In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know to create a progress report and the perfect reporting structure for your business.
We'll help you build a business case for introducing progress report writing into your workflow, as well as share optimal reporting timeframes, how to write them, and how to structure progress reports with your team. We'll close out with some best practices for writing progress reports, and help you find your feet in this massively beneficial working style.
What is a progress report?
First up, we're guiding you through a progress report, but what is it? The spoiler's in the name "progress," which means 'forward or onward movement towards a destination'. Since most projects usually have a final target destination, the journey getting there has to be described in some way to apprise other people of the status.
A progress report is a type of business writing designed to update someone on various tasks of someone else. It's written for managers, project stakeholders, leadership, or company-wide updates. It doesn't merely show progress or successes but also drawbacks, obstacles, and recommendations for improvement.
Reporting project progress is a formal, documented, and structured way of keeping people in the know. There are many types of progress reports out there, email wrap ups, memos, PDFs, business letters, project summaries, Google docs, and the list goes on.
Why are progress reports important for business?
If your team members aren't big on report writing, this section of the guide will help you build a formal case to introduce progress reporting to your workflow— time to get away from lost email chains or messy PDFs.
Whether you're a manager looking for ways to get a better overview of your team, or you're a team player looking to increase business efficiency— the below is why creating a working progress report is so essential for any business.
1. Align your team
Staying in sync as a busy team with lots of subtasks can be painfully difficult sometimes. Especially with a distributed workforce, important information gets lost in a mass of slack messages, email chains, and 1-1 catch-ups. It can get really overwhelming when juggling holidays, sick leaves, and meetings with external stakeholders.
Project progress reports effectively summarize your teams' achievements, milestones covered, and challenges encountered in one place. Use a progress report as a one-stop-shop for any team member that needs an update on a particular project or initiative. Progress reports eliminate the need for managers and team members to repeat themselves, allowing everyone to catch up quickly on their schedule.
2. Showcase wins
Progress reports are a fantastic tool for managers and leadership to credit and acknowledge an individual's efforts and progress towards company goals. When annual or bi-annual reviews come around, these progress reports can serve as the backbone for someone's performance record and enable a fair assessment of work ethic based on factual progress rather than feelings, bias, or solely major projects.
At the same time, reporting progress on a project gives employees an opportunity to celebrate their wins and have a notch on their belts when promotions are in consideration.
3. Give stakeholders updates on projects
An easy win, and an obvious point but certainly not one to be overlooked. The primary aim of writing progress reports is to give stakeholders the updates they need and bring them up to speed on the status of everything. The stakeholders can be anyone in the business or externally. They just need to be known by the reporter when writing the report, so the reporter can include the necessary information they know a particular person will require.
4. Document work for future reference
If a business is ever looking to repeat a project or strategy, your progress reports are essential for learning and improving processes. These reports allow a company to optimize a strategy or process based on learnings. Writing a progress report on projects regularly is an excellent way of documenting workflow and in the future, the workforce will have a solid and practical reference point to draw ideas, motivation, and innovation from.
5. Identify common roadblocks
While a progress report primarily highlights the positive advancements in the project, it's also important to highlight the bad - roadblocks. These can come in many forms; maybe it's technology, maybe it's a vendor, maybe it's team capabilities or a particular team member. Managers should collate progress reports and identify common roadblocks that need addressing. In doing so, they'll work towards making the business an operationally smoother workplace.
When to write a progress report
A progress report can be put together at many different times, depending on the goal of the report. Different types of companies and businesses would tackle progress report writing differently. A crop progress report in agriculture can be written weekly or quarterly according to the stages in farm processes, but a sales report aimed for a year cumulative target might have to be written as frequently as everyday. Here's a breakdown of the different types of progress reports according to frequency and how to create them.
Daily progress reports
These progress reports are short, straight-to-the-point, and usually between a manager and a team member. There's no spectacular detailing here, just a quick overview of daily tasks achieved, any problems that came up, and progress made towards larger goals. A daily progress report should be delivered at the same time everyday, preferably at the end of work to summarize the day's activities, or at the beginning of work hours to relay the previous day's progress.
Weekly progress reports
This type of report is best between a manager and a team member. It should dive into what a team member had planned to achieve at the start of the week, what they eventually achieved, and how they were able to pull things off.
The weekly progress report is best delivered on a Friday afternoon, so managers and team members have time to chat it over and make an action plan for the following week.
Monthly progress reports
Monthly progress reports are usually reasonably detailed, written to update a small business or team on a particular individual's or department's progress towards goals. Writing a progress report every month is a great opportunity to highlight particular individuals who worked exceptionally hard in the month and give other departments an idea on how your team is performing.
Quarterly progress reports
Every business - well, every serious business - sets quarterly goals and KPIs. It's extremely important to follow up on those goals in an appropriate period of time. Quarterly progress reports can be of two kinds. First, there's the in-depth one that is usually several pages long and goes into details about everything that is achieved by the company in the past quarter. It highlights all the major wins, obstacles, and team member's opinions on workflow improvement. The second one is simply an overview, a brief report that checks whether the key performance indicators and OKRs (objectives and key results) are being met. Progress report comments are super-useful in explaining or summarizing sections of information in quarterly reports, to help the reader grasp the ideas quickly and efficiently.
Annual progress reports
The final report of the year is the ultimate progress report. The annual project progress report has to be as detailed as possible, and it's often such a big deal that it's printed out and handed out to every company member. It's a central knowledge base for everyone to stay apprised of the company's progress in the past year. This report is usually aimed at company-wide or towards leadership. What did your department achieve across the entire year? What can you celebrate, what lessons have you learned, and what are you hoping to change for the next period?
How to write a progress report
Progress report writing can be tricky, especially for someone doing it for the first time. Also, it's common knowledge that project reports might be different for different companies. A construction progress report might need to be more pictorial and diagrammatic, and in this type of report, it's okay to be technical. A sales project report, however, should be concise and easy to understand at a glance. Follow these steps to ensure your reports are as legible as possible.
Be clear and specific
It's not always going to be easy keeping off technical jargon in project progress reporting, but you must try to keep it simple with language and sentence structure; it can be the make or break of any progress report. Try to use short sentences and proofread any report before submitting them. Most times, the readers of the reports are too busy with other things to have the time for dramatic writing. The report can be detailed and in-depth without being complicated.
Explain industry-specific language
Sometimes, it will be entirely impossible to keep the jargon out when writing progress reports. If you're reporting for people outside of your team, then it's important to explain any abbreviations or lingo that may only be common knowledge within your department; it prevents miscommunication.
Number & title projects
As a general rule of thumb, get a reference number and title to every project you cover; this will help people discuss them online afterward.
An informal report remains limited to peers only. To report project progress in a formal environment, an appropriately toned report gives a manager the option to keep it to herself or to share it with a broader audience with no need to amend. Avoid doing the double work of writing a scrappy report and having to write another one when the higher-ups want a peek.
Progress reports step-by-step
The following is a step-by-step guide to creating useful progress reports. Learning how to write a progress report is a process, and the more you write, the better you become at organizing your details into clean, easy-to-understand sections.
Follow this 8 step format for progress report writing to ensure you include all the important details:
1. Place identifying details at the top
The first step to creating a killer progress report document is to title your report by placing the identifying details at the top of the page. Each report must be clearly distinguished from all the others for easy documentation. Untitled reports seem rushed with little attention to some of the most important details.
These details should be written in clear, bold fonts of varying sizes. They include:
- Title of the report
- Date of submission
- Reference number
- Handling/supervising officer
2. Project details
Following the identifying details of the report are the details of the project itself. It doesn't matter how many progress reports are submitted in a period of time; the details of the project must be included in each one. The higher-ups probably have a long list of reports being submitted by various departments, so they'd always require a refresher of what each team is working on.
After the title, you should write one or two sentences generally describing the project. After this, you can list out the details of the project. The best practice in a working progress report would be to put the information in a tabular form. These include:
- The project name/title
- Project ID
- Starting date
- Expected date of completion
- Current status
- Team members involved
- Project manager
- Supervising officers
3. Summary of the report
This should be a short paragraph between 100 and 150 words, briefly describing the project details and current status of the project. It gives an overview of everything that's currently going with the project, and it's written for the sole purpose of providing a quick glance-over within the report. Do not include any negative details or complaints here - keep it short and simple.
4. Core activities
Following the summary is an in-depth description of all core activities going on within the scope of the project, you have to describe the sub-tasks and how the teams are getting on with their roles. Tabulation is also a great way to represent this information.The table labels include and are not limited to title of the subtask/activity, small description, relevant dates (start and expected completion), current status, team member assigned, and relevant file links. Progress report comments from the supervising officer can also be included here. The overall section is already a detailed input, so keep all secondary details brief and straight-to-the-point.
5. Current quantifiable results
This is an optional table, especially for projects that are still beginning and are yet to yield reports. When writing progress reports for ongoing projects, this section can be written as a list of or a three-column table containing the name of the task holder, subtask name, and brief details of the result achieved. Make sure the results are mentally quantifiable and reasonable. If there's nothing to write, leave this section undone and don't bother with fluffy or unnecessary information. Doing this will essentially reduce the transparency of your report.
6. Challenges encountered
Most times, teams would encounter problems and obstacles with implementing the overall project plan. When creating progress reports, it's important to make a section where you outline the challenges encountered in a list, and highlight the subtask(s) where the problem actually occurred. Describe how this has affected the completion of the project or the overall results as a whole.Hot tip: Avoid using strong negative language here. You can describe in detail but keep the tone professional.
7. Recommendations and suggestions
If you need to consult members of your team for their input in this section, great idea! Here, you're required to recommend improvements that could possibly fix the problems outlined above or improve the situation. This is best written as a list. You can expand briefly on any point that needs further details. Ensure to mention how your suggestions directly affect the results.
8. Concluding paragraph and signatures
In progress report writing, the conclusion is simply a re-hash of everything discussed in the report. The trick is to compress all the information into one to two sentences, or a maximum of three. Let it quickly capture the main point of that report, how it intertwines with the previous report and your expectation for the next report.
Also, leave a couple of lines for your signature as the project manager and another for the supervising stakeholder.
Best practices for writing a progress report
Writing a progress report in project management is a solid sign of dedication and commitment from any team or division. Even if it's not a company-wide mandate to write these reports, sometimes, it's actually useful to write them for in-team benefits. It keeps everyone motivated and inspired. We'll close this guide out with some best practices for creating your progress reports and introducing them to your team's workflow.
Whether you're putting together a business progress report, a research progress report, or any other - here are 13 tips to help it really stand out:
1. Use data
Where you can, always use data to showcase progress or lack of it. Think about ways you can generate data with the progress reporting tools you have and display the data in a clear way; always try to show movement toward the greater goal.
2. Use visual aids if necessary
Don't be afraid to support your report submission with visuals. There's no point in wasting paragraphs of text explaining a situation when you can explain it with a screenshot. Writing a progress report isn't merely about passing information but also engaging the reader to absorb your headway with a project. If there are any stonewalls, your visual aids make them easier to identify.
3. Be transparent
Transparency is invaluable if you want your reporting structure to be productive and positively contribute towards moving forward. Highlight to staff that progress reports call for transparency. No one needs to hide behind fluff or try to optimize the status of a report for fear of looking bad. Address every project as it is. There's no need for fluff pieces or grossly unnecessary information. If your report is too short and there are not enough details to create a solid progress report document, you can ask for an extension or simply turn in your document the way it is. As long as you stay honest and write appropriately, you'd have successfully done your job.
4. Make sure everything is dated
Due dates, report dates, task deliveries, the lot. Earlier in this article, we mentioned how these project progress reports would be the backbone of research for any similar project in the company's future. If you date everything, someone can dive into systems to pull metrics they may need from correct dates, and better understand the tools and talent the company had at that particular time.
5. Include company and department goals
If your progress reports are for inter-departmental use, then it's useful to share the goals that you personally, or your department, are working towards. Double-check what you can and can't share with human resources if you’re ever unsure. In doing so, you'll give the reader greater insight into your logic and actions.
6. Discuss problems and progress
Every report is a platform for discussing problems and progress. When writing progress reports, kick conversations off via the content you provide and ask any questions you'd like answered from the reader. Write in a cordial, formal, and neutral tone.
Tip: Your reader is there to help you, no matter what role they're in within the company; you'll be surprised by the innovative ideas you can get from other departments. 💡
7. Share it wisely
Think wisely about who needs to see this document, especially the special progress report comments included by a top-level supervisor. Is it more than management? Perhaps other departments or even external stakeholders, like funding agencies, will benefit from reading this report. Try to identify those who need the report before writing it and then share it so that everyone has easy access.
8. Structure storage
You can store reports, no problem. However, think of the architecture around your report storage system. Try to build a map to guide people through reports and how they're stored. You want people to find a report quickly.
Figure out what someone needs to search for reporting project progress at any time, or the path they need to follow. This process will save a lot of time in the future and empower employees to use the reports at any time, not just when they're first delivered. That's a wrap!
9. Add a call-to-action
This is a great opportunity to get instant help for the reader or your superiors. Call-to-actions are useful when there are uncertainties, confusions, or problems with the project. These could include task differentiation, unclear milestones, or shortage of funds. A call-to-action could be asking the superior to supply clarification or some feedback in an email or a communication channel. You could also ask for a budget review or anything else your team might need to follow through to the successful completion of the project.Note that when writing a progress report, you should still limit the use of CTAs to extreme necessities.
10. Get all hands on deck
Always consult your team members when working on progress reports. If you're the team leader, you can invite everyone to pitch in and submit informal reports of their personal progress with milestones in the project. If you're a team member assigned the role of progress report writing, you could reach out to everyone individually for their input.
One of the best ways to write a solid progress report is to include the personal overviews of the members of the team pushing the project forward. This may not exactly be possible with frequent progress report schedules, such as daily and weekly, but with longer timelines, team members are invaluable to the process.
11. Ditch the passive voice
Let's be honest - a lot of your superiors don't have the time to read all the reports that come their way. Using a lot of passive voice while writing a progress report reduces readability and most times, the reader will not engage with the content.
Instead of writing: "We were instructed by our manager to restart the milestone..."
You can write: "Our manager instructed us to restart the milestone..."
While you won't always be able to avoid the passive voice, make a solid effort to report actively. You can check out the Grammarly and Hemingway Apps for passive-to-active voice detection and correction. Also, progress report comments should never be re-written to the passive voice. You may correct and edit grammatical/typographical errors, but do not rephrase or entirely rewrite.
12. Keep the length optimal
A tricky line to walk.
If your progress report is abnormally short, no one will take you seriously. If it's too long, you can be certain your managers aren't going to read it. They'd probably skim it and move on to something else. It'll be really hurtful to spend so much time working on a lengthy and detailed progress report only to have it skimmed and dumped - also, it's simply not efficient.
It's important to keep the length of your report reasonable. If you can fit everything you have to report into one page, go for it. This also depends on the frequency of the report. If it's a daily progress report, keep it as short as half a page. A weekly progress report can be longer, quarterly reports can be a couple of pages while the annual report is the only one where it makes sense to have several pages in the document.
13. Always edit and proofread
Obviously. It's important to maintain great writing standards to communicate efficiently and impress your readers. No one will enjoy reading a report with grammatical and typographical errors. Always read through your report at least twice and use software such as Grammarly to pick the less-subtle errors out.
Enjoy Progress Reporting with Slite
Slite isn't just any regular project management tool, it's a robust and feature-packed collaboration platform that can super-charge your team's organization to the highest levels of efficiency. It's amazing how much difference the right tool can make in your operations.
Slite has tons of amazing pre-developed templates for all project management activities. Our template for progress report writing will certainly take the tedium and unnecessary boredom out of updating statuses at any frequency. It's available for free download when you sign up on our app, and you should enjoy our templates' useful new features. Below are some of the most awesome things to love about Slite:
1. Doc collections
Organizing documents can easily become a mess. Slite has a super-sweet doc collection feature, stacking them into well-organized color-coded lists with zero room for annoying sidebar clutter. We provide an easy filtering and sorting feature, quick cycling and embedding features, and you can reference your docs anywhere within the app. You can also arrange into column types and choose different views for each team! The doc is a really helpful feature when writing a progress report. All documents relevant to the current project can be easily sorted and referenced in your report.
2. A range of super-useful collaboration tools
This is why Slite is an absolute breath of fresh air. Slite has a wide range of super-useful features and extra tools to make collaboration easy for your team:
- Communication tools
- Quick decision updating tab
- Quick reactions
- Doc embeds for progress reports
- Rich-text formatting
- Quote and reply function
3. Vast integration range
Slite external app integration allows you to directly import documents from applications such as G-docs or Evernote. There's no hassle switching between docs. Slite integration also accommodates applications such as Slack, Google Drive, Miro, Pitch, Github, and social media applications. If the details you need to write your progress report are stored in another application, Slite makes retrieval easy and straightforward.
Manage Progress Reporting with Slite
If you’re looking to build a progress report into your team’s work schedule then we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you.Use Slite's free progress report template, and build on it.Hopefully, you’re walking away from this guide fully-equipped to introduce progress reporting to your business and start benefiting from this fantastic process— continuing to make great things happen.
Christophe Pasquier is Slite’s co-founder and CEO. Chris’ goal is to help teams do incredible work in better environments, by helping them embrace remote work and async communication. He currently lives in Berlin with his wife and baby Noé. Find him @Christophepas on Twitter!