Properly communicating is a critical factor on many projects. The purpose of status reporting is to manage the expectations of the sponsor and the stakeholders. In many cases where conflicts arise, it's not because of the actual problem, but because the client or manager was surprised by it. Managing expectations through status reporting will keep such surprises from happening.
At a minimum, all projects should communicate status. The status process should include team members sending status updates to the project manager and the project manager sending status updates to management stakeholders. On a small project, the status update might be informal, but as your project gets larger, it should become more formal, taking the form of a Status Report.
There's no set format for a Status Report. If you look at the Status Reports of 20 organizations, you'll find 20 different formats, but there are some common elements. A good Status Report will contain the following.
Opening identifying information
Managers will tend to get multiple Status Reports. This opening information helps them keep the right project in mind. The information includes:
- The name of the project
- The project manager on the project.
- Project description: A brief explanation of the project.
- Reporting period (for instance May 1 - May 31)
This portion of the report should provide summary information regarding the overall project. Make sure that the questions in the first section are worded in a way so that the answers will either be all "yes" or all "no." Examples of project summary questions include:
- Will the project be completed on time?
- Will the project complete within budget?
- Are scope change requests being managed successfully?
- Are project issues being addressed successfully?
- Are project risks being successfully managed?
- Are all client concerns being addressed successfully?
- Comment summary. Give more information on any questions above that were answered "no."
List the major accomplishments from previous reporting period.
List the major planned accomplishments for the current reporting period.
Additional comments or highlights
Describe anything else that the reader should know that have not been reflected in the Status Report so far.
- Include other information of interest such as.
- Budget and effort hours summary
- Spending for the previous period and project to date
- Estimated total spending at project completion
- Earned value
- Issue Log
- Scope Change Log
- Project workplan
- Project metrics / statistics
Team members should send status updates to the project manager by the end of the day each Friday. The project manager updates the workplan and asks questions on Monday, and then a status meeting is held Tuesday. This timing ensures that the project manager is up to date on all project activities at the end of the week and is prepared for a productive status meeting with the project team and the client at the beginning of the following week.
Don't think of Status Reports as merely "paperwork" required by your company. A proactive project manager embraces them since they are a key means (but not the only means) for managing expectations. Project managers that carefully manage expectations will be much more successful than those that communicate poorly.