What are the “Best” Project Reporting Systems for Capital Programs

Bronson Fernandez
Bronson Fernandez
January 11, 2023

Large construction programs can fail for many reasons - and frequently do, when measured by cost and time overruns.

One frequent contributor to poor project performance is out-of-date - or worse, error-prone - project reporting systems. Unfortunately, capital project teams across the world routinely use such systems … spreadsheets.

Unfortunately, implementing a world-class project reporting system (ie, one that delivers accurate, real-time project performance information to their owner) is an exceptionally challenging task. This is because capital project reporting requires gathering disparate data types from multiple project participants and integrating it all neatly together. The reports must include data from all phases of a construction program. This ranges from initiation and planning to project closeout and commissioning.

Governance responsibilities

Given the high stakes involved (multi-billion project blow-out anyone?), project managers cannot afford to produce reports in a reactive manner.

Governance committees, boards, regulators and shareholders need the highest standards for project performance to be maintained.

This is to ensure that capital programs are finished within budget, on time, and to the agreed specifications.

The industry needs better project reporting systems that help, not hinder, these objectives.

Current state of play

Regrettably, little software built for the specific use-case of capital project reporting is in widespread use.

For many teams, project reporting still boils down to one blunt tool: the spreadsheet.

Whether it’s due to the alternative of hard-to-use construction software that can be badly (mis)used for project reporting, or because of the sheer volume of data that must be reported, the result is a set of in-house and ad hoc spreadsheet tools that require manual reconciliation and duplicate data entry.

Or as it often referred to by project management wags: “death by spreadsheet".

In 2022, there is a better way.

In this document, we detail how implementing a real-time project reporting system can increase the likelihood of project success. (Spoiler alert: Mastt is such a system.) We specify who reports should be distributed to and how frequently; which elements are needed for effective project reporting and how to decide what’s relevant; and give guidance on how to make reports useful and quick to action

Key ingredients for successful project reporting systems

1. Timely and accurate

Arguably the most important question to be asked of any project reporting system is whether the data inside is current and accurate? Stakeholders demand accurate and up-to-date project information to make informed decisions and ensure compliance with governance charters, regulations, and other project guardrails. Assessment checks on the accuracy and currency of a project reporting system include:

» Age of information

Accurate project data is not useful when it is old. A management team making major decisions on a capital program needs up-to-date data. The risks of making ill-informed decisions increase with the age of data in the system. Say no to 90-day old reports!

» Interrogation of fine detail

Being able to deep-dive down to the source data is essential. There are many opportunities for irrelevant or wrong data to creep into project reports. For  example: a subcontractor may give wrong information to the general contractor, which is not properly checked before being passed along to the project manager. Without the ability to drill down to check fine detail, errors may take a lot of effort to rectify.

» Redundant input issues

A sub-standard project reporting system will include many opportunities for a project manager to add redundant information (the same data reported by different sources). This creates extra workload and often confusion via duplicate entries of the same data. Single data source = truth.

» Ability to manual adjustments

Manual adjustments may be needed to modify reports to accurately reflect current project statuses. Manual adjustments should be the exception, not the norm (high volume of adjustments is often a red flag). A good reporting system will make it simple to uncover the root cause contributing to bulk adjustments.

» Minimal variances between systems

Project reporting information may have variances from contract reporting systems and the asset owner's financial system. Large variances of total project costs are often red flags indicating something could be a miss in the project reporting system.

2. Clear objectives and purpose

Capital projects generate large volumes of data. Without clear direction of desired outcomes from reports, an organisation can be overwhelmed if the reports are not meaningful and/or actionable. When defining the key elements of a capital project reporting system, consider the following:

» Made for decisions

Good systems help decision-making. Management teams get accurate, easy-to-understand and useful information. If management rates the project reports as "not very useful” or worse, then the project reporting system requires modifications.

» Large data sets made simple

Capital projects contain large volume of data. An effective reporting system will synthesise this data into meaningful dashboards, snapshot reports, and summary reports. Information should be shown in simple, easy-to-understand formats making analysis simpler.

» Regulation safe

Can the reporting system provide fast, comprehensive answers for regulatory requirements? Being able to generate the required information without excessive manual preparation of materials is a huge efficiency for regulatory mandates on project work.

» Data security and integrity

Not all capital projects deal with significant or highly-sensitive data. Despite this, all good reporting systems will adhere to clearly defined data integrity and security protocols for project information.A lack of adherence to security/privacy requirements  should be viewed as a red flag.

» Data discrepancies across reports

Reports for capital projects often communicate information in unique ways for different types of stakeholders (eg, variation of detail).

Report information should not contradict itself. Data discrepancies among reports should be a warning flag of reporting problems.

3. Reporting design, schedules and distribution

Ultimately a reporting system will succeed or fail in response to how  effective is its design layout and level of detail. Equally important is who gets what reports and when:

» Report layout formats

A report’s layout must communicate effectively and is as important as the information being reported. Major projects often require specialised reports to satisfy specific stakeholders. These reports typically cover safety, environmental, schedule, risk, quality and cost information.Summary and status reports may require more customisation but are invaluable to present information that allows decision-making to be made quickly. (Mastt specializes in this – our reports are designed to be actioned.)

Below are some summary and status reports that included in all major projects:

i) Project dashboard

A single-page snapshot of a project’s core metrics. It should communicate meaningful information that can be understood and actioned quickly.

Your project dashboard should be able to give you an up-to-date overview of all aspects that are critical to your projects.
ii) Summary management report

Management reports are routinely prepared fortnightly or monthly. They include management summaries or overviews of all major project categories such as cost budgets and forecasts, risks, contract and work progress, schedule milestones and other information deemed important by the project management team.

iii) Summary cost report

Summary cost reports – especially for major capital projects- are one of the most time-consuming activities for project managers. Contract and payment information often sits in separate systems, and budget data may require re-allocation over many cost categories. A good reporting system will enable efficient and accurate aggregation of this data.

iv) Risk reporting

Good risk reporting will include a combination of risk dashboards, risk analysis and notes about important risk mitigation impacts.Traditional systems may include a risk register. The best modern risk reporting systems will integrate directly with cost reporting, removing the need for duplicate data entry.

An interface of the risk reporting module in Mastt

v) Milestone schedule look-back and look-ahead

Understanding a major project’s detailed schedule is a challenge - it may have thousands of activities. Effective milestone reports will help management teams easily identify variances to key phase milestones.As well as provide a minimum three-week look-ahead schedule. Good reports will make past-and-future milestone statuses easily digestible.

» Timing of reporting

Senior organisational stakeholders will typically request reports at established intervals or milestones. And reporting system need to respond in kind. Creating a project report immediately before the scheduled deadline is essential to create a report containing the most relevant current information. Reporting systems that do not contain real-time data are a severe disadvantage to enabling well-informed project decisions (ie, 30-day-old reports = garbage in, garbage out). Currency of data is one of the main issues with non-real-time project reporting systems (eg, Excel).

» Distribution

There are frequent debates among project teams whether reports should be widely distributed or distributed on an as-needed basis only.There is merit in both approaches (collaboration vs close control of data).Whichever your preference, every major capital project should have an defined distribution matrix for all project reporting documents.

Conclusion

Capital asset owners and their project management teams need, real-time project reporting systems that establish trust in the data and enables fast decision making.

By implementing the core components outlined in this document, organisations will be better prepared to deal with the challenges of managing complex capital projects.

Mastt’s software enables organisations to deliver high-performance outcomes on their capital programs. View our product tour video to learn more or request a demo with one of product experts.

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