Project Reports are a core part of any project management process. There are a few key documents necessary for successful project progress, and a project report is undoubtedly one of them.
Alongside a project plan, a project report holds significant weight in justifying budgets, team members and tools, or other resources. In this article, we'll explore one of the two types of project reports any project manager needs to be able to write.
Report number one is an ongoing project status report; this report will be needed on more than one occasion throughout a project's life span and explores the overall progress of the project. Report number two is a project completion report; this report comes at the end of the project and wraps everything up.
We've also provided a project report template that you can adapt to your project and project report type that you need.
A Complete Guide to Project Reporting: Project Status Report
Why write a project status report?
This report is so crucial in keeping key players up to date- we'll explore who exactly you need to be writing for in the next point. A project status report is needed to give an executive summary of a project's timeline, significant changes, and to keep as a record of the project's progress.
A project status report adds milestones and target reminders to the process. Without the report, many project teams will struggle to keep up the momentum on long term projects.
Who is a project status report for?
A project report will need to be written for different people; each stakeholder will require different information that's important to them- remember this when putting together the progress of the project. It's not a one size fits all situation.
You may be dealing with sensitive information that could damage relationships or even severe them if put in front of the wrong eyes. At the same time, you could be releasing information that isn't relevant to certain people; in receiving an onslaught of information someone may miss the data or info that is specifically important for their eyes.
Different people that need to see an ongoing project status report:
- Project Stakeholders
- Project Team
- Project Sponsors
- Finance Team
- Project Management
What to include in a project status report?
Depending on whom you're writing the report for, this will change. However, there are a few core elements to include for the project progress, despite who is reading the project report.
It's important to document all of the resources you had mapped out in your project plan. What do you have left still available? What have you used and found insufficient? Of what resources do you need more? This can include project management tools and physical resources like software or a PDF, but also human resources.
Timelines and targets
It's essential to give everyone an overview of your project timelines in these status reports, especially those that are outside of your project team and not using the project management software you're using.
At this point, be realistic with your timelines, not optimistic. Refer back to your Gantt calendar to help with this. Save your optimism for team meetings to spur your project team on in working more efficiently and hitting deadlines. In the reporting part, you need to be honest with your timelines and deliverables, both with the goals you have or have not hit and those you expect to be on time with or not.
Many players further down the line will be working on the information you provide in this section of the report, it therefore needs to be accurate so they can manage their workload and be available at the predicted date.
This can radically vary but needs to be anything notable that's happened and is no longer abiding by the initial project plan. If you're using an editable template rather than a PDF, you can go back and edit your project plan to accommodate changes.
However, it's not recommended. You can't guarantee that your team will continuously be referencing the initial project plan after they've got a clear scope of what they need to do for the entire project.
Funding & budgets
The project manager should use the time dedicated to a project status report to reflect on his or her budgets. Accounting skills are vital for a project manager's success, and being able to handle a large budget will come in handy when it comes to managing the overall funding of a project.
In this part of the report, give a clear overview of expenses, predicted expenses, and visually highlight where you were over or under budget in real-time. The team can learn from this, not only for future projects but even for the next month's project management reports and spending.
Use goals and targets to quantitatively identify if the team is performing well. While doing this, it's essential to consider the hurdles they've had to jump along the way. Have they faced exceptional circumstances that were not planned? If so, how did they cope and react to these challenges?
Your qualitative eye needs to come in to play here. Just because a team member did not hit the pre-planned deliverables, doesn't mean they're not performing. How have their personable skills been as well as their hard skills?
Take it all into account, put pressure on those who can do better, highlight exemplary team members, give praise, and lead by example.
This is the final part of the Project Status report and one of the most important skillsets for a successful project manager: Risk Management. A project manager needs to have a certain amount of hindsight at play in their everyday work and be able to give an executive summary of all risks.
In the project status report, give an overview of any predicted risks and try to display them tiered so that any reader has a clear overview of what the greatest risks are right through to very low-level risks, and what can be done to prevent them. Always have a Plan B, and adapt it every time a project status report is created.
The risk management report is often best accompanied by a risk analysis meeting. Come out of your meeting with detailed meeting minutes and use your team's knowledge and perspective to give a comprehensive overview of all risks at play.
When to write a project status report?
This largely depends on your project timeline- or predicted timeline for that matter. If your project is expected to run over a few years, it may be best to create quarterly project status reports. However, if your project is set to run around six months to a year, monthly is recommended.
For all of the help that project status reports provide, it's important to remember that they can be pretty time consuming to make. We've provided a project report template in this article to make your job easier; however, it's still a process.
For all the time a project manager is putting into a status report, they're not putting the work into managing their team. Pick a regular period to deliver the report in and put it in the Gantt calendar. Be conscious of the time it consumes, and try to stick to the real-time delivery dates.
In doing this, you'll save a lot of time with unnecessary communication from different players. Questions like "What’s the status on XYZ?" "How's the budget looking for XYZ of the project?" can all wait for the regular report- leaving the team to focus on their job.
How to write a project report?
There are a few things you need to remember when putting together a project report to help ensure it's efficient and supports the project's success.
There is no use in hiding deliverables or viewing the truth through rose-tinted glasses. You're not creating a presentation to win someone over here; you're creating a factual report to make sure everyone has as clear an overview as possible.
Stay honest throughout your reporting, give accurate numbers (don't round up or down,) and don't make excuses. Remain critical.
Give as much information as possible
This comes at your judgment, but the more relevant information, the better. A project manager will have a fantastic overview of a project and the current status. For that reason, they're the best person to put together a project status report.
However, a project manager shouldn't be afraid to let team members fill in parts of the report if they have a better overview of a particular task within the project. Assign different areas of the project report to different team members and then review everything before the report is submitted.
Clear and concise writing skills are so crucial in making sure your project report is understood. Don't view the project status report as something you just need to get done and delivered.
Review it, make sure there are no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. You'll be surprised at what the power of a comma can, do. See? Make sure the read of your report is as smooth as your project management skills.
For all of the faults, risks, and problems you report in your project status report, it's essential to document your successes. A project is a rollercoaster. There will be ups and downs and spirals and flips. Identify which of these are wins and celebrate them.
By celebrating success, you will lift the morale of the project team and remind the project manager of what has been achieved so far.
Write for aliens
You'll be writing a project plan for many people, many of whom will not have had direct exposure to your team, your company, or the task/s at hand. When we say write for aliens, we mean writing for someone who has no clue what's happening.
Even the simplest of abbreviations or presumptions can be interpreted as something entirely different by someone else. Leave no room for error or misunderstanding.
Don't be afraid to use visuals
Visual supports are fantastic for getting your point across or displaying information more clearly. Visual aids can break up the monotony of the report if it's a lot of copy, which will be a welcomed relief on the eyes for any reader.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and for a good reason, if you're struggling to get your point across, then look for an example of it online. Use visuals as a supporting example of what you're saying.
Automate processes where you can
Despite each project having its own landscape, you could surprise yourself by the amount that you can automate in your reporting process. Learn how to make the most of excel spreadsheets and tool integrations to see how you can backfill or auto-populate data into your project report.
It's these small time-saving hacks that will make your project reporting that much smoother in the future.
A Project Report Template
Use this project report template as a starting point for your project reporting process. Adapt it to your company and project needs, and share it with the right people to ensure your project stays on track.