This post continues on from my previous one where I started talking about regular small status updates and how they can help teams and projects. Here I’m going to dig into my basic forumla for writing one. You might think a formula like this is going to make your updates repetitive and you’d be right. Your goal is to efficiently communicate the key facts in a timely and predictable manner and then move on.
Your boss has a ton of things on the go and is probably thinking about something else entirely when they get your update. Referring back to previous updates and highlighting where this one fits in the project timeline will help them quickly switch into the right context. This can be as simple as saying “Project X Status Update, Week 3/9”. You can use all the points below to establish continuity as well, such as the “small win”.
A small win
What have you achieved since the last update? If you’re updating every few days you should have some small progress to report on. It doesn’t have to be exciting but progress makes people feel good so I like to use it at the start to set the tone. Note that a boring update like “we did what we planned to” is great. Managers love to see things going to plan.
Changes to the plan
Plans are predictions made before we have all the facts and change happens to them whether we like it or not. Adjust the project plan as new facts present themselves, clearly communicate the changes, and then follow up with any effect the changes have on the project’s key outcomes. Say if it makes the project earlier or later, over or under budget, or you need more people to make it happen. If the changes have no effect on key outcomes then say this explicitly. You’re showing your boss that you can proactively identify problems, find solutions, and consider the wider impact on the business beyond your project. This is that “initiative” they’re always looking for and it’s what gets you noticed.
A clear mission
What are you going to do between now and the next update? Don’t list everything here and don’t go into much detail because people can look at the project plan for that. You’re looking for a simple one liner that describes something the business cares about and shows you have a clear focus for the next few days. You’re telling your manager not to worry because you know what you’re doing next and it’s the best thing you could be doing.
Risks and concerns
This is the space where you highlight things that haven’t caused a problem - yet. Typical examples include deliverables from third parties you can’t control, blocking decisions that need to be made, and that Flu bug you can see making its way across the office towards your team. This is also a great place to note any previous concerns that are now resolved. Sometimes it’s also appropriate to include your general confidence level in the plan, especially if it is starting to look risky. If you are waiting on action from your boss make sure to be explicit. Put it in bold and say why it matters.
If you hit all these points you’ve set the context, you’ve summarised the past, present, and future, and you’ve highlighted any important issues that your boss might be able to assist with. It’s clear that you’re taking responsibility for your work and others can leave you to focus on what you do best instead of interrupting with basic questions about the projects status.