The “Top 3” of status reports
As managers or project managers we regularly prepare so-called status reports. It is supposed to be a summary of the events, accomplishments, issues and upcoming milestones. In my experience in project management I have seen numerous formats of status reports. In many, too many cases I am overwhelmed by the amount of information presented in such reports; often the formats make you wonder how much time the preparer has. This is not the space to list the shortcomings of such reports. Instead I want to outline what a good and comprehensive report should entail.
It starts with an executive summary of the report. I am not talking about a novel. An executive summary is short and to the point. In 1-2 sentences you summarized the main accomplishments, issues and upcoming milestones. Sounds easy? Well, it isn’t. As a matter of fact I have found that it is easier to describe a situation in paragraphs rather than say 1 or 2 sentences. The limited space you have forces you to prioritize the many issues you are dealing with. The question which should guide you is this: what are my top 3 issues I am dealing with? It is likely that you are dealing with more than “just” 3 issues. Still, you should always be able to pinpoint the most pressing challenges. They require your first and utmost attention. Other issues are important, too, but how much time and resources do you have to address them. Unless you have limitless time you have to set priorities. Acknowledging this you have to be in the position to identify the 3 most important issues and focus on solving them first. This does not mean that you neglect the others. You don’t; but you start with your top 3.
On this token, the rest of the status report is almost self explaining. List the 3 most important accomplishments (or met milestones), the top 3 upcoming milestones or deliverables. Then you move on to the top 3 issues and risks. Alas, it is not sufficient to list the top 3 issues and risks. Briefly describe the impact of the issues and risks, outline how you plan to resolve or control them, who is driving this solution (i.e., who is accountable for the issue and solution) and by which date you expect a solution or at least a new update.
A word on lengths and formats. Expectations differ, no doubt. In my own experience I have found that a 1-page long dashboard is more than sufficient. On 1 page it should give you a mutual, exhaustive, comprehensive and exclusive overview of what is happening in your project or organization. This can be done in Powerpoint, Word or Excel format. And maybe you even have the luxury of using a more elaborat collaboration tool. Regardless keep it simple and on the point. It may actually take more time to prepare a 1-page dashboard than a 2-5 pages status report. But chances that your 1-page dashboard is actually read and acknowledged by your sponsor our your management is greater than the longer version.
Have a look at this sample report and feel free to use it.