(The Coffee Shop Chronicles, Part 4)
It has been a month since our new consultants had coffee. Maggie is waiting when I arrive and she looks pretty unhappy.
Maggie: My project got cancelled!
Gail: What happened?
Maggie: I thought things were going so well. The quarterly data were just coming in. I was starting to think about the interim report....
Maggie: And the new manager cut the program.
George and Chris breeze in, coffee in hand. Seeing that Maggie is upset, they sink quietly into their seats.
Gail: So there’s a new manager?
Maggie: Yes. Obviously he didn’t know much about the program or about how hard we were working on the evaluation. And of course, there are budget cutbacks so he had to cut something I guess. The staff are devastated.
Chris and George shake their heads, concerned.
Gail: Did you meet with this new person to provide an overview of the evaluation?
Maggie: Well, no. I didn’t get a chance. I thought about it but I was waiting to send the report at the end of the first year so that the evaluation would look really good.
Gail: And were you sending monthly status reports?
Maggie (looking down): Uh no, it seemed like a lot of extra work.
Gail: So the new manager didn’t have any documentation about how the evaluation was progressing. Did he have any early signs of program success?
Maggie (shaking her head): I was waiting for some data.... Maybe I should have realized that with all the cutbacks, questions might be asked. (She looks a bit pale.)
Gail: There are never any guarantees, Maggie. As contractors, we are always expendable. The program might have been cut anyway. Part of our job as evaluators is to stay accountable and the best way to do that is to keep the evaluation fresh in your client’s mind.
Chris: When do you send a status report?
Gail: It depends on the size of the contract and the needs of your client. You set up a routine reporting system. It can be monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly but every time you send an invoice, you send your client a status report. It’s a predictable milestone. They love getting them because it keeps them in the loop. Then if they get any questions about the evaluation from their superiors, they have the information they need. It makes them look good too.
Chris: So what do you put in your status report?
Gail: Well, I try to make it fit on one page, back to back. Once the template is set up, you can use it every month and just change the details. You begin with the purpose and objectives of the study and then the body of the report has two main sections:
- The Task Analysis. This is a table that updates all the tasks identified in your proposal or work plan. You add a column to indicate status, like Not Started, In Progress, or Completed and you add the pertinent dates to each. Sometimes you can use your status report as a field report too. You can provide a record of the number of interviews completed, surveys received, focus groups held, and so on.
- The Commentary. Then you providea couple of brief paragraphs about how the study is progressing, significant achievements during the month, emerging problems, and anything else of interest. Because I believe in a policy of no surprises, if a problem is arising, or if there is some kind of an unexpected change, I give my client an early warning here.
Then I finish with a brief remark highlighting something memorable that happened recently and thank them for the contract. After that, I follow it up with a phone call to see if they have any questions about the report or if they want to strategize about emerging issues.
George: It sounds like quite a bit of work.
Gail: Not really. Once you set it up, it only takes an hour or two. Because you know it is coming at the end of the month, you tend to keep your own records in good order so it is easy to find the information you need. It makes you accountable and it’s a good planning tool. As you summarize what happened last month, you think about what you need to do next.
Maggie (sighing): So now what am I going to do? This was my main project. I only have a couple of other small ones.
Chris: Well, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise until now, but I was going to talk to you anyway. My evaluation for the City is expanding. I don’t have enough time to do it all myself, and still keep my job part time which, as you know (he grins), my fiancée wants me to keep. I was hoping that you could take on the interview component.
Maggie (looking relieved): Sure! That will give me time to get some proposals out there.
Gail: And George? We haven’t had a chance to hear from you. How is your project at the university?
George: Well so far it’s been great. It’s nice to work with people I already know. Because it’s the end of the month, I was going to send out my first invoice. I guess I’ll be sending along a status report too!
All: (General laughter and encouraging remarks for Maggie.) Bye, everyone. Take care. See you next time!
For more on The Coffee Shop Chronicles—the continuing adventures of new consultants Maggie, Chris and George, see:
Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.