Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
March 14, 2023 · 9 min read

How to write a project status update report (with free template)

🎁 Bonus Material: Free Project Status Report Template

How to write a project status update report

No project happens in a vacuum. Instead, they require input, oversight, and support from various stakeholders to keep the wheels turning.

That’s why over 90% of organizations large and small rely on project status reporting for sharing progress.

But just using project status reports isn’t enough. For many project managers, the process of communicating progress has become an annoying weekly task. When in reality, it’s one of the best ways to get stakeholder support, avoid project failure, and grow your career.

Jump to a section:

In this guide, we’ll show you a project status reporting process that isn’t boring and provides just the right level of data and detail to make it valuable to anyone in your company.

What is a project status report? Why do they matter?

A project status report is a document that summarizes a project's current progress against the baselined project plan (this is why they’re often referred to as “project health checks”).

While we’ll look in detail at their benefits shortly, project status reports are important as they keep everyone aligned on the project while highlighting problems that need addressing.

Key Elements of a Project Status Report

To make a project status report effective, it must include several key elements, including:

All of those elements are important. Yet, one of the hardest parts of creating a valuable status update is striking a balance between being informative without being overbearing (both for the person writing them and the stakeholders reading them).

The honest truth is that many project managers hate creating status updates as they’re either requested too often or asked to supply too much detail - taking away time from the “real” work.

But what are the consequences if you don’t complete regular project status updates?

Primarily, your project loses visibility and coordination with team members and key stakeholders unsure of what’s happening. This leaves you at risk of becoming one of the 54% of projects fail that fail due to poor KPI tracking.

7 real benefits of writing good project status reports

Too many teams fall into the trap of creating “business as usual” project status reports. But no one wants to spend the time reporting on progress just for the sake of it.

When done properly, project status reports can provide a ton of benefits to the people around you - including your team, stakeholders, and executives.

No one wants to spend 30 minutes reading your project status report.

Here are just a few of the major benefits of proper reporting:

  1. Project status reports give you, your team, and your stakeholders the chance to pause and assess the health of your project. As a project manager, you can get lost in detail. Taking the opportunity to step back helps you diagnose your project’s poor health.
  2. Sometimes you’re stuck at a junction and need some support. Whether that’s a project issue or you just have a mental block, status reporting allows you to cultivate new ideas with team members and stakeholders.
  3. There are benefits for your wider organization, too. Project status reports are vital for project sponsors or management teams as they provide the visibility to help make strategic decisions for the wider change portfolio.
  4. Especially if you’re working on a long project, project status reports provide the perfect opportunity to boost team motivation by celebrating success. That helps you prove progress and creates momentum for the next phase of your project.
  5. A clear and simple project status report helps boost team collaboration by re-aligning everyone on progress, actions, and issues. Reports may help team members spot ways to work better together or raise blockers that need removing.
  6. With more people working virtually, there’s a tendency for everything to become a meeting. Status reports help reduce the number of meetings across the project, giving your team members more time to get some work done!
  7. Lastly, project status reports help you prove good control around your project. Especially as a junior project manager, this gives your stakeholders confidence that you’re operating in the right way and controlling every aspect of your delivery.

How to structure a project status report: 3 Examples

Like many things in project management, the key to a good status report is to make it structured and consistent. Not only will this make it easy for stakeholders to read, it saves you time when creating them, and makes it easier to compare them from week to week.

However, there’s no one-size-fits-all option. The structure of your project status report will depend on your company’s size, culture, and priorities.

For example, if you’re working at a financial services company, your status report might have a strong focus on risk and regulatory compliance. On the other hand, if you’re working at a small tech startup, your report might focus more on costs and timelines.

The easiest way to understand how to structure a project status report is to look at some common examples.

1. Standard controls format - just the essentials

Here, you’re keeping things basic by simply giving an update on the high-level project status - what’s been completed, what’s in progress, and what’s coming up next.

Status report template
Source: projectmanager.com

You can present these updates in a simple text document, keep them organized in your project management tool, or build a simple presentation.

2. The RAG health format

If you want to keep things more high-level and visual, the RAG health format is a good option to use. Here you use a red, amber, and green traffic light system for each key control area (e.g., timeline, budget, risk) alongside a short update, no more than two sentences.

RAG Health Format
Source: slideuplift.com

3. The top 3 format

This format is especially great for senior executives as you get straight to the meaty part of your project. Here you provide no more than a sentence or two on:

  1. The three most important things you’ve completed
  2. The three most important things to come
  3. The three things you need help with

Free project status report template

Project status reports don’t need to be created from scratch each time. Download our free project status report update template and fill it in using the guide below.

11 steps to write a project status report your team will actually read

Nailing the perfect project status report isn’t rocket science and gets easier the more you practice. To help, here’s an 11-step guide you can follow to start creating great reports that your team and stakeholders will actually read.

1. Build your report where your team works

One of the fundamentals of a good status report is creating it in a place where the team already works and collaborates - such as in a project management tool like Planio. That way, they don’t have to go hunting for it and can access it whenever needed.

The other benefit of creating your project status report in Planio is that all of your information is easily available. Check the status of tasks in your current milestone, download Agile charts, or consult your Gantt chart to quickly see (and report) on your progress.

Planio list of issues showing percentages done for the current milestone

Best practices and tips:

2. Know your audience (and your goal)

Before you start sending your report to just anyone, take a moment to think about who needs a status report. If you haven’t already, start by completing a project stakeholder analysis, identifying who has an influence over your project and who’s impacted by it.

Best practices and tips:

3. Don’t be noisy, and don’t be too quiet

Think about how often you send a project status report out to your team and wider stakeholders. You want to strike a balance between keeping everyone updated without being annoying.

Best practices and tips:

Strike the perfect balance between keeping everyone updated on your project and annoying people about the project.

4. Pick a skimmable format

Keep in mind that no one wants to spend 30 minutes reading your project status report. Whichever format you choose, ensure you keep it skimmable so that people can get the information they need quickly.

Project summary of issue statuses according to user

Best practices and tips:

5. Start with a descriptive name and context summary

If your status report is likely to be seen by many different people, make it instantly recognizable by using a descriptive name and a short context summary. For example, “Project Green - replacing single-use plastic across the business.”

Best practices and tips:

6. An executive summary of the project’s health

Especially if your report is going to your sponsor, you’re going to want to include an executive summary. No longer than 3 or 4 sentences, summarize the key points, including any achievements, risks, or blockers.

Best practices and tips:

7. Focus on your top 3’s

In a brief status report, the top 3 technique format is a great one to follow. This stops you from getting into too much detail by forcing you to distill your updates into just three key points.

Planio task status report showing the “top 3” style status report

Best practices and tips:

8. Rate and summarize each key project control

The great thing about project management is that you already have amazing controls to help you stay on track. Whether it’s timeline, budget, quality, scope, risks, or issues, rate and comment on each one to provide consistency.

Best practices and tips:

9. Don’t be afraid of bad news

Project status reports shouldn’t just be a chance to pat yourself on the back. Instead, they’re the perfect opportunity to raise problems and ask for help. Experienced project managers are actually wary of an ‘all-green’ project report, as the perfect project simply doesn’t exist!

Best practices and tips:

Planio issue list with spent time and estimated time

10. Preview what’s to come

While reporting on previous performance, don’t forget to give a flavor of the next steps and future actions in your project, too. If you’ve got big news coming in the future, you might even consider a ‘what’s to expect next time’ section to pique the interest of your team and stakeholders.

Best practices and tips:

11. Test and learn with your team and stakeholders

Even in the same organization, status reports vary from project to project. That’s because everyone is different, and what works for a certain set of stakeholders may not work for another. Take the time to ask for feedback and update your reporting format to create more value.

Best practices and tips:

Superpower your status updates with project management tools

While project status reports undoubtedly provide a lot of value, for project managers, they can be laborious to create. Gathering information from multiple places is hard work, especially on large projects or programs.

But, that’s where project management tools can help to supercharge your project status reporting. After all, these systems already hold your valuable project information, such as tasks, milestones, budgets, and risks.

Many tools allow you to run reports at the click of a button, giving you an instant view of your progress and what’s coming up in the future. They also provide valuable insights into what you can’t see daily, such as individual resource time tracking, development bugs, and performance trends.

Burndown Chart

Using project management tools means more time back in your diary to get on with creating value for your organization - after all, it’s no coincidence that 77% of successful projects use project management software to help them deliver.

Don’t let boring status updates sink your project

Even though project status reporting isn’t the sexiest part of project management, it’s undeniably one of the most important. Project status reports help you stay on track, keep stakeholders engaged, and align the team on key activities.

Whether a simple RAG report or something more detailed, there’s a structure and format of stats report to suit every project.

And, if you want to go further and faster, project management tools like Planio help make status reporting super easy.

Planio helps you pull your key information together into one place, surfacing metrics such as milestone tracking, burndown, and velocity for your team and your stakeholders. And best of all? It’s where your team is already working, meaning they’ll have the latest update right at their fingertips, ready to align, collaborate, and celebrate your project’s success.