Overview with tools, software, best practices and alternatives
What are automatic reports?
Automatic reports are one of the best business innovations that the Internet revolution has brought. By automating the reports done on projects, thousands of manpower hours are saved and channeled to other more productive pursuits. The company and its people are given more time to spend on other tasks and even leisure and family are accommodated when project reports are automatically generated instead of being manually done.
Automatic reports are involuntary response mechanisms of programmed machines. Report generation follows the formatting and scheduling that are specified in the reporting softwares’ program. With the collection of field reports from remote project team members, the program takes over and everything from there flows dramatically fast and automatic. Reports resulting from the summation of such field reports are then produced by the machine and generated for everyone to see.
One outstanding example of automatic report generation is the use of email reporting softwares for the issuance of project management reports. Such software tools as email reporters are web based and functions by submitting final reports that are summaries of individual field reports from the members of the project team who are usually remote working (remote workers make email reports very applicable). These email reporting tools are for the most part automatic, whilst participation of personnel are done with the initial set up procedures ( done by the project manager as the administrator of the email reporting account) and the filing of individual reports by the team members.
The routine nature of status reports have necessitated the automatic approach to the process of report generation. Before the use of automatic reporting softwares, traditional practices typically include the copying and pasting of team member reports to the overall project status reports. These processes are then repeated for the daily, weekly and monthly updates. If there are a number of teams having numbers of members, one can easily see how strenuous it can be if manual methods are used instead of automated procedures.
Who does automatic reports and why?
Three levels of users are typically included in the generation of the automatic report:
- The normal user – These users pertain to the project team members such as remote workers, who issue their own reports to their team’s automatic reporting software account. The project status is best presented when all the members of the team can provide status updates for his or her own responsibilities within the project. Also remote problems and issues can be identified from the data provided by remote and field workers of the project team.
- The manager – Managers, on the other hand, submit project status reports from summations of the individual reports of remote and field workers. Minimal intervention must be exercised by the project manager in assaying the project report. He must also discern which information is relevant enough to be passed on to the senior executives, clients and stakeholders involved in the project.
- Administrator – The administrator is the one in charge of the general information concerning the project team’s account on the automatic reporting software in the Internet or Intranet. He manages the passwords involved, the levels of accessibility for different company personnel who needs to access the report and some other management information regarding the team’s account.
How to do automatic reports
First, a capable automatic reporting software must be chosen for the project team by those in charge of the project management. To house the software and its procedures, capable computer architectures must also be made ready for them.
In setting up the initial working status of the automatic report, the scheduling of collection and issuance of reports is determined by the administrator from the working schedules of all the members of the team. Queries for remote and field team workers to submit their individual reports are usually issued by the web based reporting software an hour before the worker’s finishing time. This is to allow those who finish ahead of schedule to report immediately without having to wait.
With regards to the content of the reports, users (remote and field working team members) log in to their respective accounts (usually email accounts) and choose from the categories that the automatic report presents to them. Into the chosen category, the user then inputs the work done by him for that time period. Categories may be presented as Scrum style questions such as: “What have I accomplished?”, “What will I do today?” and “What are the impediments blocking my progress?”.
These are the standard procedures and contents for generating automatic reports. The administrator, who is sometimes the project manager as well, can modify existing arrangements in the automatic report to suit the project and the project team’s needs.
Advantages and pitfalls in the use of automatic reports
Automatic reports contribute a significant time advantage to the management of the team’s project. To illustrate this point, consider the practice of copying and pasting of reports as used to be done in times before the Internet. Team members submit their reports to the project manager, who then copies and pastes it to an overall status report that is distributed to all concerned.
For a given number of reports submitted by a given number of project team members, the copying and pasting is repeated in the same number of times. Continue with this process for the daily, weekly and monthly reports and, easily, it can be seen that it is an overflooding of work. Automatic reports practically eliminate this overflooding of copying and pasting experienced in the semi-manual methods used prior to the advent of the Internet.
With respect to pitfalls that may arise in the use of automatic reports, the process of entering the data to the report poses a significant challenge to the accuracy of the reports. For if wrong data is entered in on the automatic reports, the error could be repeated several times, depending on the iterations contained in the automatic report. Thus utmost care in entered data must be practiced to ensure continuous accuracy of report generation.
Best practices in doing automatic reports
The thing to consider most in the process of automatic report generation is the understanding of the structure of that automatic report. Automatic reports are usually structured by the contract-subcontract-tasks-subtasks hierarchy of categories that project team reports are put into. Other categorizations may be implemented depending on the project team’s needs but what is important is that all the users – the team members, project managers, the account administrators – must know and understand the structure of the automatic report.
Understanding the structure of the report would pave the way for the smooth flow of the automatic reports. Errors are avoided and unnecessary delays in report generation are also averted.
Teamreporter as an automatic report generator
Teamreporter is one of the simplest, if not already the simplest, automatic report generator in the Internet market today. In cost and operation, Teamreporter stands out with its many simple and easy to use features. Only the necessary features of a typical web based email reporting application are contained in Teamreporter, improving on the aspects of usability and applicability for remote workers. In principle, Teamreporter collects status updates from the team members and then summarizes this collection of updates into an overview of the project status. In operation, Teamreporter procedures are:
- Creating questions that the team members will answer.
- Tailoring the questions to be asked to fit project needs
- Scheduling the sending out of email queries.
- Team members replying with their status reports.
- Upon receiving individual team member reports,scheduling of overall status updates to every team member.
- Adopting preset business scenarios.
- Prompting team members who forget their reports.
- Arranging an archive of team status reports
It has the following advantages:
- Ready in 5 minutes
- Free startup
- Accessible even to novice users and managers
- No IT software or hardware requirements
- Only email login required for Team members
Teamreporter is best for remote working teams and field workers who needs to stay updated all the time.
Alternatives to automatic reports
Cloud computing could function similarly to automatic reports although not having the presentation that automatic reporting forms have.
In a sense, remote team members can access databases located in the computer cloud and obtain data relevant to their work from there.
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Teamreporter is free for small teams (up to 4 members)