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A key to managing stakeholder expectations: Weekly status reports

A key to managing stakeholder expectations: Weekly status reports

Delivering a project successfully is not easy, especially when there are multiple stakeholders. A project can still be considered a failure even if the project is delivered on schedule, on budget and to the planned scope if the stakeholder’s expectations are not managed accordingly.  One way to help manage your stakeholder expectations is through communicating to key and project stakeholders using weekly status reports.

Key stakeholders need to be informed about the project status on a regular basis. Key stakeholders can be in the form of a sponsor, customer, business, PMO, management and other roles depending on the company. A key stakeholder might need to make executive decision with the appropriate level of impact to the team. All key stakeholders should always be included on weekly status reports.

Project stakeholders require complete and accurate information.  Project stakeholders can be in the form of a developer, quality assurance/test, data operations support, production support and other project managers depending on the size of the project.  A project stakeholder needs this information to complete their job successfully and ensure dependencies are attended to in a timely fashion. You should always include project stakeholders on weekly status reports.

The project management discipline requires effective & efficient communication.  It is often stated that project managers spend a vast majority of their time communicating.  I believe this to be a true statement based on my experience of working on large and small projects.  Weekly status reports are a great way to provide formal communication to multiple stakeholders at once.

So what should go into a weekly status report?  How do you communicate to the different stakeholders in one important notification without providing too much or too little information? Here are 6 important steps for creating a weekly status report for a project of any size::

STEP 1: State the overall status of the project and make it pop.  

Always call out the status early in the notification.  Define the status with the value of "Red", "Yellow" or "Green" and highlight it with the appropriate color.  For example,

"YELLOW - Recoverable, executing to new plan"

If you document with a yellow or red status make sure to indicate if the project is recoverable or if help is needed. This step will allow each stakeholder to determine if they need to pay attention to the details and continue reading.

STEP 2: Identify the risks and call out the impact/dependencies.  

Risks are potential problems that could occur in the future.  They may require special attention and often impact more than one person.  Explicitly calling out the impact and dependencies helps the right people engage when needed.

STEP 3: List the issues and next steps.  

Issues are problems that are currently impacting the project and require immediate attention.  There should always be an owner defined for the issues.  Additionally, next steps required to close the issue should be defined to indicate a plan is being executed.

STEP 4: Summarize recent decisions, discussions and assigned tasks.  

One benefit of weekly status reports is that they are also a reference point of important information.  They help ensure tasks are not dropped and important decisions were made with the appropriate visibility.

STEP 5: Summarize the recent accomplishments of the team.  

This promotes team camaraderie.  Additionally, this helps build trust among team members and virtual teams.  The purpose of status reports is to also show progress and contribution to project success.

STEP 6: Store the weekly status reports for easy retrieval.  

A status report can be captured using Excel, Word, OneNote and many other applications.  If you send a status report in email then make the email subject line generic.  This allows for easy searching and grouping when the information is needed the most.

It is the responsibility of the project manager to manage all stakeholder expectations.  Communication is imperative for a project manager as s/he will likely spend a large amount of their time communicating.  Some people might think weekly status reports provide little value.  However, stakeholders refer to them in an actively & retroactively manner.  They are used to ensure the right level visibility is given to the right people at the right time.  Many stakeholders have additional criteria to measure success even if the project is on Schedule, on Budget & on Scope.  Weekly status reports can be used to manage stakeholder’s expectations and help ensure project success.

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