How To: Better Status Reporting

Submitted by Jennie Franke

Status reports can be mundane, both for the reader and the writer. Or they can be a very effective tool at creating transparency and aligning expectations when well written. It can ensure confidence in the project. So, how do you ensure you have a well written status report that relates value added information that your audience cares about?

TIP 1: Keep your audience in mind, and tailor the communication to them. Your status report is probably going to more than one person, and it’s a challenge to provide valuable information to a range of stakeholders (sponsor, business representatives, management and leadership, project team and maybe others). What do they want to know and why should they care? It can be difficult to provide a single communication that meets all their different needs. So, although the points below are good general items to keep in mind, if they don’t make sense for your audience or organization, then adjust.

TIP 2: When creating a status report, provide key information in the order of importance:

  1. Brief project information – project name, date, links to key project information in case more detail is needed, maybe a brief summary if the name is not sufficient, etc.
  2. Project Health – are we tracking to plan? This needs to be up front and clear; it’s what people ultimately want to know. Everything else is just providing detail to support this piece of information. Within Enterprise Applications, we reflect this in 4 categories – Schedule, Budget, Resources and Scope.
  3. If not tracking to plan, what steps are being taken to get us back on course (path to green)? This should be time boxed. When will the issue be resolved? If that is unknown, when will the impact analysis be complete? Or what is the target to provide more information such as a new project plan to absorb the impact of the issue? When will a change request will be submitted? Set expectations with the stakeholders on when they can expect more information if you can’t commit to it now. It is your responsibility to set expectations for how and when the team will have a plan in place.
  4. Project Highlights – what major accomplishments or decisions were completed SINCE THE LAST STATUS? Status reports are sent out each week (or some type of regular cadence). If it was reported previously, then don’t continue to report it. Your audience has already been told. The report should reflect now, not be a running history of the project. (*disclaimer/qualifier at the end of this article.)
    1. On the topic of accomplishments – these should be things that are complete or other major events. Be careful not to include a list of tasks, meetings and in-progress activities. Was a major milestone met? Was a decision made or a risk successfully mitigated? Was there resolution to a major blocker previously reported? Consider your audience, and ensure this is relevant information that they want or need to know.
    1. Once a decision has been made (such as a revised go live date), that is now the plan. Make sure your language reflects that after the decision was made and communicated. The next report, that date is no longer delayed, extended, revised; it is the plan. Don’t leave your audience looking at your status update and asking, “Did we change the date again?” because the “revised” target date is still being communicated as “revised” a month later.
    1. If there are no major accomplishments or decisions, leave this section blank or remove it. No one wants to read something that the team had to stretch to identify in order to fill space. It’s okay to say that there were “no accomplishments this period.”
  5. Planned accomplishments – what is your team committing to completing before the next status communication?
    1. Be sure to list things that will complete and not just be works in progress.
    1. Again, if there are no tasks or decisions that will be completed, it is okay to leave this space blank or remove it. But it is important to reflect on if you are able to stay on track if there are no accomplishments to be completed.
    1. It may make sense to list upcoming tasks or decisions with due date IF you have nothing due before the next status communication.
  6. How are we tracking against our milestones? This is more contextual, providing the bigger picture of where we are in the project, so it can be near the end of the report.
    1. With our team, this is a table with the milestones, due date, % complete and notes.
    1. The milestones allow a quick view of where the project has been and where you are going. It is another way to set expectations with your stakeholders for what is coming next, but in terms of the entire project.
    1. This should mirror your project health – if you are tracking to plan, any milestone dates that have passed should be complete. If you’ve missed a date, I recommend including some notes or referencing your “Get to Green” plan.
  7. Optional – What major issues, risks or dependencies are you actively managing? These are often provided in a RAID log or similar document. There is not an expectation that you report the full detail here. But, are there are specific items that the stakeholders need to be aware of because the team is working through them, or their impact is imminent?
  8. Optional – Budget Details. Depending on your project, it may be appropriate to provide an accounting of how we are tracking to budget.

TIP 3: Proofread and pay attention to detail. I’m as guilty as the next person of typos or missing words. I hate proofreading my own work (apologies if there are any in this article). But incorrect or conflicting information, typos and sentences that just don’t make sense will impact confidence in your ability to lead the project, and also confidence in the project work itself. Is it really on track (green) if the milestone target date was last week but it’s marked as only 15% complete?

*TIP 4: Thoughts regarding status reports NOT being a running history of the project. Occasionally, I hear from Project Managers that not all stakeholders are able to review each report, so they include information for several iterations to avoid confusion.

  • My first thought is, if the information presented in your status is not new and value added, then it won’t get read every week.
  • However, if an item really is so significant it should live over multiple status communications, then be sure to include the date so that your reader knows how timely that information is (and doesn’t have to go back through old reports to find that context).
  • EXAMPLE: Phase 2 was put On Hold as of 8/24/2020 in order to allow the business to focus on key operational work. Team will revisit after Phase 1 Testing is complete in early Oct.

Status reports can be a very powerful and effective tool to build transparency and trust. They are a standard tool in our project toolbox that people expect and we, as project leads, can use to set the stage around project conversations.