6 Do's For Effective Project Status Reporting
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Effective Project Status Reporting: 6 Tips To Help You Out

If you are anything like a Project Manager, chances are that you have created several project status reports for the many projects you are managing or have managed during your career.

A project status report is essential to making sure that all stakeholders stay on the same page. It provides a snapshot of where you are in a project, where your projections expect you to be, and what are the real project issues that have arisen since the last report. Because this project status report update is so useful, it is essential to make sure that you and your team create effective project status reports.

But, this is far from being the truth.

Many of the Project Managers I know look at project status reports as a burden and a waste of time. They look at completing them just like one of those routine tasks that had to be done. And, as a result, project status reports aren’t as useful as they ought to be, and merely end up as one of the many Project Management artifacts that don’t add any value to the project or the organization. When you look at a typical project status report, you tend to see a lot of static information without context and without implying the real progress on the project or its associated risks and issues.

Just listing the 3-5 tasks that your team accomplished during the last reporting period, and what they plan on doing in the next reporting period, does not provide an accurate reflection of what is really going on. To make them more "informative", you may also throw in a couple of project milestones that were accomplished or are soon-to-be accomplished. Simply indicating these data points without a proper context gives no incentive for your management or your client (if you share status reports with clients) to pay attention to it, thereby making it seem like a waste of time to you (who is routinely preparing them).

To get this right, project status reports are an important communication tool to inform clients, stakeholders, and team members about what’s up with the project. It contains all the business-critical efforts, progress, and risk associated with a single project.

But, what makes a project status report genuinely useful? One that creates accountability and ownership within your team, that provides value and confidence to your clients and stakeholders?

1. Targeting Them Effectively

As with any project report you generate, you should always have a target audience in mind. In your project status report, the audience is usually the management, your executive stakeholders, and sometimes even your clients. With that in mind, make sure that you use language that they understand and keep your updates focused around the areas that they are interested in. If you need to create a report that is also targeted to your team members, consider generating a second status report focusing on their needs. The idea is not to create a single report for different audiences so that you make sure the data you are providing is helpful to them. You might also want to verify their value by checking with the recipients from time to time to make sure they’re indeed beneficial.

2. Keeping Them Brief

Many project status reports that I have seen carry on for many pages and include a lot of static information about the project history and background. Status reports that carry on for too long risk having your stakeholders gloss over them and miss important details or – even worse – just deleting them.

Unless absolutely necessary, make sure that your project status report stays under one page. When it comes to a project status report, the structure is as important as the purpose. Without a proper structure, it's hard to collect meaningful and comparable data that will provide valuable insights for your stakeholders and guide towards effective project steering. Therefore, having a clear structure is of utmost importance when it comes to keeping your project status reports brief and concise. One of the most convenient ways is to use an online Project Management software that gives you a quick overview of the current situation with all relevant information in one place and ready-made report templates without you having to put in so much effort.

3. Formatting Them Appropriately

This point expands on my earlier point. Maintaining a clear structure to your report while keeping it simple is very important. At a bare minimum, your project status report should include an overview of milestones, risks, issues, budgetary information and RAG status for the project you are reporting on. You may also consider including key successes and achievements from the last period.

Since these reports will be shared on a consistent and reliable basis, make sure that you use consistent formatting from report to report. This will ensure that your stakeholders always know what to expect and where to find the required information. Using a Project Management Tool allows you to automatically generate reports consistently at the click of a button, thus guaranteeing success with this step. These tools offer report templates that make it easier to write, read, and understand them.

This is one of the most essential steps in making sure that project status reports remain useful and effective, week after week and month after month.

4. Demonstrating Performance And Progress

Use your project status report to list key successes and achievements from the last period, and as an efficient tool to communicate all individual and team accomplishments. It also helps to review a team’s performance and enables senior managers to step in when it becomes apparent that a project is not progressing as planned. Demonstrating the performance and progress of your team and recognizing their efforts in front of senior management lifts up the team morale, and improves their productivity and urge to work harder.

5. Making Them Visually Attractive

It may not seem like much, but a report that is attractive to the eye can generate much more interest for your stakeholders. Consider your fonts, margins, and line spaces as you design your report. All of this makes the information readable and relevant to the readers. If you have too much text crammed into a small space, people might end up ignoring key parts of your report. Make sure you also include charts and other visual cues such as badges, avatars or chart widgets to help your audience understand complex data quickly. This is another area where a Project Management software can come in handy, mainly because this comes built-in and is often customizable to suit your organizational processes and templates.

6. Making Them Accessible

Project status reports aren’t useful unless people can read them and refer back to them as and when necessary. While your reports can be delivered in a variety of methods, make sure that they are delivered on a consistent basis and through a reliable channel based on your communication plan. Also, preferably avoid sending out the report via emails, Google docs or word files without providing any context. These mediums tend to get lost in the clutter and, more dangerously, end up being in the recipient’s trash. It is also common to deliver these reports alongside a status meeting where they serve as a general agenda to discuss the project and uplevel any risks, challenges or concerns. Whether you use a Project Management software or any other channel, choose a reliable and accessible method, stick to it and make sure that everybody who needs the report knows where to find it.

These are some tips and practices for communicating effective project status reports. A project status report is an essential project communication tool that you can use to keep your project on track. Make sure that you generate them effectively. And now, they don’t have to take up your Friday afternoons, do they?

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