In order to write a report of project status, you must understand:
- The three components of status.
- How to write brief details.
- What key data is needed by management.
Three Components of Status
There are three major components to reporting project status:
- Overall: We need to see the overall project health. As managers, we want to be able to detect a project in trouble. We also want to help make that determination sometimes. You might not know everything we know despite our best efforts to communicate. Your project might not be as healthy as you think it is.
- Milestones: Your project has major accomplishments which must be completed by specific dates. We managers want to see which milestones are complete, which ones are in progress, and which ones are coming up next. This allows us to analyse the schedule and decide to either feel comfortable with it or challenge it.
- Issues: Your project also probably has one or more obstacles to completion which have been discovered. We’d like to see brief details about each issue so that we can make a decision about whether or not to step in and help if necessary.
Organizing Your Status
Just as you would clean a kitchen by starting up high and working your way down ultimately to the floor, project status is best when it starts off with the highest levels of detail and works it way down to lower and lower levels.
Overall project health comes first. If I like what I see here, I can stop reading the rest. Major milestones follow overall project health. If I don’t like the project health, or if I am in need of further details, I can read a little further and check out the scheduled dates we are driving toward and your progress on them. Issues may be holding up those dates, so when I see a problem in your project schedule, I can read further and see what it is. Really slick project managers report the issues in priority order showing the issue causing the most jeopardy to progress first.
Your job is to report on the details of your project in concise, crisp status that we can consume rapidly without having to spend much effort on it. It might take you thirty minutes to write your status, but always remember that your manager does not have thirty minutes to
spend reading it. Your manager realistically only has about 30 seconds to consume your status as they may have 30, 40, 100, or even exponentially more projects for which they are responsible.
“Brief Details” may seem oxymoronic to a project manager, but to a supervisor with a team of project managers, it is not. There is enormous value in a project manager who can report status without narrative. My recommendation is that you write as though you were creating an old-fashioned telegram. More information about how to do that is coming.