Raise your hand if you love creating reports. That’s what I thought. No one loves reporting. But you have to do them, whether you like it or not, right? So, why not learn how to create status reports that are simple and easy to customize, so you can spend more time doing the work you actually enjoy doing?
A status report offers a snapshot of a project to anyone who needs to be kept in the loop. That could be your boss, project stakeholders, project sponsors or even your team. A good report offers a comparison of where the project is as opposed to where it should be at that point in the schedule. Project reporting keeps everyone informed. In short, it’s a vital communication tool.
Though it might seem like a chore, it doesn’t have to be. The better you know what makes up a project status report, what to track, and how to communicate through project updates, the less the task will feel tedious. Who knows? You might even begin to enjoy them.
Key Aspects of Project Progress
When you’re preparing to create an impactful project status report, keep in mind these principles of communication and reporting. These guidelines will help you become a better communicator about your project.
Principles of Reporting
- Stay Focused: What are you trying to communicate? If it’s a general overview of the whole project, then don’t go into unnecessary details that your target audience isn’t interested in. But if the project management data you’re sharing needs to be targeted, then make sure the data is related only to that aspect of the project. The more you veer from your topic, the less effective you are as a communicator.
- Be Clear: This applies to the above tip, but on a more granular level. That is, if you’re reporting on a specific aspect of the project, you want to boil down the data to tell a concise story. There might be details you find relevant, but if they’re not relevant to your reader then you’re just going to confuse them. If they have questions afterwards, or want to go into greater depth, then do so. But stick to the facts that are pertinent to the issues first.
- Keep a Record: The great thing about having an ongoing reporting process is that you now have an historical record of the project. You can look back and track key decisions, progress and various actions taken over the course of the project. So, keep in mind that your reporting might also serve as a primer for someone who might have to temporarily run the project while you’re out of the office or sick. It can also serve as a template for similar projects in the future and help you avoid the same roadbumps.
- Know the Big Picture: The overall health and progress of the project is naturally of interest to the project’s stakeholders and sponsors, even when you’re drilling down into specific details of the data. Use high level data snapshots to remind your audience of the overall project’s progress before you get micro with the data. It’s important to also remind people (and yourself) of the overall goals and benefits of the project.
What You’re Reporting On
When you’re crafting your report, you’re going to need to address these key points honestly and clearly:
- Status: Well, that’s obvious, but it’s important to remember that the report is being generated to note what the status of the project is at that time. Is it ahead of schedule, behind, or track?
- Progress: Outline the project’s progress. Compare the planned versus the actual progress of the project to get a quick look at where you are in terms of the project schedule.
- Decisions: What decisions were made over the course of time being reported on? Why were they made and how were they implemented? These are all questions you’ll want to answer.
- Actions: What actions did you take, and how did you take them. All of details of your response to the project must be outlined.
- Overall Effects: After you’re done with that, take a moment to wrap up by noting what they effect of the above actions have been on the overall project.
How to Write a Status Report
So, what are the steps you take to write a good project progress report? First, you need a structure. You can start with our free status reporting template. This Excel doc provides an easy-to-complete framework for addressing the following steps. But before you even begin, remember to consider who your audience is. Once you have a target, it’s easier to hit. Whether that target audience is your project stakeholder and sponsor or your team, the process is basically the same, but the data might be different. Use your judgment. And then follow these 5 simple steps:
Step 1: What are the Key Highlights?
Start with the key project highlights. Add the sponsor and the date. Be sure to note the project manager, of course. You should have space to add progress and achievements, and don’t forget an overall project timeline completion schedule. This part is basically an executive summary. It’s a good place to note what you need and when.
Step 2: What Needs Attention?
If there is something that requires immediate attention, you’ll want to note it here. It’s a placeholder for you, and it’s a way to communicate that need to those who can address it. You can also use this as a means to ask for support. Maybe you need more money for resources that weren’t initially earmarked, so start the conversation here.
Step 3: Note Milestones
Milestones in project management are larger than tasks, but smaller than the project. They’re the points in the schedule when you’ve completed a major phase of the project. This will help you see where you are in progressing through the project, and inform your stakeholders or sponsor whether you’re on schedule or not. If you want, or your stakeholder asks, you can list all the major completed tasks here as well.
Step 4: What Are the Key Risks and Issues?
Issues are problems that have occurred in the project, risks are ones that might happen. List them. Don’t go overboard, just note the big ones and prioritize them. This way you’re providing a transparent picture of the project to your stakeholders and sponsors. They know you’re on top of things if you note the actions you’re taking to resolve these issues. But don’t use reports to deliver (or bury) really bad news. Critical project information needs a face-to-face conversation the moment you’re aware of it.
Step 5: What’s the Budget?
Note how much of the budget you’ve spent and the overall percentage spent. You’re not going to get too detailed here, but do explain if you’re behind, ahead, or on target. A good way to do this is by comparing the actual expenditure versus the forecasted spend.
What PM Tools Can Do
Project management software has the features to make creating a progress report that much easier. When the reporting tools are online, you’re getting up-to-date data and it helps with facilitating sharing of the reports.
- Customize Reports: Reporting to a project executive or stakeholder requires tailoring the data to fit the audience. By customizing your report, you can filter just the information you want to share with just a click of the keyboard.
- Share Your Report: When your PM tool is online, sharing is simple. You can always generate a report and print it out, but a keystroke will share the report just as easily as an email, PDF or Excel spreadsheet.
- Monitor Progress: Reporting tools can help you by calculating the planned versus actual progress across individuals, tasks and projects in just one click. You can instantly know how many days you’re behind schedule and act on it sooner than if you had to figure all that out manually.
- Reports Across Projects: If you’re managing a portfolio, you can view the progress of all your projects from one page. You can also generate project reports from this page as well, or drill down for greater detail as needed.
Generating status reports doesn’t have to take hours. With ProjectManager.com, a cloud-based project management software, you’re able to get real-time data, generate the report you need by customizing and filtering, and then share it quickly and easily. See for yourself by taking this free 30-day trial.