How to write a progress report

July 14th, 2013

Progress reports are a time tested tool for communications in teams and organisations. If you're in the process of implementing progress reporting in your organisation or have been asked to start producing progress reports for your manager you may find the below guide useful.

Why you should care

If you're taking the time to read up on how to write a progress report chances are you already at least have a desire to produce an effective progress report and that's a great start. Providing your manager with concise, well written updates, regularly and on time will make your boss's job that much easier. It will also show you to be reliable and make sure your work is getting the right level of visibility.

What to include

If there is a template in your organisation or your manager has provided clear directions on the information they would like to see covered, then that is by far your best guide as to what to include. However, if you haven't been given much in the way of guidance or you are the one coming up with the structure of the report, you may want to include the following sections:

  • Last period's activities: This is key to the report as it is where you break down how you have been spending your time. This is most likely the main thing your manager is looking to understand.
  • Achievements: This section can be great for drawing attention to the one or two most significant wins for the period. However, if you find yourself repeating the 'last period's activities', then leave it out.
  • Next period's activities: Cover the main things you intend to work on in the next period.
  • Issues and escalations: Cover anything that is halting your progress here, or things that you need assistance in resolving.

If your job is mostly project or initiative driven, you may want to consider covering each of the above points in a sub section for each project. In some circumstances this makes the report more easily digestible.

How will your report be used

Understanding the different functions your progress report plays will help to guide the information you present and how you present it. The primary function of your report is to provide your manager with an update on your plans and activities. However there are other functions to consider:

  • In organisations with multiple levels of management, your report will almost certainly feed into reports and updates that your manager provides to their own manager.
  • Your manager may keep your report handy for additional detail in meetings on initiatives covered in your report.
  • The report is also for you. Over time, your catalogue of reports essentially forms a diary of your work history. This will prove immensely valuable in all sorts of circumstances including preparing for an annual review and updating your CV.

A related point is that the report is ideally not a replacement for regular direct communication. It's great to have a written record of your progress, however direct communication is important for building any sort of relationship, including that with your manager or employee.

Length, frequency and tone

Your report doesn't need to cover every last detail of your activities. If you are having trouble communicating the status of an initiative in a few points, that's a sign that there may be a need to shift some detail off to a separate email or even call a meeting to go through things in person. Paragraphs of text are fine, but you may want to consider using bullet points or numbered lists to help with clarity and aid in scanning.

Weekly is a common interval for reporting and is a sensible default. However, a hands off management situation such as providing an investor update might be less frequent. Conversely, remote workers often produce daily updates as the report takes on a greater significance due to the absence of regular direct contact.

Tone should be as per any other business communication such as work emails. If you need more of a guide than that, look to the level of formality of the main recipient of the report. If your boss refers to you as Miss Smith in emails, a little formality probably wouldn't go astray.

Progress reporting tools

There are two main approaches to progress reporting, automated or manual. An automated process would involve using a tool such as Reportify. An automated process is an especially good fit where the manager intends to collate the reports they receive into a consolidated report for sending up the management chain. A manual process could be as simple as an email or may be based around a document as a template. Examples of reporting templates can be found here.

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Reportify is a web based tool for creating and managing all sorts of reports in your team or organisation, including weekly status reports. Find out more here.