Posted by: Matt | March 6, 2008

How to Write a Status Report

The status report. It could be the most mind-numbing, time-wasting thing you do. It could also be a great opportunity to sell your accomplishments and make sure you get help with obstacles and issues. I’ve seen dozens of status report formats, from metrics-driven monstrosities to the totally free-form email. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll stick to individual status reports, but we’ll get to project-level status reports sometime soon. So, why do we do status reports? Well, I can think of three good reasons:

  1. Show your boss you’re doing something valuable
  2. Make sure you’re doing the right things by communicating the things you are doing and planning on doing
  3. To have a safe avenue to ask for help when you need it

Why are most status reports so bad? Because they really don’t do the above three things well. I can’t tell you how many reports I’ve received where people just don’t take the opportunity to effectively tout their accomplishments. Almost everyone has something they can brag about, and this is your official avenue to do it. Your boss needs this information to a) understand and evaluate your performance and b) create their own project status report. They’d like to have something good to say to their bosses about what the project is doing.

Unfortunately, most folks just cut and paste the same dry text from week to week: “Continued implementing application features.” or “Attended meetings with stakeholders.” You should always be asking and seeking to understand where you bring value: “Completed the first of three features to enable the auto-deploy capability.” “Clarified the requirements for the widget feature and obtained verbal approval for design.” As you begin to write your status reports identifying this value, you’ll find yourself looking for it everywhere. Instead of just attending that next meeting, you’ll start to see opportunities to add another notch to your set of accomplishments. It can be infectious.

On the second point from above, most status reports are just too ambiguous to really get at what you are doing. This is the result of years of learning how to waste time and get away with it. Don’t worry, we’re all guilty of it, but it’s just not a very fun way to spend your day. That and it definitely isn’t a good way to move forward in your career. If you find that you can only write generic “Continued…” type status reports, then you know you’re not really getting anything done. I even go so far as to ask my teams to just clearly say they ran out of work, or that they didn’t accomplish anything of note. I’d far prefer the clear communication and the opportunity to work on the issue rather than obfuscating what you’re actually spending your time on. Unfortunately, there is a culture that is common in today’s workplace that makes saying this uncomfortable. That can be understood – people don’t want to highlight that they’re not adding value – but it can end up hurting individuals and organizations if you can’t easily see who’s being effective and help those that aren’t.

This leads nicely into the third reason to write a status report, which is to have an avenue to clearly tell your boss where you need help. This doesn’t mean that you should dump all of your problems into your status report. Only the issues and roadblocks that you need management’s help to resolve should make it into your report. In addition, these should only be problems you are currently facing and that are impacting or will impact progress very soon. Your project should have other mechanisms for reporting project issues and risks, which will be more comprehensive and project-focused. You may wish to communicate a lack of skills needed for a given task, a stakeholder that you can’t get a meeting with, or any number of specific issues impacting progress.

With that, we come to format. You may not have a say in this, but you may wish to think in these terms before filling out your organization’s required format. Everyone has one they like. As you’ll see, mine aligns nicely to the goals from above.

Accomplishments (list your accomplishments from the last reporting period in bullet form)

Plans (list your plans for the next reporting period)

Issues or Roadblocks (list any issues or roadblocks that are currently impeding your progress – can be empty)

I would recommend at least a weekly reporting period. I have sometimes even gone to daily status reporting, which isn’t as painful as you’d expect. I also have my teams put their reports in a central location (rather than email them to me) so that everyone can see what everyone else is doing. The goal of management is not to be a central communications hub.

That’s it. If it takes you much more than five or ten minutes, then you’re probably thinking too hard. Of course, you may have to spend several minutes remembering what you did, if you don’t keep a work log. That, however, will be the subject of another post.

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Responses

  1. I found this very useful. At first, when I started my new job, I was going to meetings and chatting with my boss from disorganized notes. Now, I print a status report with the three sections, and things are getting done! She knows what I’m doing, and I get the help I need.


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