Focus on these four concepts to make your project status reports the best they can be and as informative as possible for all the stakeholder groups you need to report to. At the heart of project communication is the project status report. It may not be the spoken word, but it draws a lot of attention on the project every week and likely helps the project manager run a successful weekly project status with the customer. At least it does if it's done right. It should drive that meeting. So make it complete, make it look good, make it fit everyone's needs, and focus on these four concepts to put together the best status report possible for your project.
1. Create one report for everyone.
Forget trying to please everyone all of the time. It won't work. Or you'll go crazy trying to do it. Create one report that basically works for all stakeholders. You'll want a high-level view for senior management and for those project sponsors who want to quickly check to make sure everything seems to be “on track.” If you can get to this “satisfies all” project status report very early in the project, life will get much easier for you. And once you have one that satisfies everyone on one project, it will likely work on most of your projects with little tweaks from project to project. Hopefully after a few projects you'll find your exact “one size fits all” project status report that everyone will love or at least tolerate.
2. Include budget info no matter what others say.
I've had clients tell me they didn't want budget info on the status report. Not sure why...maybe they had to pass it up the chain on their site and didn't want their senior management to see it. I say include at least high-level project financial health information. The customer needs to see this and your management needs to see this and it goes along with my one size fits all project status reporting mentality. If you're watching the budget weekly and forecasting and re-forecasting it based on actuals and everything else you know on the project, then you should be able to present a great view to everyone every week. Show it. They need to see it and be aware.
3. Always have a 10.000 km view.
Always give your team, customer and management a quick view status health of the project. That may be a dashboard with some green, yellow, red stoplight statuses for key areas of the project. Once everyone is comfortable with your reporting and interpretation of project health and the translation of that health into a dashboard quick view or stoplight view, they'll love the ease you've given them to quickly understand if the project is on track or not. This is mainly for the higher-ups who want to know how your project is doing in 30 seconds or less. Create it with that concept in mind.
4. Focus most attention on what's coming up next.
Finally, put most of your effort into making everyone aware of what's coming next. Most should know where you've been on the project. The ones assigned to tasks better know what's going on now since they are the ones performing the work. What you need everyone to be aware of is what's coming up next and what's expected of some of the key stakeholders. Communicating this vital info in critical to the project's success and the accountability of your team members for the work they are performing. Don't ever give anyone an excuse to say they didn't know what was happening next. Make it the biggest part of the project status report and you'll probably want to spend the most time on that part of the report during the weekly project status meetings.
The project status report should be your tool to drive a successful weekly status with the customer. Make it both high-level and very detailed. You'll be amazed at how “used” this report will be if you can figure out how to satisfy most everyone's needs with one complete report. And how much time you'll save each week creating one report for all rather than five reports for different groups.