One of the most important pieces of project management is communicating about the status of your project. The status report can be an effective tool to help you communicate with others, near or far, about the timeline, budget, progress, and other details during the lifetime of your project.
The status report also help you to keep on top of your proposed schedule and budget, and allow you to anticipate any modifications that need to be made to your project plan. Status reports, when effectively presented, save you time and simplify record keeping and reporting to clients and supervisors. By following a few guidelines, you will create a status report that saves you time, enables you to strengthen control over your project, and frees you up to manage.
Status Report Overview
Use a status report to inform the reader about maintaining your schedule, staying within your budget, using the proper equipment, making the right assignments, and completing the job efficiently and correctly. Keep your status report as concise as possible. Limit the topics that you cover to essential news. Avoid extraneous discussions or background details that do not convey project status information.
The length of the report depends on complexity and audience. Sometimes a one-paragraph report or a simple chart or graph is sufficient. Other times, a two-page summary or more is needed. Normally, you are writing a status report to someone who is not working directly with you, but who needs to know your progress in order to coordinate with others or make decisions that affect the overall strategic plan. If you are writing on a regular basis to a manager or colleague who knows the project well and needs to be updated only on progress or other important topics, keep it short. When writing to someone who is less familiar with the project, or who is new to the project, provide lengthier explanations of your topics.
At times, a status report can be as simple as a chart or graph showing percent of completion and budget used over time. The chart can be updated in a matter of minutes and sent to the client or manager on a regular basis. If there are questions or interpretations that need further explanation, these can be addressed in a simple paragraph or footnote. Other times, a more comprehensive status report is required. You may decide to use a mixture of short and lengthier reports, and provide a full report with a shorter frequency, (i.e. monthly, quarterly, or annually) with brief updates or summaries every week. When a lengthier approach is needed, save yourself time over and over again by developing a template.
Create a template for your status report
Establish a standard template for status reports and use the same layout for every report. You may even want to print the report on a specially colored or designed paper that makes it recognizable each time it is published.
- Develop it once and use it time and again.
- Develop a template that guides you through the process of communicating key information in as few words as possible.
- Use visual cues to grab the reader’s attention and provide a context for your report. Your logo or a project logo at the top of the report orients the reader.
- Clear, descriptive headings that orient the reader also help you as writer to stay on track. It will be more difficult for you to miss an important point when you are pressed for time if the template is set up ahead of time for you.
- You might also decide to use a few well-placed icons to denote sections of your report.
- Establish a heading and numbering system that aids the reader to zero on key pints.
- Chunk information to guide the reader to topics of interest.
Using these techniques, the reader will be able to easily locate relevant information and will find your report friendlier to read. By spending time to set up a template, you will find writing to be easier and less time consuming.
Make use of a numbering system
A numbering system can also be beneficial in helping the reader to locate important information in the report. Numbering items within a chunk of information serves as an additional navigation tool for the reader. Remember that your goal is to communicate complex information in as few words as possible with the maximum impact possible.
A two-level outline numbering system can be an efficient way to organize your ideas and to aid the reader in cross-referencing information in subsequent reports. Each topic that you will cover can be assigned a number. General overview information in a topic sentence, followed by sequential statements about what you did or accomplished, allow for a structured, easy-to-follow format.
If you find numbering systems too formal or cumbersome, bullets can be used effectively for the same purpose.
Assemble your status report
- Begin to develop your template by writing an outline of several key points that you will want to include in each report. This process saves you time by eliminating the outline step each time you write a report. With your outline already created, you can skip the cumbersome step of deciding what you should say and start writing immediately.
- Fill in the information that goes with each topic. Think of writing your report as filling out a form, topic by topic. By using the fill-in-the-form approach, you will be more likely to stay on task and avoid straying from the purpose of the report.
- Chunking of information by topic streamlines your organization and guides the reader through your main points. A document designed to present information in sections is far more useful to the reader. With recognizable headings, the reader can easily scan sections for content. When information is organized in manageable chunks or topics, the reader will be able to focus on key sections of the report that are of interest, and not fear missing important information. Chunking information also helps you as the writer to eliminate repetition and communicate more information using fewer words.
- As you begin to write, provide short answers to your topics. Put topics that are of greater importance toward the beginning of the report.
- Begin your report with a summary statement of two to three lines that highlight what you want to communicate. The summary sets the tone for the rest of the report.
- Then complete the report by updating the reader on new findings for each key topic you plan to address.
When you produce future status reports, you will be able to confidently organize and write a report that will get noticed. Your reader will look forward to receiving your reports, and you will enhance your reputation as an organized, well-prepared project manager. The time that you invest in producing well-organized/easy-to-read status reports will pay off during the life of your project and into the future.
Status reports serve as a living record of your experience during o project. They can be an invaluable tool to help you and your coworkers approach your next project, avoid past pitfalls, and realistically allocate your time and resources.