Be it the results of an FBI secret raid or an audit, every project manager would someday need to produce a project report. These are for the benefit of stakeholders mainly, including the management itself. However, it’s not rare for even a star project manager to be clueless when it comes to writing effective project reports. Fortunately, it’s a learnable skill, without even the need of spending months in practice.
When it comes to writing project reports, it’s vital to understand and implement the right approach. The methods and formats could vary with industries, managers, or the organization – that’s fine. What’s imperative though, is to get precise information over to the recipients effectively. In this article, we’ve gathered fifteen of the most important report writing practices and principles to help you approach the task in the correct manner.
1. Decide The Objective
In this article, the ‘effectiveness’ of a project report is under consideration particularly. To achieve effectiveness, you must possess a result-oriented mindset. Before you even start preparing your next project report, really ask yourself what you’re looking to accomplish with it. Have a sharp vision for what you want the recipients to know through the report, and take steps to communicate it clearly.
For instance, if a certain decision is to be made by executives by analyzing this report, you should cater the information to them accordingly. In this case, provide interpretations and narrations that point towards the pros and cons of a yes or no decision. On the other hand, if it’s simply for informational purposes, make sure every material piece of information reaches each stakeholder through your report. Have the result goal in your mind at all times while writing a report.
2. Understand Your Audience
Having a better understanding of the readers of your report can be a vital factor. The appropriateness of approach differs with varying audiences. For example, a report prepared for senior delegation calls for elevated formality levels as compared to an operational briefing report for your team members.
Think from the perspective of the users of your project report. Ask yourself direct questions to help point yourself in the right direction. What would you like to be briefed on if you were in their place? For instance, if you were an investor, your eyes would typically be peeled for the financial section of the report. Hence, if your report is meant to cater to the informational needs of the investors, make sure you allocate extra focus to areas relevant to their interest.
Deeply think about the main confusion or curiosities that your audience may have pertaining to this project. Find ways to satisfy these effectively, and make each paragraph worthwhile.
3. Report Format And Type
A report isn’t always prescribed in the same form. Depending on the audience, project, or organization context, the appropriate report type, and format may vary. A report may be financial or non-financial (operational), informal or formal, or it may simply be an update. Use templates that are appropriate to the required report format and type. Using templates has an added benefit of maintaining consistency while saving effort and time.
Make sure your report appears well-organized and tidy. This factor alone could make or break a report, regardless of how precise its content is. However, the readability of the report will be discussed in the latter part of the prose.
4. Gather The Facts And Data
An effective report can only hit its mark if its reliable. The stakeholders will only rely upon the information in the report if it’s factual, and understandably so. Due to this, it’s important to back your claims with data and facts that engagingly solidify your statements. A good example would be to attach an expert’s cost analysis along with the request for additional funding for a project.
5. Communicate Milestones And Deliverables
Firstly, identify every related milestone in your project. Write the vital deliverables down on a note, accompanied by the dates at which they’re expected. Once you’ve got all of this information sorted, you’re set to start writing the milestone section of the project report.
Here, you should mention the progress that has been made so far towards achieving deliverables and milestones. This section has to be deeply detailed, as it could be the most useful to every user; such as executives, clients, and other stakeholders. It’s crucial for these people to get a clear insight as to whether or not the team is on track for completion.
It’s usually a good idea to present this valuable information in a simplistic table. Narrations are also acceptable, but tables make it easier to segregate and digest chunks of data. The following aspects must be covered;
- Milestone Completion
Address the amount of headway that your team has managed to make so far towards a particular milestone. For larger milestones, where numerous individual tasks are assigned for the purpose of their completion, it’s advisable to report the completed and outstanding tasks separately.
- Expected Start and Finish Dates
Initially, every manager sets planned dates for the beginning and completion of the assigned work. It’s essential to communicate these in the report to help the users build realistic expectations with respect to project completion.
- Actual Start and Finish Dates
It’s normal for actual milestone completion dates to differ from the planned ones. Report the actual dates for the individual tasks and sub-milestones that have been completed already.
Reporting detailed aspects of the task progress gives the report some much-needed substance to back its structure up. The aim of an effective report is to address project details in a comprehensive way. This includes the little wins, the hurdles, some other shortcomings, and the steps being taken to overcome them. To report the task progress descriptively, it helps to break the current tasks and procedures down to communicate each separate aspect about them. Examples of important broken-down components may include the targets, budgeting, schedules, the issues being faced, or a cost and time analysis particularly for future work on each task.
To present this information well, divide the reported tasks into the following three categories;
- Which tasks have been completed?
- Which tasks are in progress?
- Which tasks are coming up next?
Providing such intricate details not only ensures complete awareness for users but also communicates the project manager’s competence and personal familiarity with the project at hand.
7. Issues, Risks, And Change Requests
Reporting about the issues and risks involved in the process helps stakeholders understand factors from a closer perspective. In this section, focus on conveying potential risks, issues coming up, or any recent change requests made. Additionally, write about the actions you’ve planned for effective risk and change management in relation to these. Make sure to discuss the following;
- Open Risks
Since your last report, have any new risks shown up? Acknowledge these and mention plans to control each one. Also, provide a status update on the risks included in the last report.
- Open Change Requests
For instance, some change requests may lengthen the span of the project, leading to the need for significant rescheduling. It’s important to shed light on any identified open change requests and the subsequent steps that require the clients’ or executives’ attention.
- Current Issue Status
Much like risks, stakeholders need to be updated on any new issues that have been identified since the last report. Also, brief them about how you’ve strategized to deal with the previously reported issues.
- Change Request History
Providing insight into the change requests is mainly for informational and recording purposes. In ever sequential report, including a summary of these is always helpful to the readers. It keeps the stakeholders aware of the extent of budget and scope changes throughout the project, as well as the reasons for them.
8. Financial Status Of The Project
The financial section of project reports is mainly to inform recipients regarding the planned budget, and whether or not you’re falling in line with it. Any discrepancies between the expected budget and actual expenditure shall be explained. This lets the executives judge whether the requests for additional funding are reasonable. Make sure you elaborate details about the section of the budget that has been utilised so far, and the remaining balance at hand. Clearly describe your future plans with the project pertaining to finances.
Keep in mind though, providing raw data isn’t going to help the effectiveness of the report. Instead, insert a helpful analysis and narrative interpretation of key financial ratios to help the stakeholders gain a clearer understanding. Use charts and tables to further simplify statistical data. Such financially responsible behavior inevitably leads to attracting more investors in the market.
9. Structure Of The Report
A report can hardly ever be of much use without a structure that follows a natural flow all through the report. This tip would rank among the top five in ensuring the effectiveness of a project report. A well-structured report enables the users;
- To save time by reading only the parts of the report that are relevant to them particularly.
- To skim through other parts and subheadings, while still understanding the underlying message.
- To avoid technical details.
The Five Typical Elements of An Effective Structure
- The Title
Make sure to come up with a perfectly descriptive title that immediately tells the readers what it is about.
- Executive Summary
Once the report is furnished, you must prepare a short summary of it in this paragraph. Your report begins with this section. It’ll help the readers decide how much of it they’re going to read to reach valuable conclusions.
This section is meant to sketch a context for the report’s structure. Provide the readers with an outline of the contents in this section.
This is where the writing skills come in to play. It’s the longest, most informative section of the report, and usually comprises over 70% of the entire document. All the details, recommendations, opinions, citations, discussions and analysis fall into this section.
Finally, regroup the key elements of the whole project report and sum them up concisely. Many report writers like to add a recommended action plan for their readers at the end.
10. Check On Readability
Put in the effort to make your report easier and more enjoyable to read through. This can be accomplished through some good use of visuals, formatting and supporting lists. Dissect long text sections into smaller components through the use of bullet points.
While it’s encouraged to provide stakeholders with descriptive details, be conscious not to overdo it. Senior executives aren’t just overseeing your project, they’ve got tons of other reports as well. Readability will suffer if you provide unnecessary information throughout the report.
11. Style And Language
Here’s another critical aspect of writing an effective project report; style and language. The readers have no way of knowing the intent behind your statements, or the way you meant to communicate them. All they’ll have are your words, at their face value. You must choose appropriate vocabulary, with language that’s easy to understand for everyone. Any grammatical, spelling or punctuational errors are absolutely unacceptable. No matter how efficient a project manager may be, grammatical errors may put a question mark on his professionalism.
Avoid using jargon or technical language that investors may or may not understand. Find ways to communicate ideas and facts in the simplest of words. Experts suggest using active voice in most of your sentences as it has a positive impact on readability.
12. Graphs, Tables, Lists, And Illustrations
Lists, graphs, tables, and figures are crucial to any project report. They’re the best tools available to a report writer to emphasis the main points, or to remove textual clutter. As mentioned above, these help with the readability aspect of the report a great deal by adding a visual appeal.
Effectiveness in a report is mainly achieved through introducing more and more ease for the users. Through the use of graphs, bulleted lists, and illustrations, you can enable the readers to effortlessly make comparisons and absorb complex ideas. To support these, you can always add short statements or paragraphs of text to clarify the concepts.
13. Be Honest and Make An Honest Report
Wherever any material piece of information is provided in the report, it’s best to validate it. Make sure the statements impart an accurate view of the project area under discussion. Exaggerating the progress or achievements in a project report may bring you short-term approvals, but they’ll only end up disappointing your stakeholders in the long run.
Wherever there’s an involvement of humans, there’s a window of error. In any piece of writing, proofreading is a necessary finishing touch. The first draft is rarely ever perfect, so the need for editing and revisions is inevitable. Even without perceiving the typing error possibility, proofreading from the perspective of different classes of stakeholders can help you improve the reach of your report. If you’ve got time before the report is due, consider setting the document aside for a day or two before revising it.
With these 14 best practices followed, you will be able to write a great project report and one that is accepted by all the stakeholders in your project and you will make them feel very happy in the end. Happy Writing!