How to Write a Progress Report: A Complete Guide & Free Templates

Ray Slater Berry
Ray Slater Berry • Aug 30th, 2020

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.

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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. 

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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?  

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How to write a progress report

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. 

Stay formal

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. 

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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. 

  • Department goals 

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.

  • Progress breakdown

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.

Pro Tip: The top-level completion percentage is an average of all percentages from each project. 🤓

Finish with notes

Close out the report with any final thoughts and things you would like to discuss. These sentences will pave the way for conversation and discussion points from your work so far, and an overall appraisal. 

Best practices for creating a progress report

We'll close this guide out with some best practices for creating your progress reports and introducing them to your team's workflow. 

1. Use data

Where you can, always use data to showcase progress or lack of it. Think about ways you can generate data with the tools you have and display the data in a clear way; always try to show movement toward the greater goal. 

2. Get visual if needed

Don't be afraid to support your report submission with visuals. There's no point in wasting paragraphs of text explaining a situation when you can explain it with a screenshot. 

3. Be transparent 

Transparency is so important if you want your reporting structure to be productive and positively contribute towards moving forward. Highlight to staff that progress reports call for transparency. No one needs to hide behind fluff or try to optimize the status of a report for fear of looking bad. Address every project as it is. 

4. Make sure everything is dated 

Due dates, report dates, task deliveries, the lot. Earlier in this article, we mentioned how these reports would be the backbone of research for any similar project in the company's future. If you date everything, someone can dive into systems to pull metrics they may need from correct dates, and better understand the tools and talent the company had at that particular time. 

5. Include company and department goals 

If your reports are for outside of the department, then it's useful to share the goals that you personally, or your department, are working towards. Double-check what you can and can't share with human resources if you’re ever unsure. In doing so, you'll give the reader a greater insight into your logic and actions. 

6. Discuss problems and progress

A report is a platform for discussing problems and progress. Kick conversations off via the content you provide within this report and ask any questions you'd like answered from the reader. 

Pro Tip: Your reader is there to help you, no matter what role they're in within the company; you'll be surprised by the innovative ideas you can get from other departments. 💡

7. Share it wisely

Think wisely about who needs to see this report. Is it more than management? Perhaps other departments or even external stakeholders, like funding agencies, will benefit from reading this report. Try to identify those who need the report before writing it and then share it so that everyone has easy access. 

8. Structure storage 

You can store reports, no problem. However, think of the architecture around your report storage system. Try to build a map to guide people through reports and how they're stored. You want people to find a report quickly. 

Figure out what someone needs to search to get to the report they're looking for, or the path they need to follow. This process will save a lot of time in the future and empower employees to use the reports at any time, not just when they're first delivered. That's a wrap!

Try it live 👇

Manage Progress Reporting with Slite

If you’re looking to build a progress report into your team’s work schedule then we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you. Use this free progress report template, and build on it. 

Hopefully, you’re walking away from this guide fully-equipped to introduce progress reporting to your business and start benefiting from this fantastic process— continuing to make great things happen. 

Start your progress reporting with Slite