You may have heard the saying, “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.” If you’ve ever planned a big project, then you can definitely commiserate.
If you’ve ever had to plan a special event, book travel for your team, roll out a new feature or product, or update senior leaders in your office, then you’ve had to play a project managing role.
And in order for a project to succeed, you need to give regular project status reports. Much as we might like to do it all ourselves, when you are working with other people, the more you communicate, the better off you will be.
On the surface, giving project status reports sounds like a fairly simple exercise: you circulate some emails, schedule deadlines, and keep people updated when challenges arise. But it can be a challenge trying to communicate critical information, especially when people are constantly being flooded with emails and reports. In other words: is anyone actually listening to you?
Fortunately, there are strategies and tools we can use to deliver effective project updates. Below, you’ll find different approaches you can take during status meetings as well as tips on how to address issues or problems before they escalate.
With these measures in place, you won’t have to worry for the worst, you can just concentrate on planning for the best.
Project status updates: Timing and stakeholders
When it comes to sharing your project updates, the most important thing you can do is time them right.
You can determine your update schedule by first looking at the key players in your project.
Are you working with managers and senior executives? Then they probably don’t need to know the daily, nitty-gritty details or logistical back-and-forth of a project. Instead, do weekly project status updates that focus on critical issues and big picture progress.
If you're working closely with engineers who are in the weeds every day, a daily standup might be a better status-sharing setup to share up-to-the-minute learnings that can help everyone and catch small problems before they get big.
It’s also a good idea to share status updates on a predictable schedule. For example, always scheduling project meetings on Friday mornings for end-of-week updates, or emailing your status updates on Monday mornings so that project members know what’s ahead for the week.
Sharing project status in an email
First, determine if this status email is going out to internal members or external stakeholders as well. If you’re including external stakeholders, be sure to avoid wonky jargon or provide context that allows readers to understand.
As for what information to include in the email, you want to include essential information but also be concise--especially considering that people receive so many emails and usually read emails on their phone! It’s a hard pill to swallow but that doesn’t mean your email can’t include helpful information--it just means you have to be efficient with your messaging.
You can use an Ink+Volt Project Status Pad to help you structure your status email and ensure you include key details and next steps that people will want to read. Here’s the type of information you’ll want to cover:
- Assess the health of your project. Here’s where you want to provide the latest updates on budgeting, personnel, communication and messaging. Basically, you want to think about your project’s metrics for success and then provide updates on those areas.
- Identify issues and challenges. Are you at risk of exceeding your budget? Now is the time to bring it up. If there are any interpersonal issues, you may want to save that for an in-person meeting or video conference since delicate details and nuance can get lost over email.
- Action steps. A good way to get people engaged over email is to help them feel included. In this section, you can ask for advice on the above or propose roles/responsibilities. Or, if the roles are already clear, then identify the next set of project deadlines.
- Accomplishments. People love positive reinforcement. You can highlight accomplishments, positive contributions, and other important milestones to boost people’s spirits and keep them motivated for completing this project.
Project status in a meeting
If you’re sharing your project status report in a meeting setting, you have more room to capture the comprehensive details of your project. You still want to make sure that the meeting stays focused, so remember to share the agenda beforehand.
Meetings are a good opportunity to gain clarity and ensure coherence on a project, especially if multiple stakeholders are involved. Do you need input on messaging and communications? Do you need ideas on how to increase participation for a big event? Do you need the green light from important stakeholders? These are the kinds of topics you can explore in a meeting and build consensus.
This is also a critical time to confirm deadlines and roles and responsibilities. A project can hit a snag if people aren’t clearly communicating and specifying who is doing what.
Also, don’t be afraid to communicate any challenges or hiccups that have occurred. The best way to do this is to be straightforward, frank, and focused on problem-solving (not avoiding blame). When you are honest about struggles, everyone can be aware and on the same page, and determine the best way forward.
Project status to executives
If you’re sharing status updates with senior leaders, you want to focus your update on the big picture and issues that are relevant to their role.
For instance, if you’re planning a special event, you don’t have to update your executives on the catering menu--they don’t need that level of detail. Instead, consider the role that the executive is playing in the project. Is the executive speaking at the event? Do they need to be aware of the VIPs who are attending? Does your executive need to be aware of budget constraints?
Give them a targeted report that aligns with their role, their needs, and their area of expertise.
Also, if you are seeking advice on a big picture issue, then it might be good to ask senior leaders. Oftentimes, project members shy away from sharing mistakes and roadblocks with senior managers because they want to save face. But think about all the problems you could potentially prevent by simply communicating to senior management.If you need help formulating your thoughts, you can use the Project Status Pad and refer to the Issue Log section. A little bit of preparation can give you the confidence you need to address tough issues and ensure the project’s success.