How to do a Project Status Report and What To Include [Free Checklist!]

POST on Project Management by Sonia Pearson

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A regular project status report is essential for project management. After all, even if you’re doing an A+ job, the management has to be kept in the know. This helps ensure that everything is going according to plan & there are no roadblocks up ahead.

As with so many things, however, keeping reports clear and simple yet meaningful and informative can be easier said than done. Use our checklist to keep you on track.

First, the List, Then the Explanation

Simply copy and paste the checklist below to keep your project status reports on track. If you’re not sure what every element means, don’t panic! We’ll explain in detail below.

Executive Summary

  • Identify the project
  • Provide a summary of progress
  • Rate project health and completion forecasts

Milestones

  • Completion percentage per milestone
  • Start and end dates (panned)
  • Start and end dates (actual)

Issues, Risks, and Changes

  • Report on new and previously noted issues
  • Report on new and previously identified risks
  • Requests for change

Current Progress

  • Tasks scheduled for the last reporting period
  • Tasks completed in the last reporting period
  • Tasks scheduled for the next reporting period

Project Status Report Executive Summary

If you’ve ever written a report in the past, you’ll know that although the executive summary appears first on your report, you actually write it last. In essence, it is a boiled down version of the contents of the rest of the report. A busy executive should be able to glance through the summary and immediately know whether anything that requires attention has arisen.

The first and most obvious part of the project status report is its name, and this will remain the same throughout the reporting process. But don’t forget this small but important detail. There’s no point in reporting if your report’s readers don’t know what you’re reporting on!

In the process of compiling the rest of your report, you’ll identify the points that should be included in the progress summary. Boil these down to the bare bones facts. If people want to know more detail, they will find it by reading the full version of the report. If possible, compress this part of your report down to one paragraph.

The same goes for project health and completion information. See it as the concluding paragraph of the report. What is the finding? Is the project on track? Is intervention needed? Once again, keep it brief and to the point. The reasons why you drew your conclusions will be explained in detail in the body text.

Milestones

In the project planning process, a strategic set of milestones will have been formulated for each deliverable. These milestones will also be time-bound. Since each successive milestone must be completed before the next phase of the deliverable can be tackled, any changes will have a knock-on effect. It is therefore important to present this information clearly and concisely.

Use the three elements we listed under this heading of your checklist to compile a table which defines the milestone, shows planned and actual completion dates, and percentage progress towards completion. It can also help to add a final column which lists the tasks that are still to be completed before the milestone can be reached, and who will be responsible for the tasks’ completion.

Your planned and actual start and finish dates will help your stakeholders to determine whether progress towards the milestone is on track. Highlighting late milestones can help to draw attention to problem areas. Since these may affect the completion date of later milestones, necessitate their quicker completion, or imply a change in strategy, this part of your report presents vital information.

Issues, Risks, and Changes

Project plans that look great on paper can get bogged down because of “issues,” some of these may have been identified during project planning, or they may have been unexpected. The same is true of risks.

Create headings for each of these and include subheadings indicating previous and newly identified issues and risks. Under each of these provide a bulleted list or a table showing the risk and issue elements and the strategies chosen to mitigate or overcome them. Are these management strategies progressing well? Provide a brief status update.

Requests for changes to project plans, timelines, or budgets are of huge strategic importance and require approval on the part of stakeholders. Since these will flow from the issues and risks you have listed, use this section of the report to present any requests for change. Your stakeholders will thus not only know what challenges your team faces but also where the action is required and what you and your team would propose as possible courses of action.

Current Progress

The executives and project partners who will read your project status report are likely to glance through the executive summary and skip through to the conclusion for the bottom line. The three headings we have provided will help them to get a clear picture of project health, and if they want to know the reasons for any changes or delays, they can dig down into the report to find them.

As with the executive summary, keep this section as clear and to the point as possible. Your readers want to know three things:

  • What portions of the project were scheduled for the last reporting period?
  • What did the project team complete or progress with during the last reporting period?
  • What tasks are scheduled for the next reporting period?

Extra Tips For Project Status Reports

Use these extra tips to enhance your reports for absolute clarity in reporting:

  • Once you’ve chosen the format, stick with it unless changes have been requested and approved. The report’s recipients will know exactly what information occurs where and will be able to zero in on the facts they want faster.
  • Be sure to include ALL the most important information in the executive summary. This will be the part of your report that is read with the greatest attention.
  • Use white space, images, and graphs to break up blocks of text and make your report easy to master. Readers are inclined to skip or skim long blocks of text.
  • Get approval for the metrics you aim to use and let them remain unchanged throughout the reporting process.
  • Avoid information overload. You may want to provide long explanations, but the simpler your report is, the more effective it will be. You can always provide the supporting information if it is requested.

Have you ever done a project status report? Any other tips you’d add to our list? Let us know down in the comments!

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