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How To Keep Your Project On Track With Project Status Reports

 

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A project status report is a way to convey the current status of, well, your project. A status report is an important communication tool used by Producers and Project Managers to keep clients, team members, and stakeholders up to date. As a famous person once said:

The art of communication is the language of leadership.
– James C. Humes, author, and former presidential speechwriter.

Translated into project manager terms, this means that throughout the project lifecycle, you’re going to need a plan in place to regularly tell your team and client what’s what.

There are different formats that a project status report can take. What you want to focus on is A) making something that is thorough and informative in all the right ways and B) makes something that is appealing enough that it is actually read. There are a few of the things I will touch upon in this article.

project-controls-simplified-change-request-status-report-raid-log

This article will go over:

What a status report is
Types of status reports
Why status reports are important
Critical elements of a project status report
Optional elements
What to avoid
Steps to create a weekly status report

I’ll also point you toward a resource to download a status report template so that you are set up for success.

Project status reports are necessary and can be a bit of a time sink; my hope is to break it down in a way that makes it as easy and intuitive as possible.

What Is A Project Status Report?

A project status report includes all the business-critical efforts, progress, and risk associated with a single project. A snapshot of where things are at.

A project status report may be used to:
  • Streamline communication efforts across the organization and stakeholders
  • Make it easier to gather and disseminate information about key elements of the project
  • Ensure stakeholders have all necessary information for decision-making
  • Amplify key messages and goals around the project
  • Act as a record-keeper of past events, actions, and decisions
What is included in a status report:
  • Summary of Work Completed
  • A Plan for What Comes Next
  • Updates on Budget and Timeline
  • Any Action Items/To-Dos
  • Report on Risks, Issues, and Mitigation

Types of Project Status Reports

Weekly VS Monthly Status Reports

Different types of data should be reported at different times. That’s why we have Monthly and Weekly status report types. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from each.

Weekly Status Report

A project manager should maintain a weekly status report document constantly, jotting in updates and stats as they happen in real-time. You will most likely have a day of the week in mind for when to send it; however, the magic of a weekly report should be that it can be ready within the hour if a client requests it.

Monthly Status Report

A monthly- or bi-monthly status report should be a “bigger picture” document that can quickly get upper management caught up on progress and developments. Leave out minute details and focus on what matters to them: budget, costs, the status of deliverables, and any major risks or roadblocks.

Quarterly Status Reports

Quarterly status reports are, obviously, covering an extended period of time (anywhere from 3-4 months). Thus, if they are required, you are going to want to be mindful of their length. Come up with 3-4 top-level priorities or goals and report on them here. Focus on quantitative progress, not big ideas. Make it an “elevator pitch” of your work so far.

External VS Internal Status Reports

Status reports, like any written document, must be tailored to an audience. Your client prefers different content in their status report than your internal team. Adjust your reporting to these wants and desires.

External Status Reports

Be straightforward and honest…but also optimistic. The tone will be highly professional and it should be proofed by several people before it is sent out. Orient it around high-level goals, as external stakeholders won’t necessarily care about the minutia. External status reports will most likely focus on a broader array of issues, rather than delving deep into one at a time (unless required by the client).

Internal Status Reports

The tone can be more transparent here. If you’ve hit the panic button, it’s fine to let your team know why. Also, a vibrantly upbeat report is appropriate if you want to accentuate a job well done. No need to hold back. This report will also be more detail-oriented, fixating on individual tasks and items that are of value to your team. Internal reports may, sometimes, focus on fewer issues and just do a deep-dive where it’s needed most.

Project Status Report Template

To help you begin issuing project status reports immediately and effectively, there’s a project status report template available for download in the DPM Membership template library, along with 50+ other project templates, checklists, samples, tables, and ebooks.

Screenshot of Project Status Report

The project status report template in DPM Membership can be used for delivering weekly project status reports or monthly project status reports.

Plus, there’s a filled-in sample to help you understand what a finished report should look like.

Learn how to get the template here.

Why Are Status Reports Important?

The best project status reports create accountability and ownership within your team. They uncover issues, mitigate risks, and most of all – ensure you’re on track towards your project goals.

For clients, project status reports provide value. It gives them confidence that their money is delivering value. It can make them look good to their bosses. It can ensure funding continues in the future. It can also totally save your ass in that you have a paper trail in case things go off the rails.

Project status reports are created after your project plan is in place and things are in motion. If we want to get super precise, it’s during the Monitoring & Controlling phase. Typically, they are sent on a weekly or monthly basis. Heck, you can even do it on the daily – but only if necessary.

Project status reports can be delivered in a variety of methods. There is no perfect way to do it. Email. Monitoring & Controlling. Verbally, and then followed up with a PDF. The options and combinations are endless.

Project status reports are not, and should not serve as task Producers & PMs do because it’s part of the job responsibilities. It’s a Producer/Project Manager’s duty to make meaningful and useful status reports. Not just to “do the status report” that nobody reads.

What Does a Project Status Report Include?

In your status report, you must include the following:

1. Project Name / Client Name

status report screenshotThis step should be obvious. Make sure you record WHO the report is for and WHAT the report entails (ie. what project).

2. Project Vision

project vision screenshotThis should be a simple sentence about what your project is and what the main goal/vision is. A 10,000ft view. The good news, is that once it’s done – you won’t need to revise it.

Examples:
  • Drive qualified customers to “purchase” kombucha via mobile devices based on an improved UI.
  • With this project, we hope to increase online kombucha sales through the implementation of a drip email marketing campaign.
  • Launch a website by June 2018 that allows customers to purchase Killer Kombucha and reflects Killer Kombucha as having the highest quality & best-tasting product in its category.

3. Project Health

project health update exampleThere are a few different ways you can spin this, but I quite like the “stoplight method”. Green for good. Yellow for some issues. Red for this is a hot mess. A note to support is always helpful.

Examples:
  • Green: We’ve obtained approval on drip email designs. No budget concerns at this time.
  • Yellow: The drip email designs need significant revisions, therefore the final delivery date has been delayed by 1 week.
  • Red: The drip email campaign has drastically shifted direction since starting. We need to set-up a meeting to establish a wants/wishes for the project.

Another item I highly encourage you to include would be the project spend & timeline. By providing your client & team regular updates on how the project is performing against budget and timeline, you will encourage awareness and drive the value of project efforts. This is also a GREAT record for you to see trends and prevent your project from going off the trails.

4. What We Completed This TIMEFRAME

status report timeframe screenshotThese should be listed in bullet format. Keep these short & simple. They’re not Jira tickets. Don’t explain the “how” just what.

Example:
  • Obtained approval for 3 drip email designs

[w. Link to approved deliverable]

  • Completed handoff to development team & confirmed delivery timeline

5. What We Plan To Complete Next TIMEFRAME

status report plan complete screenshotClear, precise task list here presented in bullet format.

Example:
  • Develop the three emails
  • Perform internal QA & testing
  • Pass off to client QA & testing

6. Issues/Roadblocks

project issues screenshotThis is where you can raise any red flags or obstacles keeping you from moving forward.

Example:
  • If we do not obtain client feedback by 06/02, we will be in jeopardy of not being able to send the email to consumers the same day as the product will be available in stores.

7. Upcoming Tasks & Milestones

upcoming tasks screenshotA 10000 ft view of what’s going on. Is there anything that the viewer should review? What’s coming up next?

Examples:
  • dd/mm: Client QA & Testing
  • dd/mm: Email Deployment

Here’s what it looks like all together:

weekly project status report example

Optional Items To Include Based On Your Project:

  • Links to your project timeline
  • Links to completed deliverables
  • Action items
  • Funny gifs, links to team playlists, etc.
  • Weekly thank yous or gratitude to team members and clients
  • Links to relevant articles/industry trends
  • A RAID log

Don’t Include Any Of This:

How To Create A Project Status Report

Now that you have an itemized list of everything that should be included in a status report…it’s time to start reporting! Here’s a step-by-step guide detailing how to actually sit down and CREATE a status report.

1. Gather Your Data

Before you write a report you have to collect the information you need to report on. This means pulling data from various sources so that you have a full understanding of the timeframe, budget, events, and other items that are of importance.

Get Data From Your Project Management Software

If you’re using a PM software, a lot of your key project data will be ready for you to use in your report, such as budget used or hours spent. Here are a few of the top tools I’d recommend if you’re not using one already:

You can also see the full overviews of these project management tools.

Get Data from Your Project Timeline

Your project timeline should include any dates, events, and/or actions in the order that they occurred. This is a great first place to look to gather information for your status report. This document will also remind you of any upcoming deadlines that you should call attention to.

Compile Financial Information

You will most likely be reporting on costs and budgeting. Therefore, it’s imperative to have these details readily available when you sit down to build your status report. Pull from timesheets, expense reports, bank statements, and estimates…whatever it takes to get a complete financial picture.

Determine RAG Status

You will want to let your client and/or team know whether the project is healthy, stalled, or in crisis. However, you first need to do your research and develop a thesis for which area you fall into. It’s up to the project manager to call attention to status changes, from Red (bad), Amber (okay), or Green (all good).

2. Check-In with Your Team

You now have the information that you A) are aware of and B) have deemed important. But it might be wise to check-in with your team and see if they have any additional updates or details to add.

3. Source a Status Report Template (optional)

You don’t have to create a status report from scratch. Like many types of documents, there is a wide range of templates available for you to use if you so choose. Just swap out the holding place logo for your company logo and voila, ready to start reporting.

Learn below about the project status report template in DPM Membership.

4. Outline Key Segments

For your own sanity, zip through the entire document and leave short 3-4 word jot notes in the major categories to help guide you as an outline. It’s way too easy to forget something or go off on a tangent. Your outline will help keep things on track.

The Summary

The first section you will want to outline is the report summary. Unlike the rest of your outline, you might want to construct 2-3 full, pristine sentences here. This is going to dictate the tone and direction the rest of the report will take.

Example: This report will outline the current status of the online marketing project for Killer Kombucha. We will touch on the status of the drip email marketing campaign, with a focus on the current design tasks and segmentation of audience lists.

The Key Items/Milestones

Jot down 2-3 key items and/or milestones that you plan to address in your report. You won’t be able to touch on every little detail of your work so you should pick a coherent focus.

Example:
  • E-blast header image approved
  • Waiting on body text revisions from the client
  • Finalized audience segmentation recommendations

The Notes & Links

Anything else to add? Something you want to link out to? Have a thought that doesn’t fit in elsewhere? Leave yourself a note here.

5. Write An Ugly First Draft

The first thing you’re going to do – is to create an Ugly First Draft of your status report. I learned about the Ugly First Draft from “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley and I’ve applied it to lots of efforts as a PM.

Basically, this is where you just word vomit everything you know about the project within your set template. For me, this is the time where I think back and I think forward to what’s going on. This exercise is important because it allows you to really think through and digest the happenings on your project. It allows you to dump all the information out – without punishing yourself to edit and format along the way.

Then, take a break.

6. Edit Your Work

Come back and edit your status report. You want to ensure your status report is accurate and clear of errors. Sending perfect reports shows your clients and team that you’ve put time and thought into the status report – that it is important and of value. Simple mistakes can send the message that you don’t care.

Double-check that your status report includes the following:
  • Project Name/Client Name
  • Project Vision
  • Project Health
  • What was recently completed
  • What you plan to complete next
  • Issues/Roadblocks
  • Upcoming Tasks & Milestones
Also…..
  • Cut the word fat. Can you say things simpler? More direct?
  • Correct grammar, punctuation, spelling
  • Add in anything you forgot, or that’s changed since your first draft.
  • Can you get it down to one page? Not required – but this will help you avoid information overload.

7. Send & Deliver

Now you’ve created your project status report and it’s ready for sending. Well done! Here are some tips to ensure it’s received positively by the team and your client.

Add Sugar Before You Send

What’s important here is that you distribute to your team and clients with a little “sugar”. I learned this valuable skill from a boss a few years ago. Be complimentary. Be Kind. Go out of your way to deliver this status report with a dose of written cheer. In other words, avoid sounding like a robot.

Your project status reports will be received more positively with a thoughtful note vs. just a link to “look here” which sends a message to others that the document is not important.

Deliver Alongside A Status Meeting

It’s common that status reports are issued at the same time as a status report meeting. It serves as a general agenda and leave behind item for others. This is not required, but it certainly provides a great opportunity for the team and/or client to discuss the project and uplevel any risks, challenges or concerns. Re-issue the status report if changes have been made during the status meeting.

Effective Ways To Send A Status Report

Slack, email, basecamp, Teamweek, etc. Choose a method and stick to it. I would try and encourage you to avoid from sending in multiple mediums so that you create less work for yourself and ensure the audience knows how and when it will be delivered.

8. Confirm Receipt & Engagement

The last thing you can do is “send” the status report and check out. Your team and client are accountable for reading it – it’s your job to follow up to enforce that accountability.

Ask the audience of your report to confirm that they’ve read the report within 24 hours. A simple “got it” or thumbs up emoji via Slack is great. Do they have questions? You want to ensure that the project status report is being read and is an effective tool for project communication.

Anybody who doesn’t respond – follow up directly. Don’t reply all and call them out. That’s poor form.

9. Rinse & Repeat (+ feedback)!

The last piece of advice I have is to ask your audience to provide feedback. This is a document for them. You want to ensure it’s helping – not hurting.

Check-in occasionally to see if there’s anything you can cut, include or improve to make your status reports serve your team and clients better.

Project Status Report Best Practices

Okay, now that we know what it is, and what it includes, and how to make one – here’s some general do’s and don’ts to help guide you along. Here is my best advice for crafting a status report for the ages:

Accommodate different learning styles

Remember: Not everyone can read a whole text document and have it stick. Include text, jot notes, visuals, and links in your status report to highlight important areas. Additionally, schedule some client facetime with each report. Talking it out and asking questions on-the-fly will make more of an impact for your client.

Keep Things Simple, Stupid! (KISS)

Ah, yes—the good ol’ K.I.S.S. principal. Keep the status report simple, for your client’s sake and yours. If a status report is taking way too long to create or read through, you are decreasing the likelihood that these things are going to happen (or, at least, happen with any level of accuracy).

Stay accountable by scheduling recurring status meetings

The first status report + meeting may feel like a bit of a scramble but it only gets easier as time goes on. Soon, you’ll fall into a routine that makes it second nature to build and share a status report. Schedule recurring status meetings right off the bat, not as you are ready for them, to hold yourself accountable to a deadline.

Try to make status meetings bit more fun

Human interaction makes us, well, human. Take a brief moment to catch up on non-work-related things. Break the ice with something casual and memorable, just stay away from “faux pas” topics like gossip or politics. Be an active listener and make an effort to converse in a way that feels natural, not like you have an agenda.

Always have a status report on-the-go

Don’t leave your status report preparations until the very last minute. Instead, have an in-progress document that you can add to as events happen in real-time. Think of it this way: If someone needs an immediate status report out-of-the-blue, you want something that you can show them right away. Always be prepared!

Have A Stellar Project Status Report to Brag About?

Congrats! You’re now in a position to deliver effective and informative project status reports!

Have a tried and true project status report template/outline? Share it with us!

Feel like status reports take up Friday afternoons and keep you from happy hour with your co-workers? Let’s strategize how to get you to the bubbly in the comments.

Have a horror story about project status reports? Tell us.

 

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Robyn Birkedal

About Robyn Birkedal

Hi! I'm Robyn but I usually go by RB in written format. I'm a Portland, OR based Senior Engineering Project Manager. I've been in the industry for the past 9 years and produced a wide swath of digital efforts including websites, product UX/UI, digital experiences, social, and even a national broadcast spot. I enjoy beer, emojis, list making, and puppies.

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