Reporting iteratively on a project’s status is a key practice when it comes to controlling and monitoring a project. Status reporting usually takes the form of a document that contains information conveying the state of the project at a specific moment.
Status Reporting serves the following purposes:
Facilitates effective communication with the various stakeholders
Provides a history of the project
Identifies any issues and risks early, before they arise
Facilitates decision-making when necessary
Facilitates the identification of lessons learned
A project Status Report can be made up of many different elements, all of which are of interest. However, as one of the main purposes of these reports is to communicate effectively with the stakeholders, the Project Manager needs to make sure to keep the report brief and to provide the right information to the right audience.
In putting together the report, the targeted audience is the first element to take into account; a report made for a Client, for example, would generally exclude information regarding the cost and budget of the project.
Descriptions should also be adjusted to suit the needs of the targeted audience. The team members, for example, already know a great deal about the current situation and should, therefore, have concise information regarding the status at hand, but they might want to know more about what the next steps might be.
The frequency of the reporting also affects the content of the Status Report. The more frequent the report, the briefer it should be. Usually, reports can be sent weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
The challenge in writing a good status report is to provide the right level of details while keeping the analysis brief. Here are a few points to keep in mind when writing a report:
Tailor the report to the needs of the targeted audience.
Keep it brief and easy to read.
Structure it into relevant sections.
Be consistent in how often you send a report.
Status Report indicators, often colored, are what first catches the attention of the reader. Focused on key performance information, they are based on the analysis of the Project Manager.
While indicators are a subjective estimation of how some aspects of the project are doing, they should not be defined lightly. It is usually recommended to define the criteria for each color in order to communicate precisely the urgency of the indicator. One has to avoid a situation of a false urgency or, on the contrary, fail to convey how critical a situation is.
The most commonly used indicators are the RAG indicators (Red, Amber, Green). These are used to provide a general estimate of the state of the key aspects of the project, such as Cost, Time, and Scope.
More generally, the RAG indicators can be defined as follows:
Everything is fine.
The project should proceed with caution.
The situation is critical and should be handled appropriately.
The Trend indicator, also commonly used in Status Reports, unlike the RAG indicator, does not focus on the current state of the project, but on the expected evolution between one Status Report and the next. The Trend indicator is distinguished as follows:
Indicators on their own don’t make the Status Report; it is also important that the report include comments from the Project Manager that illustrate important information in a more descriptive way (e.g., explain some indicators or important events (past or future) and upcoming steps).
These descriptive parts still need to be brief (efficiently worded) and well structured so that the report can be easily read by the targeted audience.
To support the indicators and the descriptions, the Project Manager should insert relevant data directly from the project into the report. This information can vary depending on the targeted audience, the methodology used, and the cadence of the report.
Most commonly, the following information can be relevant:
General Project Information, such as the Name and the key dates
Macro-planning and important milestones
Issues and Risks
The list above is far from exhaustive; the Project Manager will want to provide the Agile timeline for instance if he/she works with the Agile methodology, or Budget-related information when the report is addressed to his/her organization’s upper management.
The project Status Report is a snapshot taken at a specific moment in time, a snapshot that is taken repeatedly throughout every phase of the project’s execution. The reports serve as a means to maintain your schedule and keep everyone on the same page; they are the perfect tool to keep track of the project’s history. Not only do they provide an overview of key elements and their evolution, but they also are a great way to archive lessons learned, allowing project managers to make sure they deal with similar projects with growing efficiency.