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How to Write a Progress Report

Everyone does it, but few do it well. Here's how.

By Mary K. Pratt
December 19, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In any given month, Sue Schade sees 20 to 30 progress reports, and she needs to digest the information as quickly as possible.
Schade, CIO at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, knows what she wants to see and how she wants to see it, and she makes her expectations crystal clear to those who report to her.
She expects to know what has been accomplished, which key decisions have been made, what's going on now, what's on the horizon and which issues are in play. She also wants to know whether projects are on track to meet their original deadlines. And she wants it all in a standard format. "My folks know what they have to put in," Schade says. "I don't want to look at a lot of different formats and ask, 'Where's this? Where's that?'"
Progress reports are essential tools for tracking projects and initiatives, but if the writers and readers aren't in sync, reports can be hit-or-miss exercises for everyone involved. Here are some tips on how to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time.
Set Expectations
Different people want different kinds of reports. One CIO might want a page of narrative, while another might want "a set of graphs and two bullet points," says Kevin Doyle.
"It depends on the situation, what the receiver is comfortable receiving and how you can best communicate with him," says Doyle, an associate professor of business administration at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.
Doyle, who has overseen corporate IT initiatives, says project managers should establish expectations at the start by determining who will get reports, how often and in what form.
Jason Fortier, director of the CRM service line at Adjoined Consulting Inc. in Miami, agrees. He's currently working with one company on a project that affects five business units, so he built a report template early on, shared it with division leaders and asked each whether he'd need anything else in the reports.
Fortier says a project's size, scope and phase help determine the frequency of reports. Projects in the analysis phase, for example, don't require weekly reports, but initiatives in the middle of implementation usually do, he says.
Nail Down the Essentials
It's up to you as project manager to find out what executives want in progress reports. When Rosalee Hermens reads a report, for example, she wants to see updates on the technology, finances, schedule, design and management, and she wants to compare those items over time. "I want to see those exact same things evaluated every week," says Hermens, principal at

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