Chances are, at this stage in your career, you’ve completed dozens of progress reports—if not hundreds. But how effective have they been? Did you have a clear purpose when writing the reports—for instance, did you want your stakeholders to take certain action as a result of them? Or did you fill them in because it was one of those routine tasks that had to be done?
You might have been very conscientious and particular when filling in your reports, but unfortunately not everyone is, and as a result, the weekly status report becomes one of those artifacts that is part of the project management process without adding much value.
Most common mistakes
Some of the classic mistakes that project managers make are that they include too much static information and not enough about what the real project issues are. In that way, the report is not a true reflection of what is really going on. If you just write about what happened during the last reporting period and what you’ll do during the next reporting period—without mentioning how that compares to the plan and what the real risks and issues are—there’s no incentive for executives to pay attention to it. In many cases the report is even attached in an email without any context or description, meaning that executives who rely on smartphones are unlikely to ever get to the information.
The perfect progress report
So, what does a perfect status report look like? Well, first and foremost it’s a simple report, preferably on one page, and adds real value by providing an overview of milestones, risks, issues, and budgetary information—at a minimum.
Here are some guiding dos and don’ts for writing progress reports:
- Include the name of the sponsor and the project manager.
- Keep the information to one page.
- Include the top five risks and issues, including owner and mitigating action.
- Include information about the budget and how you are tracking to it.
- Include an overview of the major milestones, their planned dates and a RAG status of each.
- List key successes and achievements from the last period.
- List any earned value metrics you might have, but keep the list simple and graphical.
- Make it clear what action you want people to take, for example: Is this report just for information or do you require a decision from anyone?
- Don’t include too much static information about the background of the project.
- Don’t send out the report via email without providing any context in the body of the mail. Executives may never read the report, so provide a summary in the email itself.
- Don’t send out bad news in a project report without speaking to people first. You don’t want your sponsor to read about a major issue without being there to explain the situation.
An effective status report can go a long way. Just make sure you put some thought into it up front to get the most out of it—for yourself, the team and the organization.
What are the ingredients that go into your perfect progress report?
This blog first appeared on Susanne Madsen’s Developing Project Leaders blog.