Write a Status Report That Your Team Will Love (with samples)
As marketers, we’re often an intermediary between departments, so it’s critical that we are proficient at communicating project status.
When done correctly, status report meetings leave you feeling awesome. A well-executed status report surfaces problems so people can help you solve them. They let you build momentum so you have the support and confidence to keep a tough project going.
However, when done incorrectly or thoughtlessly, status report meetings are soul-draining time-sucks where everyone feels like:
Status Reports Meeting (Usually) Suck
The biggest problem is that most people don’t put any thought into these project status check-ins. This causes those terribly long meetings where everyone is checking their phones and waiting for the pain to end so they can get back to work.
The worst offenders will:
- Call an ad-hoc status report meeting
- List everything they’re working on in the meeting (with no priority or ranking)
- Not know where they need help
In contrast, some of the best marketing people I’ve worked with were extremely conscientious when it came to present their status reports. As a result, they always had everyone’s complete attention and always came out with solutions and clear next steps to overcome whatever they were wrestling with.
I’m now going to explain how they did it, and how you can use their methods to make your meetings more productive.
The best marketing people first get your attention, then use a framework that helps them communicate project status effectively.
Set the Meeting Properly to Maximize Attention
Block Off People’s Time
You want to make sure you have the attention of your boss or relevant team members. The worst thing you can do is send your status report via email then passively expect people to read it.
At best, you sit in a room together. At the very least, you should set a Skype call.
Why? Remember, the point of this meeting is to get people to help you with stumbling blocks, to make sure there are no ugly surprises for anyone involved.
How can you do that when people aren’t giving you their full attention? It’s difficult for people to help you in any meaningful way when you can’t walk them through the proper context of what you’re working on.
Keep it Tight and Shoot for 20 Minutes
People have finite attention spans. People dread status report meetings because they tend to be unfocused and tangential conversations usually derail the entire meeting.
Be ruthless about taking topics offline. This is doubly true if you have a big group in the room. Sidebar topics for later unless you need every single person to resolve the issue AND you need to urgently solve it now.
Ideally, Do it on a Tuesday
Tuesdays are great days to hold status report check-ins since you can take stock of a full week’s worth of data, while still being early enough in the week that you can course correct as needed.
In my experience, Mondays are the day to deal with stuff from over the weekend and spillovers from last week. So if you’re juggling those along with your normal tasks, then pushing yourself to create a status report, you’ll end up burning yourself out on the first day of the week.
Wednesday you’re already knee deep in crap, and Thursday and Friday, your data is stale and you’ll have trouble keeping people’s attention because they’re worn out from the week.
Effective Updates: Progress, Problems, Priorities
In general, an effective status report will contain these sections:
- Summary: What are the big wins and red flags?
- Progress: Are we on track to achieve our goals?
- Problems: Where do you need help?
- Priorities: What are the most important things that you’re working on?
However you choose to structure this given the nuances of your particular situation is up to you. But in general, if you hit all of those topics, you’re golden. Preparing it with this structure makes it easy for you to create the report every time, and your audience will know what to expect.
Let’s go through some examples, imagining that we’re on the marketing team of a company that has a webapp and mobile app (e.g. Pandora, Yammer, Dropbox, etc)
Have you ever wondered why it’s called an “Executive Summary”? Basically, picture an executive, someone so busy running the company that they only have time for one slide then they have to go to another meeting.
What do execs and key people care about? Money. Revenue, profitability, costs, things that have significant impact on goals, and anything that puts these at risk. Topics that people will ask them about at conferences.
In short, big wins and red flags.
Keep this as results-based and metrics-driven as possible. Don’t editorialize and stay objective – the last thing you want to do is make unproven assumptions or over-simplify a complex topic.
This is not the time to talk about things like how many Twitter followers you gained, or growth/decline of your email list, unless it ties into a really important strategy.
The story of this section is simple: are we below target, on target, above target?
There’s lots of ways you could do this and it really depends what you’re working on.
For example, I once had to get a million likes for a Facebook page. In the status reports I sent to my boss, the centerpiece of this section looked something like this:
How you choose to display a high-level summary of your progress depends a lot on your situation. If you’re a one-person marketing team then maybe it’s a visualization of your funnel. If you’re the email marketing manager then maybe it’s your clickthrough rates, deliverability rates, campaign-specific performance, and so on.
This is not the place for nitty gritty granular data and number porn. If you remember from the Inbox Zero email article, people’s brains go into shock when it experiences visual overload. You can prevent this by carving it down to only what is essential, and putting the details in an appendix.
This is a check-in, not a deep dive.
This is the time for any challenges you’re facing, blocking issues and questions.
It’s easy to go on forever about all the problems you’re having, but resist the temptation and prioritize 3-5 of your biggest obstacles. People will be more able to help you that way.
You can make this even better by anticipating what future problems you will have on next week’s update, so you are proactively solving issues.
Here, be strict about only discussing the most important things that you’re working on for the week.
People have finite attention, so only discuss your most urgent projects. Furthermore, if you share EVERYTHING, you are opening yourself to being micromanaged and people questioning your every decision.
Final tips on writing status reports
Schedule the time to write the report every week. Too many times have I made a last-minute, half-assed report because I was too overloaded. Blocking off time in my calendar solved this problem.
PPTs are not necessary to write these. In email is fine, or even written on a whiteboard — you’re good as long as you can keep your team’s attention and have a sensible framework like I’ve outlined above.
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