8 steps to write an effective project status report

Jenny Thai contributor headshotJenny ThaiSeptember 27th, 202112 min read
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Project status reports

Summary

Effective project status reports are the best way to keep your stakeholders aligned and in the loop during your project progress. These high-level updates proactively let your team know if a project is on track, at risk, or off track—so you can course correct if necessary to hit your deadlines every time. Learn how to create project status reports in a few easy steps, plus check out a template you can use right away.

It’s the end of the week and here you are again: having to dig through a variety of spreadsheets, emails, and tools to patch together an update of how your project is doing. 

Reporting on the status of work is critical to keeping your team on the same page, proactively identifying risks, and staying on track and on budget. But manually compiling this information from different sources is one of the biggest drivers of work about work—busywork that gets in the way of your meaningful, high-impact tasks. 

Instead of manually assembling this information, use a project status report template to streamline this process for you. That way, you spend less time on unnecessary data gathering and more time on work that matters. 

Whether you’re gearing up for your first ever project status report or you’re looking for a better system than the one you currently use, this article will walk you through what a progress report is, how you can build one, and how to use project status reports to hit your project deadlines on time, every time. Here’s how.

What is a project status report?

Project status reports are timely updates on the progress of your projects. Written concisely, project reports offer high-level information about project progress, so team members get at-a-glance insight into what’s happening within the project. With a timely status report, you can ensure your entire project team and cross-functional stakeholders understand what’s on track, what’s blocked, and what’s coming next. 

Regularly sharing project status reports is important because they help you keep all project stakeholders in the loop and aligned on how your project is progressing. They answer the questions everyone has before team members even have a chance to ask them. They show and tell your team that you’re on track, making you (and everyone else) feel confident.

How often you share project status reports depends on your project’s timeline. Some projects benefit from weekly reporting, while others only need to be updated once a month. Schedule your project reports as frequently as is helpful for your stakeholders. These shouldn’t be reactive reports on things going poorly—rather, effective reports keep your team updated on the project’s progress, whether the project is on track, at risk, or off track.

Try reporting with Asana for free

The benefits of effective project reporting

Reporting isn’t just something you should do for the sake of doing it. Effective reporting has a variety of benefits. When you correctly report on project status, you effectively: 

Keep track of project health

The worst thing for a project is when you arrive at the end of the timeline and realize you were off track the whole time. No one likes being blindsided—and as the project manager, you’re empowered to make sure your team is aware of your project health at all times. 

Progress reports are a way to do that without too much manual work. Because these reports mix high-level summaries with some important metrics, everyone has a sense of the project's health. And if the project is off track? You can quickly and proactively fix it—so you still hit your project deadline on time and on budget.

Read: What causes project failure? 7 common culprits and their solutions

Summarize project progress

Project status reports are not real-time reports. These reports are summaries of what happened during the past week, two weeks, or month of project work. They’re an opportunity for your stakeholders to stay informed on how well you’re sticking to the project plan

If you’re looking for tips on how to report on projects in real time, check out our article on universal reporting tools for every team

Reduce manual work

As the project manager, you already have enough on your plate. You don’t need to also spend hours every week or month grabbing data from different places. Project reporting tools make it easy to find all of this information in one place, and create a project status report with the click of a button. 

Share next steps and action items

Project status reports should go out to your project team, project sponsor, important stakeholders, and cross-functional team members. Because these are high-level reports, they’re appropriate for anyone who wants to stay informed about project progress. 

This is the optimal way to let everyone know what’s happening without getting into the details. If there are important project next steps or action items, share them here so everyone knows what to expect. 

Proactively identify blockers

If your project isn’t on track, your status report lets others know what the delay is and what you’re doing to resolve any blockers, allowing you to show off your proactive approach to getting things back to where they should be. Similar to the project risk management process, proactive status reporting helps you identify and overcome issues before they impact your project timeline.

Read: 7 common project risks and how to prevent them

Say goodbye to status meetings

The day of the status meeting is over. We now know these aren’t effective ways to spend your time. Unlike face-to-face meetings, project status reports are shared in a central tool that team members can check asynchronously when they want to. They can refer back to the information, or dig deeper into the project if necessary. Save your face-to-face meeting time for valuable meetings like brainstormings or all hands. 

Before you report: Combine reporting with effective project management

The biggest benefit of project status reporting is that it reduces your manual work, centralizes information, and makes it easy to keep everyone up to date. If your information is scattered across multiple tools, you can’t effectively use project reporting templates—you still need to manually open this Excel spreadsheet and that team email to gather your information. 

Instead, make sure you’re using project management software as your central source of truth. With project management software you:

  • Have a central source of truth so team members can see who’s doing what by when. 

  • Can easily visualize project information in a Gantt chart, Kanban board, calendar, or spreadsheet-style list view. 

  • Create status reports with the click of a button. 

  • Offer a place for team members who read the status report and want more details to look and find the information they need. 

  • Have access to additional project information, like your project plan, communication plan, project goals, milestones, deliverables, and more.

Naturally, we think Asana is a great option. Asana is a work management tool your entire team can use. Your cross-functional collaborators need a way to view past status reports. Your key stakeholders need a bird’s eye view of the entire program or project portfolio management progress. And your team members need a way to track individual work throughout the project lifecycle.

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8 steps to write a great project status report

So, how do you go about doing project status reports? Be sure to create a clear structure you can use consistently for all future status reports. You should also make sure it matches with your project brief to keep your report on topic.

Follow this guide to understand what to include in your project status report, and watch as we put each step into practice with an example of an Employee Satisfaction project.

1. Build your report where work lives

Before you build your report, make sure you’re already tracking your work information in a project management tool. That way, you don’t have to manually grab information from a host of sources—instead, you can reduce manual work and create a report with a few clicks. 

Starting off with a project management tool makes it easy to capture dependencies and note upcoming tasks so you’re never blindsided about your project health.

2. Name your report

A great option is to simply use the project name for clarity. If you’re reporting on this project regularly, you should also include a date or timestamp.

Example project report title: February 2020 - Employee satisfaction initiative

3. Indicate project health

The project health is the current status of the project. Project health may change from report to report, especially if you run into blockers or unblock big project risks. Look for a project management tool that allows you to communicate the project’s status and whether or not it’s on track. One way to do this is to use a color coding system (green = on track, yellow = at risk, red = off track).

Example project health update: Project status is on track.

4. Quickly summarize the status report

Your project status report summary should be brief—about 2-3 sentences. The goal here is to give readers who may not have time to read the entire report a quick TL;DR of the most important facts. 

This is the first section of your report, so it’s the best place to: 

  • Include highlights

  • Flag major blockers

  • Note unexpected project risks

Example status report summary: Our survey results are in and being reviewed. At first glance, we’re seeing 80% employee satisfaction, up 3 points from the last survey. The Engagement Committee is working with the Executive team on what new engagement initiatives to implement in our key target areas, which include career growth and transparency.

5. Add a high-level overview of each key area

Depending on your project, your key areas may vary from report to report, or they may stay consistent. For example, in an Agile project that’s continuously improving, you’d likely use dynamic key areas that cover the things your team worked on during the last sprint. Alternatively, for an event planning project, there are a set number of key areas that you always want to touch on, like promotion, signups, and speakers. 

For each key area in the status report, add a few bullet points that give an update on progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

Example high-level overview of a key area: Survey results

  • 70% of employees took the satisfaction survey.

  • Our overall satisfaction rating is 80%.

  • Only 57% of employees report having a clear path towards career advancement, down 5% since the last survey. 

  • 41% of employees listed transparency as the number one improvement they’d like to see.

6. Add links to other documents or resources

While you shouldn’t include every little detail about how your project is going, some people will want to know more. For stakeholders who are looking for more in-depth information, provide links to documents or resources. This can include more specific project information, like links to specific project milestones, or the broader impacts of the project, like a reference to the business goals the project is contributing to.

Example: Include a link to the employee satisfaction survey, as well as to the larger company OKR around increasing employee engagement over the course of the fiscal year.

7. Flag any blockers the project has run into

All projects run into roadblocks. These can come in the form of project risks, unexpected increases to the budget, or delays that impact the project timeline. Keeping stakeholders in the loop when issues arise will help everyone adjust accordingly to stay on track. 

Example roadblock: The executive team wants to look at results before the engagement committee meets again, but won’t be able to do so for another three weeks. This will delay our overall project timeline.

8. Highlight next steps

These could include a list of next steps, kudos you want to give someone, or anything else you want to highlight.

Example: Thank you Sarah A. for sending out multiple communications to employees encouraging them to participate in the survey!

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Template for creating your project status report

To quickly put everything you learned in the previous section to use, write your next project status report using this easy-to-fill-out template:

Report name:

Name your report. This can be as simple as the project name and the date of the report.

Project health:

Is the project on track, at risk, or delayed?

Summary:

Include a short description of the most important takeaways from your project status report here. Keep in mind that busy stakeholders may only look at this section, so include any highlights or blockers the entire team needs to know about

Key area 1: High-level overview

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

Key area 2: High-level overview

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

Key area 3: High-level overview

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

  • Specific details about progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work.

Additional information and links: 

Link to relevant project details or higher-level project information that stakeholders might be curious about. This section is a chance for team members to dig deeper on specifics, or understand how the project initiative fits into your larger strategic goals

Blockers:

Are there any challenges you’re facing? How will you resolve them?

Additional notes or highlights:

Are there any additional things your team needs to know? What are the main next steps? 

Example project status report

While a how-to guide on writing project status reports is helpful, sometimes seeing a real-life example allows you to really see what your own update could look like, right? We thought you might agree, so here’s an example you may find useful:

Report name: Ebook launch

Project status: On track

Summary:

Great progress this week! We are still in the concept phase, but Avery Lomax will be choosing a topic this week. Content and Design teams are standing by and ready to get started once we give the go ahead.

Concept:

  • Planning team met to discuss an overall topic

  • We have three final ideas and will choose one on Friday

  • A brief is due to the Content team the following Thursday

Content:

  • The Content team is ready to start writing copy as soon as our idea is finalized

  • They are gathering pertinent company information that should be included

Design:

  • Design reviewed five ebook examples to determine the style they liked

  • They will be choosing a template by next Tuesday

Additional notes or highlights:

  • Jen is out of the office all next week so please direct any content questions to Joy

  • Thank you to Henry for curating a huge list of topics for us to choose from!

Issues/challenges:

The e-book’s deadline is tight, as we all know. It’s critical that we’re all working in our project management tool to keep everyone organized and on track. Thanks!

Streamline reporting with a work management tool

The above report is clear and easy to follow. By building this report in a work management tool like Asana, you can automatically fill each section but the summary. Here’s what the above report looks like in Asana:

Example Asana project status report for an ebook launch meeting Try reporting with Asana for free

Project status reporting best practices

Now you know what to include in your project status report, but you may still have a few additional questions. As you’re creating status reports for your project, these best practices will help you formulate a winning update.

How often should you report out?

The frequency with which you send project updates depends on the type of project you’re running. If your project has a short timeframe, or if things are moving quickly, aim to send weekly project status reports. Alternatively, if the initiative you’re reporting on is a long-term project, you probably only need to send biweekly or even monthly reports. The most important thing is making sure your project stakeholders are up to date. 

When you use a project reporting tool, you can set a task for yourself to always send status reports on a certain day each week. These recurring reminders make it easy to keep stakeholders informed, whether you're sending weekly status updates or monthly progress reports. Either way, stakeholders will begin to expect your updates, which means less frequent check-ins from them (plus they’ll appreciate always being in the loop).

By sending regular reports, you can avoid multiple meetings related to a project (we all know unnecessary meetings have their own reputation). Skip the check-in meetings and save your time for more important work.

Who should you include?

It depends on the project and who is involved, but typically plan to send an update to any stakeholders working on your project. You should have created a stakeholder analysis—outlining all stakeholders, sponsors, and team members—during the project planning process, but refer to your project plan if you aren’t sure.

Even if that week’s status report doesn’t affect a particular team member, you should still share it with everyone. It’s important for everyone to have a high-level overview. Team members who don’t need to review the report in depth can quickly skim your summary section, while others who are more involved can dive into the details you’ve provided. 

Read: What is a project stakeholder analysis and why is it important?

How detailed should you get?

A project status report shouldn’t offer every little detail. Let the work tell the story—you’re simply curating information and adding a little color. Think of a project status report as a top line message—just the most important pieces of your project that affect most of stakeholders should be included.

You should always indicate whether the project is on track, at risk, or off track, give a quick summary of what’s complete and what’s upcoming, then link out to other resources for people who want more details.

Where should you write your project status report?

The best way to draft and share status updates is with a work management tool. Look for a tool that offers an overview of your project, so your team has a central source of truth for all project-related work. That way, instead of managing projects in spreadsheets, you can keep it all—status updates, project briefs, key deliverables, and important project milestones—in one place. Your reports will be easily shareable, and stakeholders can look back on previous reports at any time, avoiding email overload on your end.

Example Asana Project Overview for a product marketing launch project

Wrapping your project up: summarizing your work

The status reports we’ve been talking about are always sent during a project to keep everyone in the loop. However, once the project is finished, it’s smart to send out a final summary report. Think of this as the executive summary for your project. This is your chance to offer stakeholders a wrap-up to the project. Use it to officially close it out.

Again, it’s a high-level overview, but instead of including updates and statuses, you’ll provide a summary of how the overall project went. Here are a few questions to answer in a project summary report:

  • What were the goals of this project and were they met?

  • Was the project completed on time and on budget (if applicable)?

  • What successes should be highlighted?

  • What challenges did we run into?

  • What can we learn from this project to help us on future projects?

Read: 6 steps for a successful project post mortem meeting

Keep every stakeholder on track with status reports that write themselves

If you’re looking to over-deliver on your next project, try sending project status updates. They keep you productive, efficient, and accountable, while giving everyone else a quick (and engaging) look into what’s been happening. 

Use the resources we’ve provided to create reports that give just enough information without diving into too much detail. Find a project management solution like Asana that has features designed specifically to help with status reports. You’ll save time and be as organized as possible.

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