The Smart Art of Project Status Reporting: On Time and To the Point

  • from ITtoolkit.com

Image of whiteboard with information and dates listed representing the need for a project status report.

Status reporting is one of the most vital governance practices for any project.  When used appropriately, status reporting serves multiple purposes, not the least of which is to support informed decision making, monitor progress, communicate with stakeholders and maintain performing organization credibility.  Above all, status reporting is the primary means to "control the project narrative".  Read on to learn how it all works.

Status Reports: The Path to Informed Decisions

As projects are executed, it is vital to have accurate information regarding “where things stand”. Status reporting is the means by which “progress” is quantified and documented, providing the basis for informed decision making as the project unfolds. And that’s the key to effective status reporting.... using the information reported to make decisions, solve problems and keep the project moving forward in a positive direction. Within the project management lifecycle, productive status reporting serves seven (7) key goals:

  1. To maintain a timely, consistent flow of information relating to project progress and performance.
  2. To raise issues, problems and delays in a timely, actionable fashion.
  3. To provide sufficient reasoning and rationale for changes and adjustments to plans and strategies.
  4. To monitor and track project costs and budget utilization.
  5. To lay a solid, practical foundation for informed decision making and creative problem resolution.
  6. To acknowledge individual and team accomplishments in a timely, organized fashion.
  7. To provide a standardized mechanism for communicating “status” to project stakeholders.

It All Starts with the Reporting "Templates"

Status reports are most efficiently produced using standardized procedural and production “templates”, designed to save time and set realistic expectations regarding report timing, frequency, content and formality. Truly actionable status reporting will convey “where you are” in comparison to “where you planned to be” and “where you need to go”. It’s about quantifying work completed in measureable terms (typically percentages) and comparing that data to established baselines, all to determine whether the project is on track (and to take immediate corrective action if not).

In order to ensure that all key goals are met, status reports must provide the following types of information:

  • Facts: Milestones, planned accomplishments, schedule utilization, budget utilization, resource utilization and related variables.
  • Variances: Measureable differences between planned and actual status (e.g. are we on plan, ahead of plan or off plan, and if so, why?).
  • Analysis: Reasons for and the impact of any identified, measureable variances (e.g. why is the project ahead of or behind schedule?).
  • Next Steps: Actions to be taken to respond to variances and resolve problems, as well as expected accomplishments for the next reporting period.

Controlling the Project Narrative

Projects do not occur in a vacuum. There is always an underlying “narrative” that determines how a given project will be perceived – from both a progress and “probability of success” point of view. As a project manager, you can either take control of the narrative, or you can let the narrative control you. It’s easy to guess which is preferable.

In order to take control of the project narrative (and to hold on to it as the project proceeds), status reporting must go beyond steps and templates to communicate actionable status information that is both timely and in context. What makes status information “in context”? Usability. To serve its intended purpose, project status reporting must keep stakeholders informed in a meaningful way – to make relevant decisions, take appropriate action and fulfill project roles and responsibilities. To “report” is to communicate, and project communication without purpose lacks productivity and value.

The key to timely, “in context” status reporting is to match reporting “means and methods” (i.e. status reporting procedures and templates) to stakeholder needs and interests. This is achieved through a four (4) point analysis:

  1. Who are your “status report” stakeholders (to receive status reports)?
  2. What are their respective project roles and responsibilities?
  3. How will they use status information to fill these roles and responsibilities?
  4. Are they considered “active” or “passive” participants for status reporting purposes?

This is where the art of status reporting truly kicks in - matching status reporting practices to stakeholder needs and interests (which can and do vary). In all likelihood, multi-layered procedures and template formats will be required to address varied needs with regard reporting frequency, level of detail, and related format possibilities (i.e. software produced reports, simple forms, formal documents, presentations, etc.).


Work Smarter

Even under the best of circumstances, management is a challenge. When you learn to fast track, you’ll learn to work smarter, not harder. And that’s the value of every lesson, resource and template available at Fast Track Manage Learning. We teach you how to fast track your way to successful projects, committees and more. Learn More


(8) Easy Tips to Maximize Reporting Results

  • Be on time - if status is not timely, it is meaningless.
  • Be accurate - nothing is more damaging to performing organization credibility than inaccurate (or partial) information.
  • Don't hold back - if the news is bad, be open and upfront about it.
  • Don't be shy about good news - tout accomplishments (status reporting is part "marketing" - it's your job to "sell" project viability).
  • Always be prepared to explain known and potential variances and trends (whether you are ahead or behind).
  • Anticipate stakeholder concerns and interests - look at status from the "other side" and try to meet information needs.
  • Be aware of the politics - and respect the information hierarchy.
  • Know your audience - make sure your status reports are always relevant, concise and to the point.

Be sure to remember that, as a process, status reporting also has its downsides. If not properly sized, it can increase administrative overhead, it can lead to "information overload", and it might be perceived as "micro-managing". The art to productive status reporting is to minimize these downsides so that all true benefits can be realized. In actual practice, potential downsides will only be a factor when appropriately sized "status reporting" standards aren't clearly established and followed.


Using Milestones to Track Project Progress and Accomplishments

What would project planning be like if every task, decision and event were given the same weight and significance?  It would all just be “noise”, without a meaningful way to monitor progress or plan next steps.   That’s the point of the project milestone – to quiet the “noise” and provide actionable goalposts to manage by. Read this article on Project Milestones or other related articles listed below.

Source: Unless noted otherwise, all content is created by and for ITtoolkit.com


About Us

Right Track Logo

ITtoolkit.com staff writers have experience working for some of the largest corporations, in various positions including marketing, systems engineering, help desk support, web and application development, and IT management.

ITtoolkit.com is part of Right Track Associates, proprietors and publishers of multiple web sites including ITtoolkit.com, Fast Track Manage, HOA Board List and more. We started ITtoolkit.com in 2001 and have continued to grow our web site portfolio, Toolkit products, and related data services. To learn more, visit us at Right Track Associates.

Stay Informed

Useful information without inbox overload.

we do not sell our list

subscribe now
I.T. Service Planning The Fast Track Project Toolkit Start For Free

The IT Service Strategy Toolkit teaches you how to fast track IT service planning using the time-saving “service strategy process”. The goals are simple... to manage IT departments, services and projects in a common-sense manner, to align business and technology, and realize maximum value, acceptance, and utilization - all at the lowest overhead costs. It’s all about adding value, in less time and with greater success. Get lifetime access to a growing IT service curriculum of lessons, videos, reference materials, templates and more. Start for free.

Committee Management The Project Committee Toolkit Start For Free

The Project Committee Toolkit teaches you how to manage successful committees using the "committee concept" process. Committees are one of the most effective ways to organize, deliberate and make decisions. But too often, committee success is hampered by conflict and bureaucracy. When you follow the committee concept process, you’ll learn to avoid these pitfalls and ensure that your committees are properly formed, managed and staffed. Get lifetime access to a growing committee management curriculum of lessons, videos, reference materials, templates and more. Start for free.

Project Management The Fast Track Project Toolkit Start For Free

The Fast Track Project Toolkit teaches you how to deliver on-time, on-plan projects using "strategic project fast tracking". The fast track approach is a time-saving methodology, designed specifically for "real world" project circumstances - when you are being asked to do more than time and resources may allow. Fast tracking is the way to work around these obstacles and deliver prioritized results. Get lifetime access to a growing project planning curriculum of lessons, videos, reference materials, templates and more. Start for free.