As every experienced project manager knows, keeping a firm grip on progress is an absolute must if you want things to run smoothly. It’s not an easy job, but luckily there are loads of tools in the PM toolkit to help you keep things on track. Today, we’re going to talk about an often overlooked one: the progress report.
Progress reports help everyone on the team — and stakeholders — stay aligned and ensure the project doesn’t go sideways. You might think, We already do standups and send out emails. Surely, another process is just a waste of time, right?
We get it.
On the surface, a progress report is just another process you’ll have to complete at every milestone. But when it’s done well, this handy methodology can become a secret weapon for keeping projects on the right path.
So without further ado, here’s what you need to know about progress reports, why they’re important, and how to create one.
What is a progress report?
First things first: what do we mean by “progress?” As a project manager, there are three questions you should have the answer to at all times for any given project.
- Are we on track?
- What are our challenges? AND
- How can we overcome these challenges?
Your progress report is a document that helps you answer these questions. It provides team members and stakeholders with an update on the project’s status at a specific time interval, typically on a weekly or monthly basis.
A progress report has three major components: project information, tasks, and key performance indicators (KPIs). These include details such as:
- Project status
- Roles and responsibilities
- Completed tasks
- Milestones reached
- Unexpected hurdles during the project
- Priorities and next steps
- Other performance metrics and relevant data
It’s important to remember that a progress report will not solve every problem on its own. However, it gives you an opportunity for daily or weekly meetings where you can check in on what everyone’s doing and offer feedback when obstacles come up, especially early in the project.
“A progress report is an assessment of your work against a plan, with an emphasis on identifying potential problems early,” says Mark Price Perry, author and project management expert. “It provides forward-looking data about whether you are likely to achieve your objective in time and within budget. The more accurate the predictions are, the less likely it is that you will have to deal with unpleasant surprises down the road.”
Progress report vs. status update: what’s the difference?
Project management has many components, and the progress report is an important one. Many people mistake this for a status update, but it’s much more comprehensive. A status update details how far along you are towards completing an assigned task on time, while a progress report provides an overall, in-depth view of how far along your project is towards achieving its goals.
Why are progress reports useful?
Progress reports give you, the project manager, valuable information that would be nearly impossible to get without them. Big projects have many moving parts and often involve team members working in different departments or locations.
As you assign responsibilities, it’s normal to face delays in communication or misjudge the amount of time required for certain tasks. Without a progress report, it’s hard to see what everyone involved is doing, where they’re having problems, and whether or not your milestones are accurate.
Monitoring your progress helps you avoid duplicate efforts while maximizing efficiency throughout the entire project life cycle. Here’s why we recommend this method of organizing your work.
1. They keep everyone on the same page
Progress reports allow us to keep our eyes on the prize. Any time there are multiple people involved in one project, regardless of whether they’re coworkers or not, it’s crucial for everyone to know what’s going on with the project at all times.
2. They foster collaboration
Keeping everyone up to date with the goings-on of your project will foster more collaboration and teamwork between employees, both inside and across departments. Cooperation leads to fewer delays because everyone has a better sense of working toward the same goals.
3. They provide milestones
Big projects are daunting, but breaking them down into smaller chunks makes things seem so much more manageable. Milestones are crucial to any project, especially when deadlines or endpoints must be met to proceed with the rest of the schedule. A progress report helps you anticipate periods when you will need extra time, staff, or resources so that you can plan accordingly.
Top tip: Project management software produces these markers in an easy-to-read format, so there’s no confusion about where each part of the job ends and another begins.
4. They mean fewer meetings
Meetings are expensive and time-consuming — and half the time, they don’t even need to happen.
Progress reports are a form of asynchronous communication, which means they can be viewed at any time, even when team members aren’t co-located. Team members get all the information they need, anywhere, anytime. This type of communication offers more flexibility than face-to-face or chat meetings.
5. They allow for benchmarking
If changes need to be made, your team can implement them before it’s too late. Progress reports are delivered regularly, making it easier to spot potential problems as soon as possible. As a result, major issues that could arise in production get addressed quickly and efficiently instead of escalating.
6. They boost accountability and motivation
Having a clear, transparent view of the project’s progress keeps everyone accountable. Plus, as a manager, you can keep track of each employee’s time more accurately. You have the opportunity to show appreciation to those who are working hard while identifying team members who may need more support to achieve their task goals.
7. They allow early detection of problems
If a problem arises during development, these reports are helpful in deciding whether or not there’s still enough time left to fix the issue before the deadline. The PM can then determine the best way to take action — like fast-tracking or crashing — and get things done.
8. They offer greater transparency
A common complaint of stakeholders is that they feel out of the loop. With a progress report (and especially one that’s available online), people who aren’t directly working on the project can check in on its status. This allows stakeholders to feel more involved in the process and even lend their support when helpful. Not only do they know what’s happening, but stakeholders maintain a clearer idea of where the project is heading and how it relates to their interests.
9. They help with future planning
Progress reports provide lasting insight that can improve other projects. Answers to questions like ‘what’s holding you back’ can be invaluable in planning future stages, especially if the feedback comes from people that are knowledgeable about the project.
For example, if a progress report shows that a specific task isn’t achievable, your team can make adjustments and redefine your goals. Normally, you might face pushback from coworkers or stakeholders when you try to explain why a particular goal doesn’t work.
Because a collaborative report provides objective data, it helps to break down communication barriers. Everyone can assess the information and think realistically about how to move forward.
How do I create a progress report?
Here’s a step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Work out what data you need
The first step is to figure out what data to collect. You don’t want to write everything and end up with dense, unfocused reports that no one wants to read. Try to narrow down the list so that it can be written in bulleted format for easy reading. Here are some examples of what to include:
- Employee names and contact information
- Tasks assigned to each employee
- Milestones reached by the project
- Average hours per task per week vs. the estimated total number of hours needed
Next, organize the data into a table with these columns filled out. This is also where you should start thinking about how you want to present your progress report. Do you want it to be text-only or enhanced with compelling visuals? Make more room on your table if necessary!
Step 2: Add data to your diagram
Once you’ve tested out different formats and know what works for you, create a template with all the relevant labels in place (milestones reached, deadlines met, etc.). Next, start adding the data.
Remember to be concise when writing a progress report. No one wants a massive wall of text or a dizzying amount of graphs! Also, remember to add an introduction, goals, accomplishments, roadblocks, KPIs, and any other specific information stakeholders need to know.
In each progress report, you should lay out clearly what was done during the reporting period and how close you are to achieving your milestones. And if your milestones aren’t being met, include your recommendations for what needs to be done to get back on track. Make sure to look objectively at any potential issues so your closeness to the project doesn’t hinder you from making decisions.
Finally, write down your plans — including how you’ll overcome any roadblocks — and end with a concise summary.
Step 3: Share your report
When you’ve finished your progress report, don’t forget to send it out! Make sure the right people are aware of what’s been done during the reporting period. If things aren’t on track, be honest and let them know why.
Once you’ve sent out your reports, be patient. It may take a little while for someone in higher authority to provide their thoughts on the progress report.
Progress report: best practice
- Stay simple. Few people want to wade through a long, drawn-out report with lots of superfluous information. Keep it clear, direct, and to the point. Think about the most important details you would want to know if you received the progress report from someone else.
- Look beyond the traditional document format (Word doc/Excel). The best way to make a progress report is to consider the target audience and what would best suit their needs. With this in mind, you can present your information in multiple formats. Diagrams. Interactive presentations. Flowcharts. Graphs or documents shared via your project management tool.
- Choose your frequency. Progress reports need updating — but how often you do that is up to you. Daily reports will quickly turn into a headache, but monthly may be too little. Choose reporting frequency based on the complexity of your project, and then commit to your timeframe.
- Use graphics. We’ve said it a million times before: a picture is worth a thousand words. So, the more imagery you can use in place of chunks of text, the better. ✨
A project manager should summarize all project statuses into an easy-to-read format, so that reports can be passed on to project stakeholders and management. Consistency keeps the team on track and everyone else in the loop.
With Cacoo, you can make a professional progress report in minutes. Cacoo is a free diagramming tool that’s great for creating all sorts of reports — from hourly timesheets to sitemaps. Choose from existing templates or create your own project management progress report today!