"What's the 411?": The Importance of Project Status Reports

Question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it to regularly check whether your project is on track? - Answer: 12.

Status reports or updates are very common in most organizations. Often the reporting is done in weekly meetings and it’s not always required that you hand in a written report. In project management, status reports are one of the essential practices.

Why Status Reports Are Important

Why are status reports so important? There are many reasons why, and most are very intuitive. Status reports are part of the project documentation and allow you to monitor your project’s progress. The progress is quantified in the reports, so instead of flying blindly and hoping for the best, you have a solid foundation that will help you make more informed decisions. It also enables you to justify why you made changes to the project plan.

Status reports also guarantee that you have a constant information flow. It allows you to manage and communicate with your stakeholders more effectively. Stakeholders are always anxious to know how the project is doing, so keeping them in the loop via regular status reports will increase their confidence in the project manager and the project. It’s not wise to keep stakeholders in the dark. It’s better to communicate potential or real issues and challenges with them as soon as they arise.

Preparation

It is not difficult to write a status report, and organizations often require their employees to use a certain template. However, you can still follow a few simple steps as preparation to you status report.

  1. Remember to use the project plan as the baseline for your status reports, the information in your report should always refer back to the metrics defined in the initial plan
  2. Understand your audience: Who are you addressing, what are their expectations and what information do you want to offer them?
  3. Organize your thoughts and ideas and decide on what you want to communicate, you can use the 5W-2H method
  4. Focus on the results and not the details. Your reader does not need to know each step, they just want to know where the steps led to.
  5. Keep it short. Unless you have clear specifications of what should be in your status report, don’t make it longer than 1 page.
  6. You won’t be able to include everything in the report itself, but you can attach additional information to the report.

Elements of a Status Report: A Checklist

Even though status reports can take many forms, from verbal updates to quick emails to a formal template that doesn’t allow for any deviation from it, anything goes when it comes to status reports. But every status reports should include at least the following information:

Sample Project Status Report (Click to download)
1. Project Data
  • Project name
  • Project ID
  • Date of report
  • Project completion date
  • Name of project manager

2. Summary

  • Summary of project and its overall status: Is it on time, budget and scope?
  • Planned % complete vs. actual % complete
  • Quick overview of results and planned next steps
  • Should be no longer than a few sentences, at most two small paragraphs

3. Actual Progress versus Planned Progress

  • Rate of completion in %
  • Key milestones and significant accomplishments
  • Information on schedule, budget and cost. Can also be visualized with a traffic light system

4. Risks and Issues

  • Describe any issues and challenges and how you’re planning to overcome them
  • Open issues that need to be handled
  • Potential risks and how to mitigate them
  • Change requests

5. Next Steps

  • Next action items and who will be responsible for finishing them
  • Upcoming milestones and when you plan to hit them

 

These tips will help you create concise and informative status reports. 

If you need a little inspiration on how to structure your report, here’s a handy template: Free Project Status Report Template