Insight Blog

Importance of Status Reports

by Dot Hutson

June 26, 2018 | Project, Program, Portfolio Management

Who is Telling the Story of the Project?

In the movie, The American President, there is the quote, “People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.”  This phenomenon is true in project management.  Without clear communication from the project manager as to what is happening on the project, any message heard will be understood to be the truth of what is happening and can cause confusion and extra effort for all those on the project.

Status reports are the key communication tool for the project manager and the project team to share what is happening on the project.  They allow stakeholders to understand the story of the project through the reporting of critical aspects of project health such as scope, schedule, and budget.  All projects, no matter the delivery methodology, i.e. Waterfall or Agile, need to produce a status report.

While formats may change, key aspects of a status report are:

Project Description – overview of the project objectives, general timelines and key project resources; this section doesn’t vary much from report to report

Overall Status – summary of project progress calling attention to key achievements and critical next steps; this section should provide enough information so that if this is all that is read, the stakeholder would understand how things are progressing for the project

Project Health Indicators – a guideline-driven depiction of whether scope, schedule and budget are tracking as expected; this section should be completed by viewing progress against clearly stated parameters and supported within the Overall Status section; details should be provided in the Financial Summary and Project Activities sections

Financial Summary – identification of budget tracking and explanation of variance; this section is generally updated monthly

Project Activities – critical path milestones make up this section and should identify work that was completed since the last project status report, what work is due in the next period and planned completion dates, notes about delays and steps to address, and any re-planning activities; this section is updated with each published report

Risks, Issues, and Key Decisions – while not all risks and issues should be included in the status report, critical ones impacting progress and needing action should be updated within each report, also it is important to document key decisions for stakeholders’ awareness

In working with a recent client who was migrating from a Waterfall delivery method to a mix of Waterfall and Agile, we adjusted the definitions supporting the setting of the health indicators.  These definitions had to be flexible enough to accommodate a Waterfall project reporting on project schedules, their dependencies, budgets, issues and risks, yet allow for an Agile project to reflect their value velocity, burn-down rate, and test coverage.

Green was defined as On Track and adapted to reflect adherence to the established timeframes of the respective methodology (e.g. releases, sprints)

Yellow was translated to be At Risk and recognized factors that might be threatening the teams’ ability to deliver the agreed upon scope within the established timeframe and allotted budget.

Red was translated to be Off  Track and called out identified factors that are now preventing the team from delivering the agreed upon scope within the established timeframe and allotted budget.

If one Project Health Indicator is not On Track, the overall status of the project will reflect the status of that health indicator.  For example, if scope is On Track, schedule is At Risk, and budget is On Track, the overall status of the project will reflect At Risk with an explanation of impacting factors and actions being taken to address them.

Just remember, the project status report needs to be the single source of truth as to what is happening within the project. It should be consumable by all stakeholders, providing high-level information at the top and details as you read further.  The project team needs to contribute to, understand, and align with the information within the report and use it as the basis for the conversations they have with their stakeholders.  And while the status report may not be narrating on matters of national security, as referenced in the movie, this critical document must tell the story of the business initiative that is so critical to the mission of the company.

For more information on how Lake Shore Associates can help you with your project/program management needs, visit We will be most grateful to work with you.