How to write excellent project reports
The purpose of a project report
A project report is the perfect way of ensuring smooth regular communication between you and your customer. Professional done, it gives your customer reassurance that the project is being handled correctly, and that they are being kept fully informed about what is going on. Regularly issued, it cuts back on the project manager receiving mountains of phone calls or emails from customers asking for an update.
In this article, I will give you some guidance into putting together a project report that is easy to maintain, professional and provides the right level of communication to a customer.
What a good project report should contain
A project report should provide a good summary of a project. It should be easy to read in 30 minutes or less, and should cover all these aspects of a project:
- High level summary of the status of the project. Red, Amber, Green color coding is common and something many people are familiar with so it's a useful system to apply
- Milestones, key dates, slipped dates.
- Key issues and risks.
- Any changes that have been approved or are waiting approval
- Any tasks you need the customer to complete (and when you need them to be completed by)
Use jargon free language
Technical jargon, abbreviations and acronyms may be appropriate in some industries; they can be a shortcut for staff and it's a useful way for experts to pass information back and forth. However, it has no place in a customer report. When passed to a customer, technical language becomes a barrier to communication.
This continues to be true even if you are dealing with a customer who has a good technical knowledge on the subject in hand, as you never know if that report will be be passed to a wider group.
Plain English is the only appropriate language to use in any business communication. Below, I've provided a link to the Plain English campaign. Their website has plenty of useful advice on the subject of writing in plain English and cutting out the jargon.
The Plain English Campaign
- Plain English Campaign homepage
Plain English Campaign is an independent group fighting for plain English in public communication. We oppose gobbledygook, jargon and legalese. We fund ourselves through offering plain English editing, plain English training and the Crystal Mark Sche
Use a clear layout
Well presented material is far more likely to be looked at. Make good use of headings, tables and charts. Ensure your company logo is included on page one. However, check the size of the document. Overly-formatted and image heavy documents may result in a large file size and take up too much space in a recipient's email account.
Make sure all content is self-explanatory
Read through your document and make sure that every statement is obvious, unambiguous and isn't likely to prompt questions. The last thing you want to do, for example, is to mention a serious issue and give no information about it or what you are doing to manage it. This will only raise alarm bells with a client and will result in an immediate phone call to you (or your seniors) questioning the state of the project.
Update and reissue weekly
The best reports are issued weekly. That way, it is a reliable bit of communication going to the customer on a regular basis and they are more likely to embrace it and read through it.
It demonstrates that as a project manager you are keeping on track with every element of the project and it reassures the customer that communication is maintained at the same high standard throughout and never slips.
Go through it on a call
A report should never be issued to a customer 'cold', and by that I mean it shouldn't be simply sent in an email, containing new information, without any discussion. The best way of presenting a report to a customer is to issue it in email and follow it up with a call, or alternatively summarize it on a conference call and send through the report in an email afterwards. This gives the customer the opportunity to ask any questions they need to, and it also gives you a chance to follow up directly with the customer any issues you need to discuss with them.
Other ways of making sure you have a fantastic project report, include:
- Get it set up early on in a project, before it is even in use. This way, you will have a chance to start populating it with information before the first report goes out, and it also prevents you from forgetting to do it later on on the project when work gets more hectic.
- Get your team involved in supplying information. It is easier to collate key summaries from the relevant team members than have to write a full report from scratch each week
- Provide a copy to your management team on a regular basis, at the same time as when you issue it to a customer. They may not have time to read it, but they will appreciate having the information to hand
- Keep on top of version control. It is easy to accidentally send out a draft copy or old copy of a report by mistake unless you label it properly. Make sure your system to version-control your project documentation is fit for purpose.
Further reading recommendations
Learn how to write effectively at working using plain English