In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know to create a progress report and reporting structure that’s perfect for your business.
We'll help you build a business case for introducing progress reporting into your workflow, as well as share optimal reporting timeframes, how to write them, and how to structure progress reports with your team.
We'll close out with some best practices for writing progress reports, and help you find your feet in this massively beneficial working style.
What is a progress report?
First up, we're guiding you through a progress report, but what is it? The spoiler's in the name "progress," so let's get into what that actually means.
A progress report is a type of business writing designed to update someone on various tasks of someone else. It's written for managers, project stakeholders, leadership, or company-wide updates.
A progress report is a formal, documented, and structured way of keeping people in the know. There are many types of progress reports out there, email wrapups, memos, PDFs, business letters, an executive summary, a google doc, and the list goes on.
Why is a progress report important for business?
Use this section of the guide to help build a business case to introduce progress reporting to your workflow— time to get away from lost email chains or messy PDFs.
Whether you're a manager looking for ways to get a better overview of your team, or you're a team player looking to increase business efficiency— the below is why progress reporting is so essential for any business.
1. Align your team
It can be so hard for a team to stay in sync. Especially with a distributed workforce, important information gets lost in a mass of slack messages, email chains, and 1-1 catch-ups. It can seem overwhelming when juggling holidays, sick leave, and meetings with external stakeholders.
A progress report summarizes the project or projects your team is working on in one place. Use a progress report as a one-stop-shop for any team member that needs an update on a particular project or initiative. It eliminates managers and team members having to repeat themselves and allows everyone to catch up with progress on their schedule.
2. Showcase wins
Progress reports are a fantastic tool for managers and leadership to credit and acknowledge an individual's efforts and progress towards company goals. When annual or bi-annual reviews come around, these progress reports can serve as the backbone for someone's performance record and enable a fair assessment of work ethic based on factual progress rather than feelings, bias, or solely major projects.
At the same time, they're an excellent tool for any employee to celebrate their wins and use as an example for when they're going for that internal promotion.
3. Give stakeholders updates on projects
An easy win, and an obvious point but certainly not to be overlooked. Progress reports give stakeholders the updates they need. The stakeholders can be anyone in the business or externally. They just need to be known by the reporter when writing the report, so the reporter can include the necessary information they know a particular person will require.
4. Document work for future reference
If a business is ever looking to repeat a project or strategy, your progress reports are essential for learning and improving processes. These reports allow a company to optimize a strategy or process based on learnings. It's like you're building a research library that will continue to educate your future workforce.
5. Identify common roadblocks
For all of the good aspects that a progress report highlights, it's also important to highlight the bad. Roadblocks. These can come in many forms; maybe it's technology, maybe it's a vendor, maybe it's team capabilities or a particular team member. Managers should collate progress reports and identify common roadblocks that need addressing. In doing so, they'll work towards making the business an operationally smoother workplace.
When to write a progress report
A progress report can be put together at many different times, depending on the goal of the report. Here's a breakdown of what type of progress report to create and when:
Daily progress reports
These progress reports are short, sweet, and usually between a manager and a team member. Nothing in goes into great detail here, just a quick overview of daily tasks achieved, any problems that came up, and progress made towards larger goals.
Weekly progress reports
This type of report is best between a manager and a team member. It should dive into what a team member hoped to achieve in the week, what they actually achieved, and why.
This report is best delivered on a Thursday afternoon, so the manager and team member have time to chat it over and make an action plan for the following week.
Monthly progress reports
A great time to update a small business or team on a particular individual's or department's progress towards goals. Best delivered as an overview; it's an opportunity to sing about particular individuals who worked exceptionally hard in the month and give other departments an idea on how your department is performing.
Quarterly progress reports
Every business sets quarterly goals and KPIs. It's so important to follow up on those goals in an appropriate period of time. This type of progress report doesn't need to go into a significant amount of depth on specific tasks but is more targetted towards whether or not quarterly goals were reached, or not, and why.
Annual progress reports
The mother of all progress reports, the final report of the year. This report is usually aimed at company-wide or towards leadership. What did your department achieve across the entire year? What can you celebrate, what lessons have your learned, and what are you hoping to change for the next period?
Report writing can be tricky, especially for someone doing it for the first time. Follow these steps to ensure your reports are as legible as possible.
Be clear and concise
Much easier said than done, try to keep it simple with language and sentence structure; it can be the make or break of any progress report. Try to use short sentences and proofread any report before submitting them.
Explain industry-specific language
If you're reporting for people outside of your team, then it's important to explain any abbreviations or lingo that may only be common knowledge within your department; it helps avoid miscommunication.
Number & title projects
As a general rule of thumb, get a reference number and title to every project you cover; this will help people discuss them online afterward.
An informal report remains limited to peers only. A formal report gives a manager the option to keep it to herself or to share it with a broader audience with no need to amend. Avoid doing double work and make the report formal from the off.
The format of progress reports
- Names, dates, and departments
It's best to start any progress report off with the essentials. These essentials include the reporter's name, the manager's name, the department, and any essential dates. Dates can be the reporting period or the date the report is submitted.
Next up with your progress report, you'll want to remind the reader of the greater department goals. In doing so, it will guide the report and give the reader an idea of the reasons behind the projects listed.
- Top-level progress overview
Next up, you'll want to include an overview of the progress you've made across your projects and goals. Best displayed using a percentage, numbered problems or overdue projects, and a couple of supporting sentences.
After the above, you're diving into the thick of the report. This part will explain each project you're working on, the objectives of the project, and the progress made.
It will also discuss problems encountered along the way, and the level of completion as a percent.