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Status reporting 101: what it is and how to do it
When projects succeed, it’s because the people involved have done two things: stayed accountable for their individual responsibilities and communicated effectively with one another.
But how do you ensure your team focuses on their own tasks and keeps track of each other’s progress at the same time? That’s where status reporting comes in.
Status reporting ensures you keep projects of any scale on track—whether you’re tweaking your booking flow to make it easier for your users, or introducing customers to a whole new product.
This article explains what a status report is, how these reports make it easier to execute difficult projects, and five simple steps to creating your very own.
Add depth to your status reports with customer insights
If your status reporting flags up customer dissatisfaction, use Hotjar to investigate why and find a solution.
What is a status report?
A status report is a short, easily digestible document that answers the question: how’s our project going? Project owners create them at regular intervals—often weekly, monthly, or quarterly—to share how much progress a team is making toward a goal and whether they're on track with their initial timeline.
Status reports start by quickly recapping a project’s overall goals and the sub-projects leading up to it. They then assess whether these sub-projects are on track, at risk of falling behind schedule, or overdue. Finally, they discuss any emerging threats to the deadline, and suggest ways to overcome them.
For example, suppose your project is to take your brick-and-mortar bakery into the ecommerce space. In that case, your status report could track progress on sub-projects like choosing an ecommerce platform, designing the site, listing your different cakes and breads as products, and hiring extra staff to manage order fulfillment.
Status reports vs. progress reports
At first glance, ‘status reports’ may seem identical to ‘progress reports’, but the two formats offer different areas of emphasis.
A status report is a broad overview of an entire project compared to its plan. A progress report focuses more on specific tasks and milestones.
Status reports are vital documents to keep managers or clients abreast of important milestones in your project, ensure smooth group collaboration, and hit your goals on time.
Why create status reports?
The main purpose of creating status reports is to update major stakeholders—your boss, client, or investors—on your project’s health, or how it’s coming along. Your report should provide visibility at a glance, so higher-ups feel confident they’ll get the deliverables they requested.
Whilst senior stakeholders are usually the primary audience for status reports, everyone a project touches can benefit from having an overview of what’s going on.
Status reports are extremely useful to:
How often should you create status reports?
Create your status reports at regular intervals so you can understand your progress over time. The amount of time you leave between reports will depend on the scope of your project and how many stakeholders are involved.
For example, say you’re launching a newsletter for your business, which you expect to take three weeks—a collaboration between a copywriter, customer relationship management (CRM) specialist, and content marketing manager. This project has a few stakeholders and a short deadline, so you’ll need a weekly status report to keep everyone on track.
On the other hand, imagine you’re a large corporation migrating your entire CRM platform to a custom site. The project is expected to take two years and involves many stakeholders, including a team of engineers, UX writers, designers, and a steering committee. You’d need a monthly status report to keep all groups informed of the project's progress and ensure they’re spaced out far enough that there’s meaningful change to discuss every time.
5 steps to writing an effective project status report
Bear in mind that you can only create a status report once you’ve got a plan or a roadmap to mark progress against.
Status reports are shaped by information—e.g. metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs)—most relevant to your project, so each one looks slightly different. However, these are the areas they generally cover, and the steps to creating one for yourself.
1. Choose the style and delivery of your report
It’s important to keep the style of your reports consistent, so you and your team can easily compare progress across different periods.
With that in mind, you need to decide:
The length: major stakeholders are often busy people working across several projects, so try to keep your report to one to two pages or slides
The format: consider which formatting techniques you’ll use to make your information easy to digest. Charts, bullet points, tables, and spreadsheets are all great options.
The cadence: decide whether it’ll be more helpful to report your project weekly, biweekly, monthly, or quarterly
How stakeholders will access it: you could circulate reports in an email, or add them to a cloud folder, like Google Drive or Dropbox. Alternatively, you could create your reports on a shared note-taking platform like Notion or Evernote.
💡Pro tip: charts and diagrams are an excellent way to make information easier to digest, especially for status reports that involve lots of hard numbers. A product experience insights (PX) platform like Hotjar creates these data visualizations for you automatically.
For example, say your project is to increase user activity on your company website, and you want to demonstrate in a status report that the pages you’ve redesigned are more engaging than they were before.
Install Hotjar’s tracking code on a redesigned page, and you’ll see a chart showing your current bounce rate compared to previous periods in your Dashboard. You can screenshot this and use it in your report—and stakeholders will understand your project’s status at a glance.
The Hotjar Dashboard provides a visual overview of your user metrics you can understand at a glance
2. Set the scene
A status report should start with an overview of your project’s scope. Summarize project details such as:
Goals: the deliverables you’re planning to produce
Budget: how much money and resources you have
The reporting period: the project’s timeline and deadlines
The project manager: who’s responsible for each deliverable
This structure probably won’t change between reports (unless you need to break from the initial plan), so keep it high-level. Be sure to include the date you submit or present the report, too.
Beneath the project’s name, create a list of your sub-projects, or project milestones, with brief descriptions of what each one entails, and a note about who’s responsible for making it happen. You can do this with a chart.
If you’re taking a brick-and-mortar bakery online, your chart might look like this:
3. Describe the current status of the project
Next up, communicate how your sub-projects are doing by adding a few extra columns to your chart.
First up, you’ll need a column to appraise your overall progress. Some managers mark their projects as ‘on track’, ‘at risk’, or ‘behind schedule’, whereas others prefer to give progress a percentage. Whichever method you choose, color-code these fields as green, orange, or red for scannability.
Second, create a column to add a comment to your progress assessment. This is useful for celebrating small wins and providing caveats—e.g. “The new website design is mostly on track, but we’re still waiting on feedback from our research lead to confirm it’s accessible for users living with disabilities.”
Third—depending on the nature of your project—include a column with budget information. Even a high-level overview of your spending goes a long way in giving stakeholders visibility: you ensure there aren’t any surprises at the end and provide evidence to stakeholders to negotiate more resources.
Conclude your report with a note on whether the project as a whole is ‘on track’, ‘at risk’ or ‘behind schedule’, and offer a few sentences as to why.
Deepen your understanding of your project’s progress
Use qualitative insights to supplement your quantitative data and add depth to your status reporting.
For example, say you’re launching a business selling therapy for cats. The first sub-project is to validate that there’s a market for your idea by launching a one-page website about therapy for cats, with the headline ‘Launching Soon’. You can mark your sub-project as ‘on track’ when you see it has a high number of visitors—quantitative data.
However, to make quantitative data more useful, you need to gather qualitative data about how users moved through the page. Use heatmaps to see where customers linger for valuable insight about what to do next. (Hotjar’s free forever plan allows you to create as many heatmaps as you like. 🔥)
For example, perhaps users hover over the section of your test website titled ‘Feline anger management skills’. Now, you know customers are particularly interested in this service and feed that information back to your team and stakeholders in your status report.
Equipped with this information, key stakeholders might decide to pivot the project slightly, developing this service before other areas of your business to give customers what they need and want the most.
Hotjar Heatmaps shows you which areas of your web page customers spend the most time on
Strengthen your status reporting with user behavior insights
Study the user behavior behind your status report results→create the most appealing version of your product possible.
4. Mention risks and issues
One of the fundamental reasons to create a status report is to flag unforeseen complications before they threaten the outcome of the project.
Devote a section of your report to discuss any roadblocks to your sub-projects, and suggest solutions on how to mitigate them. Use bullet points to keep this section skimmable.
This is also the space to ask senior stakeholders for anything else you need to complete the project on schedule—perhaps additional resources or changes to the plan. For example, if your sub-project to add all of your baked goods to your new ecommerce store is falling behind schedule, you might ask if you can hire a virtual assistant or extend your deadline.
💡Pro tip: watch recordings to investigate issues in your status reports.
Outlining threats to your project and suggesting solutions is a vital part of any status report. However, coming up with viable solutions is often much easier said than done.
For example, say you’re bringing that brick-and-mortar bakery online, and you had a sub-project to make your first ten bread sales before adding product information for all of your cookies and cakes. However, you launched over a week ago and sold zero loaves. This is an issue you’d flag in your status report.
To investigate the problem, watch recordings to see where your website visitors are clicking and understand why they’re not converting. You might see dozens of rage clicks on your 'Buy now' button—which would indicate users are clicking, but it’s not working.
If that’s the case, you could suggest action items for the problem in your status report, like ‘Fix the "Buy now" button.’ Because this idea is based on a clear understanding of the problem, you’d be pretty certain the tactic would be successful.
Analyze rage clicks with Hotjar Recordings to spot broken links and bugs on your site
5. Make time for feedback
Reports are only useful if their intended audience reads and digests them. After you circulate your report, host a status meeting to go over it with your stakeholders.
Discussing your report with teammates creates a space to celebrate key milestones together and keeps everyone accountable for their goals. What’s more, getting feedback on your report helps you identify any blind spots in your reporting: listen carefully if any colleagues think you’ve over- or underestimated their progress, and consider any ideas they have on how to combat the issues you’ve flagged.
Also, solicit feedback from project stakeholders like your manager or clients. If you run into a problem down the line and need to ask for more resources, they’ll be the ones to sign off on it, so it’s important to keep them abreast of developments. You can also ask them whether your report includes all the information they want to see.
Regularly producing reports encourages you to polish your end delivery: if you’re only focused on implementation, you might waste time and budget on tactics without knowing if they delivered impact.
Status reports keep your team on the path to success
To ensure a project doesn’t end up dissolving into a heap of unforeseen complications, you need to pause and take stock of your progress from time to time. That's why regular status reporting should be a part of any major initiative.
Don’t underestimate the power of this humble document. Status reports can help you stay on track and ensure that the effort your team puts in translates into real value for your customers. As a tool to maintain team alignment, stay accountable for goals, and keep one eye on your customers’ satisfaction, status reports are every project owner’s best friend.