires information. That information includes data that is correct, timely, complete, unbiased, and reliable. The data can be assembled in seemingly endless combinations, yet must be presented in a usable format for a particular purpose. Reports should be tailored to their intended audience, so as to be concise, comprehensible, consistent, and provide the information needed for stakeholders to stay informed, make decisions, and take action. However, the reporting function must also be dynamic, able to respond to changing project conditions. Decision-making in projects requires accurate, timely, and relevant status reporting, yet all too often reports do not serve their intended purpose. Stakeholders seek the information they need, with a caveat: they also want assurance.

There are several applications of “assurance” as a noun; two of them apply here[1]. One is a state of certainty or confidence in something. The other is a statement intended to provide such confidence. Stakeholders wish to have confidence the information they receive is accurate and appropriate for their purposes; internal team members and external consultants both provide stakeholders with those assurances. The concept of assurance is closely tied to that of accountability, whereby the project team or consultants providing the data are responsible for the quality, accuracy, appropriateness, and timeliness of the information provided. The importance of such accountability cannot be overstated, as errors need to be corrected immediately lest major decisions be based on the incorrect information and advice given.

Assurance and accountability both assume reporting is unbiased and objective, conditions which (sadly) might not always be true if the report comes from within the project management organization (PMO). Independence of external consultants suggests disassociation from the situation and immunity to influence, whereas project team members are often deeply embedded in the culture of the project organization and the tangled relationships therein. Then again, external consultants might not have access to all available data and discussions, and thus might not understand the full picture. If employed as consultants internal to the team, project team members may have dual loyalties, to their employer and to the external client. Such circumstances may make certain responsibilities difficult, such as: critical questioning, impartial status assessment, and delivery of bad news.

Optimism and cognitive delusion are common occurrences when reporting project status; failures tend to be downplayed, and results spun into hopeful forecasts. Delayed reporting of data may result from internal sensitivity, pressure, or politics. All these acts of self-protection can result in an overly positive representation of project performance, blurring risks and change, which then obstructs early action to remedy identified issues.

Stakeholder categories

Before discussing stakeholder expectations, the project team first needs to identify and understand who the project stakeholders are, how much they can impact the project, and how they judge project success. Stakeholders may be individuals, formal groups, and entities such as companies and governments. They each have different levels of motivation, interest, power, and influence, which may change throughout the project.

Responsibilities to project stakeholders may fall into several categories[2]:

  • Fiduciary duty
  • Decision-making (corporate governance)
  • Participation
  • Fairness
  • Cooperation
  • Accountability
  • Strategic management
  • Legitimization
  • Risk management (deflecting criticism)
  • Social construction (image)

The number of project stakeholders can be considerable, and failure to address their needs may mean failure of the project. Their connection to the project may be contractual, societal, financial, familial, political, emotional, and more…


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge worldwide.

How to cite this paper: How to cite this paper: Nalewaik, A. (2020). Creating Useful and Appropriate Project Reports, PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue IX, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/pmwj97-Sep2020-Nalewaik-creating-useful-and-appropriate-project-reports2.pdf



About the Author

Dr. Alexia Nalewaik

United States



Dr. Alexia Nalewaik has over 25 years of experience in project audit, estimating, cost/risk management, and governance. She is a Fellow of RICS Americas, AACE International, the Guild of Project Controls, and ICEC. Alexia is a Past President of AACE International, Past Chair of the International Cost Engineering Council, and past member of the Governing Council of RICS Americas. She has published two books, on performance audit and reporting. Current research continues to focus on audit, assurance, and cost management.


[1] Oxford English Dictionary online, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/assurance. Retrieved 6 December, 2018.

[2] Greenwood, Michelle (2007). Stakeholder Engagement: Beyond the Myth of Corporate Responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 74(4), pp. 315-217. Berlin: Springer.