The Absurdity of Status Reports

The Absurdity of Status Reports

I was reading a New York Times article about Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer of Hamilton. He’s basically the guy that puts up the money to make the show in the hopes that it will be a success. While the show was in rehearsals, when he wanted to know how the show was coming along, do you think he asked a project manager for a status report? Or do you think he stopped by a rehearsal?

Of course he stopped by a rehearsal. Receiving an update in any other format would be absurd. What would a status report look like anyway?

  • Rehearsals held: 13
  • Lines memorized: 27%
  • Costumes: design complete
  • Overall status: GREEN

 
Why does this seem so absurd? After all, this is what we do in software development. I think there are two main reasons. First, it’s much easier to stop by a rehearsal than it is to cobble together a list of measurements of activities that indirectly represent the end product. Second, we intuitively understand that the information Seller would gather at a rehearsal would be so much richer and closer to the truth than any status report ever could be.

So why does software development still live by the status report? Why do our leaders ask for them rather than just “stopping by rehearsal”? Maybe it’s because our platforms don’t make it easy for impromptu inspections. Maybe it’s because our processes don’t provide much visibility into the product for an inspection to be of any value.

Look at your systems and the processes that support them. What changes can you make that would make an inspection easier than the creation of a status report?

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