Project Management

6 Essential Elements of Project Status Reports

Project status reports are a daily occurrence for anyone working in a team.

These ubiquitous reports are used across different sectors & domains – right from software development to construction management & more. They might be called different names in different teams/industries, but project status reports are everywhere. 

It is obvious that the content & frequency of these project status reports varies based on different factors. 

However, what remains constant is their purpose. Project status reports are meant to keep various stakeholders up to date. 

Effective project status reporting helps identify issues early & facilitates course corrections. 

Usually, the status report covers not only the recent accomplishments but also upcoming milestones. This helps in setting the right expectations and prepares stakeholders for future engagements with the project.

To achieve these outcomes, project status reports across the board are going to have certain essential elements. This article discusses six such elements.

Essentials Elements of Project Status Reports

If you are a first time project manager, check out our first timer’s guide.

Executive summary

Almost all reports, not just project status reports, will have the executive summary as the first section.

As the name suggests, this section should provide a high-level overview of the project. 

The target audience for this section are those higher ups in your org who are need a bird’s eye view. So the content (in case of the project status report) will include a quick summary on goals of the project, current status of those goals, any significant wins and unmitigated risks.

Executive summary sets the tone for rest of the report & quickly provides a snapshot of the project’s progress.

Some tips to keep the executive summary relevant & useful –

  • Keep the content concise & to the point
  • Use bullets & short sentences to highlight critical info
  • Keep it easy to understand so that project managers who are not involved in day to day activities find it easy to digest
  • Don’t let the content go beyond a page, otherwise it is not a ‘summary’ anymore

In a nutshell, think of executive summary as an elevator pitch version of the project status report. Thus, it should be compelling & informative.

Lastly, executive summary should align with the interests and concerns of the audience. For instance, if the project status report is created for financial stakeholders, highlighting cost-related achievements and challenges may be pertinent.

Progress towards goals

After the execution summary, all sections provide information that is more detailed.

Progress towards goals or simply Progress, usually appears as the second section in the project status report. 

This section should include a detailed breakdown of the project’s milestones, tasks, and deliverables. It should also include any changes or updates made to the project plan.

This is where visually presenting the information becomes helpful. Using visuals such as charts, graphs, or timelines adds that extra bit of effectiveness. 

These visuals should present insights & not just the data. 

Progress is the section where any discrepancies between planned vs actual progress is highlighted. This helps in drawing attention to areas that may require additional focus.

Include a comparison of current progress against the project schedule. This will help the audience understand if the project is on track or if it needs a push.

Some teams also use the RAG (Red, Amber, Green) method for tracking the project status.

However, don’t miss the opportunity to acknowledge & celebrate completion of milestones & tasks. This motivates the project team and builds confidence among stakeholders about the project’s trajectory.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are measurable values that track performance over time of a specific objective. 

KPI's Relevant to Project Management

Myriads of KPIs exist out there. Some relevant to the project management space are – 

  • Budget variance
  • Planned & Earned value
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Resource utilization
  • Risk management effectiveness
  • & more

This section of the project status report provides the agreed upon KPIs front & centre, for everyone to see. It is useful to have some additional context around these KPIs such as trends, benchmarks & past performances. 

If any of the KPIs show variances from the original targets, provide an explanation & provide a plan to bring them back on track.

Being transparent about the KPIs establishes credibility and trust with stakeholders. Include both positive and negative performance indicators to give a balanced view of the project’s health. 

For instance, if the project is ahead of schedule but over budget, clearly communicate both aspects.

Previously discussed RAG tracking can also be useful here. This traffic light system can immediately draw attention to areas that are off-track (red), lagging (amber), or are on target (green). It simplifies the communication of complex data and aids in prioritizing discussions during stakeholder meetings.

Risks and Issues

No project is without its risks and issues. And no project status report is complete without this section. 

It’s vital to track and communicate these risks, issues to stakeholders. This information can then be fed into decisions to mitigate the risks.

In this part of the project status report, highlight any impending risks. You can go a step further by maintaining a risk log. 

To keep things structured, you can provide below details for each one of the issues/risks –

  • A brief description explaining the risk/issue
  • Steps taken to mitigate the risk/resolve the issue
  • Potential impact on the project if unmitigated/unresolved 

Be transparent in reporting these risks/issues. This will help you maintain trust with stakeholders & prevent any last minute surprises.

If there is a practice in your team, provide risk matrix. It will help in quantifying the level of risk and the probability of occurrence. Which in turn aids in prioritizing the risks. 

A detailed risk analysis sends the message that the project team is vigilant and taking necessary precautions already.

Next steps and action items

The next steps and action items section of a project status report outlines the tasks that need to be completed in the following reporting period. 

Include any decisions made, actions taken, and deliverables due here.

Under this section, define the next actions and assign ownership to team members. Don’t miss out on providing a timeline for completing these tasks. All this information helps clarify direction of the project and what to expect in the next report.

This section does two things – 1. Keeps everyone informed 2. Ensures accountability by assigning individual ownership & timelines on tasks.

This information can also serve as a checklist for the project team. A reminder of the project’s short-term objectives, this section is an essential part of the report. It facilitates planning and execution of immediate actions to maintain the project momentum.

Budget summary

A project status report not meant for financial or business stakeholders may skip this section, but we recommend including it for transparency.

Without this section, the project status report would be incomplete. This section provides an overview of the project’s financial performance & highlights numbers such as the budgeted amount, actual expenses, and any deviations.

Use visual aids such as charts or graphs and make this information easy to understand.

A detailed budget summary allows stakeholders to assess the financial health of the project. 

Use this section to explain reasons behind any budget variances. Such variances could be due to unexpected costs, changes in scope, or savings from efficiencies gained during the project. 

This transparency in financial reporting helps stakeholders grow confidence in the project manager’s ability to control costs and manage resources effectively.

Lastly, the budget summary should include a forecast for the remaining duration of the project. This forecast should take into account any known variables that may affect the budget and should provide stakeholders with an understanding of potential financial outcomes.

Conclusion

In a more structured & formalized environment, it is near impossible to execute without periodic project status reports. 

The frequency & depth of these reports may vary, but the reports definitely exist in one form or the other. Some teams may use shared spreadsheets, or presentations or even simple word document format for this.

Irrespective of the format, these reports help stakeholders remain in the know and aligned. Although not exhaustive, by including these six essential elements in your project status reports, you put the right foot forward.

On the surface, distributing information may seem like the goal of any project status report. However, the real aim is to support informed decision-making. 

Use the report to highlight any areas that need attention and provide recommendations for addressing them. With a well-crafted project status report, you can keep your stakeholders informed and ensure the project’s success.

At times, a thoughtfully created project status report can be the difference between a successful and a failed project. This report serves not only as a communication tool but as a means to engage stakeholders in a dialogue about the project. 

Informative & engaging reports increase the likelihood of stakeholder buy-in and support, which is critical to the overall success of the project.

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