How to Write an Effective Project Status Report

How to Write an Effective Project Status Report

Project management is more than defining the scope of a project and seeing it through to completion. It also involves communicating a project’s progress to key stakeholders. After all, as a project manager, you are tasked with a project’s success and responsible for its delivery.

While your project may involve frequent communication about the project’s activities, you should prepare regular project status reports. These reports should be a snapshot of not only the overall progress, but also any barriers and supporting details. 

But how can you prepare a project status report that is meaningful for your stakeholders? And, particularly if your project is complex, how can you gather all of the necessary information without turning the report’s preparation into a project by itself?

This guide will walk you through everything you need to prepare an effective status report. From what to consider to the elements to include, you’ll be able to create a format to use for all of your projects in the future.

What Is a Project Status Report?

Let’s start with the basics. A project status report should compile all pertinent information about a project. It is a way to answer questions that stakeholders may have in one place and keeps everyone on the same page.

A project status report is part of the accountability for a project. It should clearly show where the project is at in terms of deliverables and budget.

You should have an understanding of the project’s scope at the onset of the project. This can then serve as the framework for creating a project status report and identify, “Where are we at?”

Stakeholders need to have a clear understanding of the scope agreed to and the timeline so that there are no surprises. The project status report serves to demonstrate if/how the team is meeting those goals.

Why Is a Project Status Report Important?

A project status report forces everyone to communicate on the project. Often, the project status report is presented during a meeting so that stakeholders have the opportunity to discuss.

A project status report serves many vital purposes, including:

  • Reminding stakeholders of the agreed-upon scope
  • Outline the milestones to meet project goals
  • Provide transparency and accountability 
  • Communicate any delays or issues, along with the cause
  • Identify any potential problems that may occur in the future
  • Coordinate the staff and timing involved in different tasks
  • List any dependencies for starting new phases of the project
  • Provide an overall assessment of the project’s health
  • Decrease the risk of surprises
  • Prevent scope creep

Above all, your project status report is a record of the project’s progress. Your status reports are not a one-time creation. Instead, you will provide reports regularly throughout the project. 

Suppose there are questions as the project progresses. In that case, the project status report is a record of communication along the way. That’s part of the reason that an accurate and comprehensive project status report is so important. 

Understanding Your Audience

Stakeholders and the rest of your audience need to feel invested in the project. At the same time, the project status report needs to be meaningful. If it isn’t, you risk overlooking critical information.

It may be that you provide several project status reports. One report might be for team members so that they have a clear understanding of the project’s progress. The other might be for managers or other stakeholders and present a big picture.

Do some due diligence to understand what your audience needs to assess the project. For example, milestones may have a myriad of essential details for team members but not relevant for an executive audience.

Also, make sure you have a clear understanding from your audience if you should also include the facts or your assessment. This will be dependent on the nature of your relationship with the audience and your role as a project manager

It could be that your audience expects you to provide an opinion about the project’s current progress in a meeting. In some cases, you may provide a written conclusion about how you feel the project is progressing. Other audiences may only want the dates, numbers, and other metrics on the project. 

Frequency of Project Status Reports

How often you provide project status reports will be dependent on your audience. Those actively involved in the project may need frequent updates to know when to commit new resources or move to subsequent tasks. Stakeholders or other managers may need less frequent updates.

Daily Status Report

Status reporting in agile environments often involve daily reports. However, due to the frequency, these may not be overly formal. Instead, each team member gives a brief rundown of the tasks accomplished, what is remaining, and any roadblocks that would prevent overall milestones from being met.

Weekly Status Report

A weekly status report benefits your team leads, as well as yourself. While your team leads need to be to speed on their staff’s responsibilities, the report benefits you as well. You can keep an eye on the project’s milestones and identify if there is any slippage before the project gets too far behind.

Monthly Status Report

A monthly status report is mean to engage managers, executives, and other key stakeholders. It should both summarize completed milestones over the past month and identify what is coming up next. 

Monthly project status reports are most useful for longer projects. If your projects are relatively short, then daily and weekly reports will be sufficient. Monthly status reports ensure that the lines of communication are kept open on complex projects where there are more opportunities for the project to get off track.

Best Practices for Project Status Reports

While each project is unique, there are some best practices that you can follow when creating your project status reports. 

Be Consistent

If your report format changes, it will be hard for your audience to follow. You may have to go back to previous reports to compare or gather information. In that case, it will be hard to compare apples and oranges.

Decide on a project status report template, and stick with it for each of your reports. You may end up with different formats for different audiences.

Establish Metrics

What questions will your audience have about the project? What information are you trying to convey? You need to establish the metrics you will provide with the report.

This could be anything from the budget, the number of milestones complete, the percentage of project completion, or something else that might make sense for your project. You need to understand how you measure progress along the way.

Verify Your Information

Don’t make guesses. The information that you are presenting should be backed up by data. Whether you are tracking milestones against a timeline or need to review submitted work, you must verify everything in your project status report.

Keep It Simple

Don’t let your audience get overwhelmed with the details. Decide what is most important for that audience and figure out how to communicate it effectively.

If, for documentation purposes, you need to include a lot of information, then organize your report so that the most important information comes first. You can also have an executive summary before the rest of your supporting information.

Use Project Management Tools

You don’t want your project status report to become a job by itself. By using project management tools, you should quickly see milestones, track progress and team members, and prepare reports. 

Challenges of Project Status Reports

A project status report is often your own creation, and you have to decide what to include. This has some challenges since every project has unique goals and outcomes.

Guesswork

Often, it can be hard to pinpoint a timeline or costs. You may establish due dates for specific tasks without really knowing if they are achievable, particularly if the project involves a lot of new work for the team.

Formulating that initial project status report sets the stage for subsequent reports. You need to be realistic and make it clear when your report’s information is a projection and could be subject to change. Communicate why the information is not quantifiable. 

Overlooking Important Information

You don’t know what you don’t know. When you start with your project status report template, you may think you have included everything, only to discover later that critical information was left out. At that point, you can’t go back and recapture what happened in the past. 

You have to do your best to think through everything that makes sense and tells the project’s overall story as it progresses.

Lessons Learned

If your project runs into issues, you may need to answer the question, “What happened?” Sometimes the answer is obvious, but in other cases, it can be hard to pinpoint. 

Part of being an effective project manager is ongoing learning. If your project runs into obstacles, be sure to reflect and answer questions about the lessons learned. Not only will this help your project status report or presentation about the project, but it also can better equip you for future projects. 

Elements of Project Status Reports

Now, how can you make sure that your project status reports are useful to your audience? Your project will have many different aspects, and it is up to you to determine what is relevant.

You can use these suggested elements to create a project status report template. Determine which elements should go in your different reports if you are creating several reports with different frequencies. 

Name of the Report

While this may seem obvious, your project status report should have a name, and it should clearly identify the report. If the organization has many projects, a title of “Project Status Report” will not be unique enough.

Identify the project that you are discussing. Some organizations run many projects that are either sequential or overlap. In these cases, it can be helpful to name the project itself. 

For example, in software development or marketing environments that have ongoing cycles of work, it can be tempting to say “this project” or “next project.” However, this terminology can be confusing. For example, Google names its projects after desserts and candy (Jellybean, Donut, etc.).

However, you name your project and report, the project you are working on should be clearly identifiable.

Status Date

Indicate the date associated with the information contained in your report. This might be different than the date of the report itself.

For example, for a monthly report, you might be presenting data as of month-end but not preparing the report until the following week. Your report needs to reflect that the status report is “as of September 30th.”

Summary

Think of your summary as your executive overview of the project. You want to recap the purpose of the project as a reminder to the audience. You will also want to assign the project its status. 

The status can vary depending on the organization. The status might be as simple as “on track” or “behind schedule.” Or, you may also have a status that breaks down the stage of the project, such as “in progress” or “pending review.”

As a project manager, you should work with your audience to define the statuses and what they mean, so there is no confusion about how the project is doing.

Team Members Involved

Complex projects may have different team members throughout the project. You should identify the various team members and their roles.

For example, who is monitoring the day-to-day work? How many people are involved, and who is ultimately responsible for delivering? Are any team members involved in multiple projects?

Resource management is a critical component of ensuring a project’s success. 

Project Schedule

Outline the project’s schedule and any due dates along the way. This will remind your audience of the agreed-upon timeline. It also serves as documentation from one report to the next if there are any changes.

If the project schedule does change, include documentation about what the changes are and why. There should be no question about why a date is adjusted, who made the decision, and why.

Scope and Objectives

The scope and objectives will be a more detailed version of your summary. Your objectives will be the guide for the ultimate outcome of this project. Your scope identifies what needs to be accomplished to meet the objectives.

Scope creep is a risk in any project. If resources ended up completing activities outside of scope, you should identify what was done and why.

Your audience may ask for “add-ons” to the project to enhance its outcome. It is important that if the scope changes, that its impact is clear. The subsequent status report should include the additional scope and additional resources, additional time needed, and additional cost involved. 

Budget

If your project has a clearly defined budget, outline the budget and whether or not the project is on track. Any overages should be explained. 

If the project cannot stay on budget, the project status report should bring that to light. Allow the audience an opportunity to discuss. Your next project status report should reflect any increase in budget.

Milestones

Every project will have tasks or milestones along the way. The milestones will culminate in your project’s overall completion, so your audience must understand what is happening in the background.

How much detail you include will vary depending on the type of project status report. For example, with a team lead, you may have each task identified as a checklist for completion and knowing what will come next. For an executive-style report, you may only include the highlights.

It is helpful to assign a status to each of your milestones in the same way you assign a status to the overall report. Each milestone may be “on track” or “behind schedule.” Your audience can then see how the milestones are impacting the project’s overall status.

Dependencies

Some projects have dependencies, where one milestone is dependent on another. Or the milestone may be dependent on another project altogether. Note the dependencies of any milestones and the status of those dependencies, if known. You can also identify the resource responsible for the dependency, whether internal or external.

Issues/Problems

This section might be the uncomfortable part of your project status report, but it is an important one. You need to identify any issues that have arisen since your last report and identify any future roadblocks that you foresee.

It is critical that communication is clear. Your audience should have a firm grasp of the issue and its impact on the project. If there are any ways to mitigate the issue, those should be part of the discussion.

Failure to bring issues to light will have a cascading effect. It may not be possible for the project to recover and be successful if issues continue to snowball. It is better to be upfront about the issue, who owns the issue, and what the remedy is.

Links to Documents/Resources

If you have any outside resources, you can include links or identify directory locations. As mentioned, your project status report should not include every single detail, but you can be transparent by providing resources. You may have source reports that you summarize or internal notes that can be reviewed.

How to Create a Project Status Report

After you have created your project status report template, you should identify the sources for your information. Project status reports should not be created in a vacuum.

You are creating a roll-up of information that may be provided by different team members, or you may be gathering the necessary details yourself. Your project status report may be visual, providing a high-level overview to executives.

By automating this report from a project management tool, you can gather all of the data about the tasks that are on track, past due, and upcoming. Project management tools can also forecast a project’s completion.

If you are tracking the information about your project manually, you could end up spending a lot of time compiling the report. There is also more room for error in misreporting the information about the project. 

How to Track Project Status

Once you are clear on what you need to include in your project status report, now it is essential to understand how to get there. By correctly setting up your project from the onset, you can save yourself a lot of headaches down the road. 

Determine Your Project Plan

Before even beginning work on the project, create an outline of what needs to be accomplished. Talk to the team involved and make sure that you know all of the tasks, dependencies, time involved, and cost.

Assign the Tasks and Responsibilities

In your project management tool, create a list of milestones/tasks. Assign them to the appropriate resource and establish an exact due date. Each team is different, and some will need more granular lists of tasks than others. 

Review the Project Regularly

While your project status report will be provided at regular intervals, you will need to review the project more frequently. If you begin to see slippage, it is crucial to understand the underlying cause. Make sure that you have a way to easily track the tasks of the project and their status. 

Stay On Top of Your Project’s Status

Ultimately, your project status report is both a current snapshot of your project and a report of your project’s history. It is providing accountability to stakeholders and also provides documentation of results. 

Projects can be complicated, but project management doesn’t have to be. By using the right project management tools, you can track everything from identifying your scope to monitoring your timeline. You automate the creation of your project status report and provide your audience with what they need to see.