How to write the perfect progress report – dos and don’ts

Susanne Madsen 
Developing Project Leaders

If you work as a project manager, chances are that you have completed dozens of progress reports during your career – if not hundreds! But how effective have they been? Have you had a clear purpose when writing the reports, for instance by wanting your stakeholders to take certain action as a result of them? Or did you fill them in because it was one of those routine tasks that had to be done?

You may have been very conscientious and particular when filling in your reports, but unfortunately not everyone is, and as a result the weekly status report becomes one of those artifacts that is part of the process without adding much value.

Top mistakes
Some of the classic mistakes that project managers make is that they include too much static information and not enough about what the real project issues are. In that way the report is not a true reflection of what is really going on. If you just write about what happened during the last reporting period and what you will do during the next reporting period, without mentioning how that compares to plan and what the real risks and issues are, there is no incentive for executives to pay attention to it. In many cases the report is even attached in an email without any context or description, meaning that executives who rely on smartphones are unlikely to ever get to the information.

The perfect progress report
So, what does a perfect status report look like? Well, first and foremost it’s a simple report, preferably on one page, which adds real value by providing an overview of milestones, risks, issues and budgetary information at a minimum. Here are some guiding dos and don’ts:

Don’t include too much static information about the background of the project.
Do include the name of the sponsor and the project manager.
Do keep the information to one page.
Do include the top 5 risks and issues, including owner and mitigating action.
Do include information about the budget and how you are tracking to it.
Do include an overview of the major milestones, their planned dates and a RAG status of each.
Do list key successes and achievements from last period.
Do list any earned value metrics you may have, but keep it simple and graphical.
Do make it clear what action you want people to take; is this report just for information or do you require a decision from anyone?
Don’t send out the report via email without providing any context in the body of the mail. Executives may never read the report, so provide a summary in the email itself.
Don’t send out bad news in a project report with out speaking to people first. You don’t want your sponsor to read about a major issue without being there to explain the situation.

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