You will probably send this out by email and won’t even know who reads it and who ignores it. However, it is safe to assume that this document will be the best source of details on the project for a lot of people, so it pays to get it right.
Make It the Appropriate Length
One of the biggest temptations you will find with this piece of work is that of making it longer than it needs to be. You will have spent all week working on your project so you could probably write a few thousand words each week if you felt like it. However, you need to remember that those who read it have got plenty of other things to fill their day and that they don’t need an in depth, blow by blow account of your whole week. A summary of the main points should be enough, and anyone who wants more details will no doubt be in touch with you. Of course, you will want to avoid going too far the other way and writing terse summaries which don’t add to anyone’s knowledge of the subject.
Keep It Simple
Another problem some project managers find is that of making the status report too complicated or filling it with a lot of technical jargon which not everyone understands. This will be impossible to avoid at times but you should try your best to do so. If there are two or more ways of saying something then I would always suggest that you go for the simplest one. This isn’t a poetry competition or a chance to include as many big words in a document as you possibly can. Your audience will probably be pretty wide ranging so you should think of everyone you are sending it to and keep it as simple as you can while still getting your message across effectively.
Use Red, Yellow and Green Indicators
The use of red, yellow and green indicators is a rather simplistic way of letting people see at a glance whether everything is on track. Green means that everything is fine while yellow means that there are some possible issues which need to be dealt with. Red then means that you have run into problems which will probably affect the budget or the timescales you are working towards. To be honest, I find this approach a bit too simplistic at times but the stakeholders tend to enjoy seeing this sort of summary. Of course, if anything moves out to red unexpectedly then you can expect your phone to start ringing a few minutes after you send out the update. Changing the status from green to yellow is also an effective way of getting some attention for the project if there is something you need but you feel that you aren’t getting the support you need to sort it out.
Do It on Time Every Time
Perhaps the most important point with this kind of project update is that it has to be done on a regular basis for it to work. The stakeholders will come to rely on this coming through at the same time every week or however often you send it out. This means that if you don’t stick to the schedule you could have some disappointed and worried people wondering what has happened to the project. At the start of any piece of work I tend to put this in my computer’s calendar as a recurring task so that I do it automatically every time the little reminder pops up on my screen. If you are going to be off for any reason then be sure to have a deputy who knows how to update it and send it out in your absence.
Send It to the Right People
Finally, no matter what you write you need to make sure that you send it the right people. This is part of the work you will do at the start of the project to identify stakeholders and other interested parties. I would suggest that it doesn’t pay to be too precious about your updates and restrict the number of people you send them to. Unless there is something highly confidential about the project then I would send it to anyone who has a genuine interest in receiving it.
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