A really useful project status report

A really useful project status report

For clients, your boss, or just yourself. 

If you’ve ever been involved in any business-type project, you’ve probably encountered project status reports. People outside your project team want to know how things are going. Will you deliver what you said you would, when you said you would?

If you work as any kind of consultant or freelancer, you probably also write some kind of status report. If you don’t, you should. They’re super handy for keeping your client up to date, and making sure you get paid without fuss.

I even write them for myself, every week. Just to keep myself on track. Without a weekly check-in with my conscience, I find that blog posts don’t get written. Invoices don’t get sent. Things, generally, don’t get done.

Here’s how I do my reports, for myself and for my clients.

Get your stuff together

Start by getting up to date. Your report is going to summarise what you know about your current project(s), so make sure you know everything you can. Here’s the checklist I use - it’s included in the report templates anchor that you can download at the end of this post. 

  • Empty your email inbox - do, defer or delegate as you like, but make a note of anything that will have a bearing on this week’s report 
  • Collect up any letters, statements or other paperwork that’s piled up over the week, and go through it, like it was your email inbox.
  • Update your to do lists and plans. Check off the done things. Remove the 'no longer relevant' things. I also go through my personal calendar at this point, checking for follow-ups from the last week, and prep needed for the week ahead.
  • Update any financial trackers - personal budgets, company accounts, etc. Check where you are vs. where you’re supposed to be. 
  • Finally, get out last week’s status report. This system is based on rolling reporting: you start this week’s report by copying in your plans from last week. This helps to make it super quick, but also stops you from dodging your previous commitments.

Now you're ready to go through your report. Work through the template section by section in this order:

Planned and done 

Copy the To do next week section from last week’s report and paste it here.
Go through each item and cross it off* if you did it. Move it to the next section, Planned and not done, if you didn’t. 

*Crossing off can be literal using strikethrough formatting, if you’re just writing for yourself. If someone else is reading the report you probably should leave the crossing off as metaphorical, which isn’t as satisfying, but never mind...

Planned and not done

You may feel a twinge of guilt as you move things here from the section above. That’s okay. The important thing isn’t to dwell on the guilt, it’s to understand why the thing didn’t happen, and learn from it. Saying the dog ate your homework is okay the first time, but the second time someone is going to wonder why you didn't tie the dog up.

Go through the items in this section, and put a note against each one, about why it didn’t happen and what you might do about it, if anything. If something keeps turning up undone, week after week, have a think about why it’s still there. If you need to do it, do it. If not, it’s okay to drop it.

Unplanned and done

Stuff happens. Things come up in the week that you didn’t expect. Wonderful opportunities fall into your lap and you’d be a fool not to take them. Make a note of them here. They may also be the reason you didn’t do some of the things you planned.

However, if you have lots of items here, every week, you might want to think about how much you are actually planning your week ahead, and if you are sticking to your plan, once you’ve planned it. 

To do next week

Write down 3-5 things you plan to complete next week. Try to write them so it’s going to be easy to judge if you’ve done them or not, when you come to write next weeks report.
For instance, 'Design new homepage' isn’t super clear. 'Present the first version of the new homepage design to the team’ is harder to fudge. You either did it or you didn’t.

Issues to discuss

You might not do this if you are reporting purely to yourself, though I do use this section to jot down things I want to think about.

If you are reporting upwards or outwards, use this section to raise issues you’d like help with, or it’s important people are aware of. For instance, you’re forecasting a budget shortfall, and you’d like to discuss options for dealing with it. Maybe you’re on holiday for the next fortnight and want to remind your client you’ll be unavailable. Generally you only have one or two things here.

That’s your project status report done. 

The whole thing should fit on a single sheet of A4 paper, if you were to print it out. Not that I am suggesting you print it out. You’re jotting down bullet points, not writing an essay. You need to include just enough information so that it's clear to yourself or your reader what's happening, and what needs to be done, if anything.

Extras for clients

I usually add a couple of extra lines for reports that I send to clients. You’ll see them in the template. I summarise the number of days I worked for them in the past week, and also how many I expect to work for them in the coming week. This means there are no surprises at the end of the month when I come to invoice them. I also sometimes note which days I’m expecting to do which things, and I’d also note days I need them to do things. When you’re juggling a few different clients it’s good to manage everyone’s expectations so you aren’t run ragged with everyone phoning you every single day of the week.

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