Lists are important. They help us prioritize—and remember to complete—important tasks. For example, have you ever gone to the grocery store specifically for something, then left with a cart full of everything but? If you leave your grocery list at home, you’re at the mercy of our fallible human memory.
As a project manager, you need to create regular status reports to update stakeholders on project progress. And just like at the grocery store, no matter how often you create project status reports, without a list there’s a chance you’ll forget something.
To ensure your weekly status updates contain the essential information your stakeholders need, we’ve created a simple checklist you can use:
Now, we’ll look at each section in more detail and explain what information you should include and how you should structure your report. We’ll also explore how project tracking software can be used to help you create your status reports.
PRO TIP: Put the most important information at the top of the report.
Why? Because your stakeholders probably won’t read the whole thing. This way, the stakeholders who read the Executive Overview and skim the rest will have a summary of the most important information.
The first section in your report is the executive overview. It should include a high-level overview of the project status, broken down into three parts as follows:
1. Project identifiers.
- Project name
- Project ID/code
- Name of project manager
- Date of report
It may seem obvious to reference the project name and other items, but without having them on your list, they can be easy to overlook. With the exception of the report date, the project identifiers will stay the same week-to-week.
Including the date of the status report is very important: This helps establish an accurate project timeline.
2. Progress summary. This section should include a high-level review of overall project goals and the progress made toward them so far. Is the project on track, behind or ahead of schedule? Is it over or under budget? The progress summary should highlight any items that need stakeholder attention—even if those items are also discussed in a later section of the report.
3. Overall project health and percent complete. This section should indicate the “health,” or status, of various project items, such as the following:
“Project health” can be depicted visually rather than in narrative form, using a predetermined color-code to represent the status of each item (as shown above). For example, green means the item is on track; yellow means it is in trouble and red means it requires immediate attention (and, most likely, stakeholder intervention).
“Percent complete” should be entered as an actual percentage showing the overall project completion level (e.g., “50 percent” for a project that’s halfway done).
This project overview screen includes several items that should be included in your Executive Summary: colored icons to represent the status of important items, the name of the active project manager and the project’s percent complete.
Milestones and Deliverables
PRO TIP: Use data visualization tools.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so use visuals whenever possible. For example, you can use colors to represent status or include a “percent complete” chart, a Gantt chart or a table showing progress against milestones and deliverables.
The second section in your report should detail the progress made toward significant milestones and deliverables (identified during project planning).
Milestones are often tied to the completion of a client deliverable as well as to mid-project billing and invoicing—so it’s important for stakeholders to know whether teams are on track to complete them.
Rather than writing out this information in narrative form, you can show your team’s progress with a simple table (see screenshot below). Be sure to include:
- Milestone percent complete: How much headway has been made on individual tasks leading up to the milestone? Outline which tasks have been completed and which ones are still outstanding.
- Planned start/finish: These are the initial dates set during project planning for the work leading up to, and including, this milestone.
- Actual start/finish: These are the actual dates the work leading up to, and including, this milestone was started and completed on (if still in progress, mark “finish date” as TBD).
The task details shown above include a “percent complete” icon, the name of the team member responsible for completing the task and the dates surrounding the task kick-off and completion. The ability to drill down into this information can be very useful when creating your project status reports.
Issue, Risk and Change Management
PRO TIP: Consistency is key.
Use the same report format from week to week, since this allows for easier cross-report comparisons. Using a consistent format is important for your report as a whole, but especially for this section: It will allow stakeholders to see, at a glance, any new issues and risks, and spot what has changed about known issues and risks from week to week.
The third section in your report should provide an update on any known issues, risks or change requests that were identified the previous week, or, bring to light any new ones.
Early risk detection and management is essential for successfully completing a project. This section of your status report should be bulleted, not written in prose. It must cover all risk management efforts, including:
- Open issues: Draw attention to any new issues that have come up since the last report. Additionally, provide a status update on any previously identified issues and their management strategies.
- Open risks: Acknowledge any new risks that have occurred since the last report, and present the management plan(s) to deal with them. Additionally, provide an update on the risk management plan being used to handle existing risks.
- Open change requests: Highlight any open change requests and next steps that need stakeholders’ attention—for example, extending the schedule or budget due to an increase in the project’s requirements.
The project manager dashboard above has been customized to show risks by assignee, and to show current open issues and change requests. From this screen, users can export or share the report directly with stakeholders (to accompany the project status report).
PRO TIP: Avoid long narratives.
Project requirements and stakeholder preferences vary, but the best rule for creating your weekly status report is to Keep It Short and Simple (K.I.S.S.). Don’t forget that this report is a snapshot: Be clear and concise, not overly detailed. It’s especially important in this section to keep things simple: Stakeholders may skim from the Overview straight to this final piece.
The fourth, and last, section in your report should measure team productivity, comparing actual progress made over the past week to what was estimated in the previous status report.
Teams should be praised for notable achievements, and attention should be called to incomplete items. A good way to structure this section is to list:
- Tasks scheduled for last week: Include all the tasks your team estimated they could complete.
- Tasks completed last week: List all the tasks your team actually completed.
- Tasks scheduled for next week: Any tasks not completed last week should top this list. After that, list the tasks planned for the next week.
You can then condense this information for stakeholders and embed it in the project status report. Alternatively, you can choose to include the more detailed summary as a supplemental attachment—whatever your stakeholders prefer.
Next Steps For Project Managers
Status reports are a critical part of your stakeholder management strategy. The checklist we’ve included here can be a good jumping off point when developing your own communication strategy.
Here are a few key takeaways to remember as you report to stakeholders:
- Don’t bury the lead. Reading patterns and eye tracking studies suggest that people focus most on the top of the report and skim the rest. As such, put the most important info in your executive summary and don’t leave any surprises to the end.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Use charts, tables, colors and data visualization tools to help break up long narratives (and avoid long narratives).
- Consistency, consistency, consistency. You have to pick a set of metrics to measure progress and define the success or failure of initiatives, and then stick to them. Consistency in reporting will allow for easier and more accurate cross-report comparisons.
- K.I.S.S. Reports are a snapshot, so keep your status updates short and simple. Come prepared with additional information should your stakeholders ask you to expand on something, but don’t inundate them with too much information.
Lastly, the project tracking tools referenced in this article can be a huge asset as you’re creating your reports. If you’re interested in learning more about these types of tools, call our project management software experts for a free consultation at (855) 998-8505.