Best Practices for a Project Status Report

One of the most common reports requested in any work environment is the project status report. This guide walks you through a few simple tricks and tips for developing and delivering a great project status report.
Matt Talbot
|
CEO of Superchart
November 15, 2022

The main goal of any project status report is to quickly and clearly communicate the state of a project to another person.

This person could be a manager or colleague, or even an external stakeholder like a client.

A great project status report will make clear where the project stands, what is working, what roadblocks are slowing down progress, and what next steps are planned.

Further, a great project status report will be easy to understand and not overly complicated. Usually, when someone is looking for a project status report, they aren’t looking for a super detailed list of everything happening with the project. That would be too overwhelming! Plus, they should expect that you, as the project owner, are already on top of all those details.

Most importantly, a great project status report will make clear how the project is performing against the plan. 

So what should be included in a great project status report? Read on!

Outline for a Great Project Status Report

It may seem odd to start with an outline for what could be a relatively short report, but starting with an outline is almost always a good idea. 

If even to just organize your own thinking, a short outline can help you focus your thinking down to the few points that really matter.

Like most business reports, being brief and direct is essential and keeping the information organized is important. 

In general, a great project status report will have the following main sections:

  • A high level summary of the project and budget 
  • What has been completed so far
  • What the next priorities are for the project
  • Any major changes or shifts in plans 
  • Any roadblocks or issues that need to be resolved 
  • The next major action items

You can adapt these sections depending on the exact need for the project status report, but, in general, you should make sure that you are hitting on these main points. Below, we will specify the content for each of these sections.

High Level Summary 

The high level summary in your project status report should be enough that even if the reader doesn’t read any of the rest of the report, they will understand the state of the project.

Typically, you will want to keep this high level summary as brief as possible. The best case is a paragraph or less, with just a few main points. 

This is an opportunity to use visual aids, like a red/yellow/green stoplight or similar to quickly communicate the status with a visualization. 

If your project is extremely large or complex, you can include a longer high level summary, but our recommendation is to always keep the summary brief. 

The other consideration for a project summary is the frequency of the report and how familiar your intended audience is with the project. The more frequent the report and the more familiar your audience is with the project, the more brief you can make your summary.

What Has Been Completed So Far

The goal of this section is to give a summary of all the great work that has already been delivered. 

You want to be careful here to not list out every single task that has been accomplished, but to rather list the major objectives that have been fulfilled.

A structure you can use here is to list the major objectives and then provide a brief summary of any supporting tasks that you want to specifically recognize under this objective. 

This is a great opportunity to recognize that the project has already delivered some important results. Critically, you shouldn’t just list the objectives but rather make sure you frame them in the bigger picture for the project.

The Next Major Priorities for the Project

Use this section to lay out the major upcoming priorities for the project to align your stakeholders about what’s up next.

This section should clearly lay out the next major objectives and the order in which they will be tackled as part of the project. It’s important in this section to ensure that you are communicating a clear sense of priority and how the next tasks align with the overall project goals.

You should also include any information about the key people or dependencies that are involved in the next major priorities for the project. 

Any Major Shifts or Changes to the Plans

No matter how well organized and how well executed a project is, there will always be some sort of shift or changes to the original (and even updated!) plans for the project.

Use this section to provide an update and narrative around the major changes or shifts in the project since the last update.

This can be as minor as re-prioritizing a few of the tasks on the project to more major updates like a material shift in the timeline or a change in the people involved. 

The most important part of this section is explaining the reasons behind the major changes or shifts in the project. Providing a credible and clear explanation for any shifts shows that you are on top of the project.

Any Roadblocks or Issues That Need to Be Resolved 

Of all the sections of the report, this may be the most important because blockers always put a project at risk.

When listing out the roadblocks or issues that the project is facing, make sure to be clear and specific about the issues. 

The more specific you can be about the roadblocks and issues, the higher likelihood that you can get to an action plan that will eliminate or at least mitigate any risk.

In this section, it is also important to specify any solutions you have or are proposing to eliminate or reduce the roadblocks.

If you need approval for these changes, make that crystal clear as well. 

List of Next Major Action Items

Finally, the end of your project status update report should include a section that lists the major action items from here.

To be clear, these are not simply the next tasks in the project. These are critical action items that you are either implementing or needing approval to implement. 

This is your chance to resolve issues and take action on items that will help increase the likelihood that your project will meet its end goals. 

Use this section to be direct, specific, and clear about what action items are necessary to keep the project on track.

Key Takeaways

A project status report is a great way to communicate progress, align stakeholders, and remove obstacles for the project. Like all business communications, it is critical to be clear and specific. By utilizing the outline we have provided above, you can deliver a great project status report that your stakeholders will remember.

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