Book ReportEvery Project Management Office (PMO) is different. Those of us who have been in the project management industry or who have worked within many PMOs will tell you the same. Go to any PMI local chapter meeting and talk with your colleagues about their PMO and often their PMO is quite different from yours. PMOs range from strong and structured to weak and perhaps even unknown in the organization. Each PMO has four or five key requirements that drive their makeup, and for the most part they vary quite a bit from company to company.

However, there is one requirement that almost nine in 10 PMOs require (according to PMI surveys): reporting to upper management. So the first thing that comes to my mind about reporting is, how accurate is the data? Good data and valid reporting go hand-in-hand. Upper management expects accurate reports for making the right decisions.

For the purposes of reporting Project Server offers several ways to track progress and tasks on projects, as shown in the first figure below. This setting can be changed on the fly, but I don’t recommend doing so. The main reason for not changing a tracking method once decided is that when projects are created, they have the tracking method properties set. If the tracking method changes on the server, the method changes within projects already created, which may cause confusion. In fact, changing the tracking method places Project Server into “free form” mode.

Microsoft Project Server and Project Online offer four tracking methods ways to track projects. All of the methods feed back into the project schedule. Some are more exact than others, and though they do a good job, we’ll tweak a few other settings to make the data more accurate. The options are set in the “Task Settings and Display” under the “Server Settings.”

Task Settings and Display - Project Web App

  • Percent of work complete. This popular option provides a good read on how a project is progressing and provides decent feedback on what’s complete or not. The main drawback of using this option is that actual work and actual costs is often not accurate. Depending on the task type used and the skill of the project manager, the actual work can be inflated when the duration is extended or when a task is marked 100 percent complete, which is interpreted as actual work rather than planned work.
  • Actual work done and work remaining. This is a better option because it ensures the accuracy of actual work. My only issue with it is that it doesn’t require time periods and doesn’t have to be done on a recurring cycle. You can’t tell if a week has been skipped.
  • Hours of work done per period. This is an even better option than either of the two previous choices. It requires using time periods and thus makes it easier to determine if time is entered each week. If actual work isn’t tracked weekly, it’s easy to lose work done. This is the best option of the three for measuring actual costs, work and scope achieved. However, as much as I like it, there’s an even better solution called Single Entry Mode, which, when enabled, turns on hours of work done per period.
  • Free form is the final option. It may be best for organizations that have weak PMOs and can’t define and mandate a standard. Because of the inability of a PMO to define a tracking standard, this option would be my very last choice.

A few other configurations that should be considered for obtaining accurate data for reports are on this same page. You might want to choose the checkbox, for example, that forces everyone to use the same tracking method. Consistency and governance are crucial for increasing data accuracy.

The option, “Only allow tasks via Tasks and Timesheets,” should also be checked. This forces actuals to come in from PM entries, preventing the PMs from creating “actual work” data by marking tasks 100 percent complete.

At this point, your basic tracking method is in place and accurate data is being fed back into your project schedule. However, there is more that can be done to ensure accurate data and valid reports. Taking data accuracy a step further requires using timesheets.

The Timesheets setting provides the most accurate data in your reports — and at the same time will generate the most opposition among your users. Task sheets can look like timesheets; and just saying “Timesheets” makes everyone feel like they’re punching a clock. Timesheets provides the PMO more and better information than task sheets. Timesheets also implies regular submission of work done each week, which in turn feeds into having better and timelier data.

Let’s say a person works 10 hours on a project in one week and zero hours on the project the next week. When Timesheets is enabled, the PMO might require 40 hours to be reported. So the person might submit 10 hours of work on the project and 30 hours on other non-project tasks. When timesheets are part of the PMO monitoring cycle, the project manager can determine that resources have submitted their work efforts. In this person’s case, the PM can tell that she did non-project work, not that she simply forgot to submit her time.

Timesheets can be a separate process for submitting actual work. When I refer to timesheets, I am actually referring to Single Entry Mode, which does several things. The timesheets and task sheets are combined on a single form and the task setting is set to “Hours of work done per period,” whether project related or not. Single Entry Mode is enabled in the server settings under the “Timesheet Settings and Defaults,” as shown in the screenshot below.

Project Web App page continued from Figure 1

As you can see from the form, there are other configuration settings too, such as those related to defining the governance of approval and when timesheets need to be submitted.

In summary, the key points I want you to take away are these: First and foremost, if you’re in a PMO, a key requirement of your job will inevitably involve reporting project status in some form to management. The reports you develop need to use accurate, timely data. Single entry mode, through Project Server, is a handy setting to know about in achieving this goal.
A version of this article originally appeared in Michael Wharton’s blog, MyProjectExpert.

Image courtesy of Juhan Sonin — CC 2.0