Effective status reports

Status reporting is often a necessary evil in many corporate environments to keep stakeholders up to date on what is happening with a project. In our travels, we see a lot of weak status reports and generally help clear things up. While one could practically write a book on what makes a good status report, here are a few tips that we often give our clients.

What is a good status report?

A good status report gives the target audience the information they need as minimally as possible. Why “minimally?” We do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time creating a status report when we could be executing on the project. Depth of specific issues can be explored collaboratively, ideally through a conversation. Additionally, for agile teams, anyone wanting more detail can optionally attend the daily stand-up meeting as a “chicken.”

What does a status report contain?

Keep it simple! We have found that a useful status report follows a Scrum-like format. It is typically sent once per week to relevant stakeholders and contains the following:

  • What are our goals for the next week?
  • What are the tasks and accountabilities for the next week?
  • What did we accomplish last week?
  • Where are we blocked?
  • [optional] What are the outstanding issues that are carried over from last time?

What are “good” goals?

The goals section is very, very important, albeit brief. It ensures the team is marching towards the same end and clarifies the ultimate objective for the week. It also allows us to sanity check the tasks for the week. If the tasks don’t fit within the goal, then why do them? Should these tasks be postponed because they are a lower priority?

What to include for tasks?

Don’t reinvent the wheel — pull your tasks directly out of your project management system if possible (e.g., copy / paste) and again, keep them high-level. It should not be a lot of work to summarize them. Remember, do the minimum amount to satisfy your audience.

Each task must have accountability. It is not necessary to include this in the status report (although it is a nice to have) as long as everyone can find the responsibilities in your project management system. Keep the details there.

What to include for accomplishments?

Focus the report on the outcomes vs. the specific tasks that were done. For example, instead of stating “added new columns to the sheet” (the “how”), what result are the new columns facilitating (the “why”)? What decisions will these columns help make? What decisions must everyone be aware of without getting distracted by the details? Talk about the “how” during the daily stand-up or other collaborative meetings. These details are generally not useful to the general audience of a status report.

What about blockages?

Get arterial blockages checked by a doctor ASAP! But seriously, highlight blockages in a different color in the report. Blockages need to be surfaced to everyone in the audience and should include a plan to follow-up and remove them. If the cause of the blockage is not a regular project stakeholder, include that person on the “To:” list for the report. Everyone should know about the blockage and what is being done to mitigate and remove it.

What to include for outstanding issues?

Ideally, this section is not present or minimal. Outstanding issues are those things that are hold-overs from the last report that still need answers or action. A high performing team keeps this section empty from week to week and doesn’t incur debt in the form of issues still requiring attention.