Twenty years ago, I lost an argument, and it changed my life.
While talking with my co-worker Dan, I expressed relief that my current client did not require me to send a weekly status report. I saw status reports as a waste of valuable time better spent writing the software I was hired to build.
Dan told me that he always sends a status report, whether or not the customer requested it. We debated, I lost, and I have been sending regular status reports to my managers and customers ever since.
When I created my first Status Report, I thought of how we ran our Daily Standup Meetings. Those tend to be concise because each team member lists only what they worked on yesterday, what they planned to work on today, and any issues they were having. This sounded like a good starting point for my document.
I created a Status Report template and organized it like the Standup Meetings. The main sections are:
- Last Week
- Next Week
The "Highlights" and "Upcoming" sections are optional.
Some weeks, I want to call attention to something exceptional I did. I have worked in organizations where my manager calls out a few highlights from his team each week and reports those to their manager. Adding this section makes it more likely that they will include my activity. It also makes clear the impact I am having. I omit this section if I have nothing significant to report this week.
In this section, I list the things I accomplished this week.
Some of them are significant milestones, and sometimes I report that I reached out to someone to start a dialogue on a project.
Most of the time, I order these by importance. However, I work with various partners in my current role, so I have a section for each partner.
Here I list the tasks I plan to accomplish next week. These can include scheduled meetings, milestones I expect to complete, and projects I plan to begin working on.
If I schedule something significant beyond next week, I will add this section and list it here. For example, I may plan to speak at a conference next month. I omit this section if I have nothing to report.
In this section, I call out risks and potential blockers: anything that may prevent me from accomplishing my goals on time. My manager may be able to remove these blockers, but only if he is aware of them. If not, I am at least making them aware of risks so we can plan for contingencies.
- We are waiting for another team to complete a necessary part of our project
- We do not have enough time and/or people to meet an aggressive schedule
- I will be on vacation and unavailable the last week of the month
- Customers have reported a large number of bugs. We should take the time to fix them.
Advantages of a Status Report
Here are the advantages of preparing and sending a regular status report to your customer/manager.
Communicate what you accomplished
A regular status report is your chance to brag to the boss about what you did this past week. In particular, the "Highlights" section at the top calls attention to things I am particularly proud of. But it also lets him know I have been busy this past week.
Communicate your plans for the coming weeks
List what you plan to work on next week. The main advantage is to verify that your activities align with your manager's or customer's goals. If your manager wants you to work on x, but you are working on y, you want to know sooner rather than later, so you can correct your course without wasting too much time. In agile software development, we often talk about the benefits of a fast feedback loop. That same principle helps us in our career.
Document your accomplishments for later reference
I have worked at many companies where I needed to list my accomplishments at the end of the year. Remembering what you worked on nine months ago can be a daunting task. A weekly status report serves as a record to which you can refer and refresh your memory.
A status report is an excellent place to document issues, potential problems, blockers, and anything that might negatively affect an outcome.
In my experience, people often forget verbal communication. But having a consistent place where you report issues facilitates communication.
It also protects you from the occasional unscrupulous manager who insists you never reported an issue.
This article listed the advantages of preparing and sending a regular status report to your customer and/or manager. I no longer remember which of these came from Dan and which ones I discovered over the past two decades. But this practice has been good for my career.