Three Questions to Ask for Better Status Reports

John Krautzel
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For managers, project status reports are a double-edged sword; though they provide valuable information about the progress of a project, the resulting picture is often incomplete. As a result, it can be difficult to spot problems before they derail a project. By asking better questions, you can help employees craft well-rounded, informative reports.

Many project status reports focus on the work that has already been completed but fail to look ahead to the upcoming days and weeks. This failure to look ahead can cause you to miss small issues before they turn into serious problems. To stay on top of all possibilities, ask your employees, "Do you have any concerns moving forward?" Encourage employees to share all their concerns, even the smallest and seemingly innocuous ones. After all, a delivery that's one day late can easily turn into a weeklong delay by the next progress report, which in turn can cause a series of problems for other team members. Projects don't crash and burn overnight; when you can anticipate small issues, you can take corrective steps immediately.

For most projects, collaboration and employee communication are crucial. Some employees, particularly new workers or ego-driven colleagues, may have trouble asking for help. Over time, they may get behind and slow down the entire project. To help identify tasks that will move faster with extra manpower, include the question, "Could you benefit from additional support in the next day or week?" on your regular project status reports. According to Status Path, this type of question helps give your employees a voice. The phrasing of the question is important; by using a nonconfrontational phrase like "could you benefit," you avoid putting employees on the defensive or implying that they are not up to the task. This approach makes it more likely that your employees will request help when they need it.

When you're dealing with project status reports that involve multiple employees and teams, general employee requests often fall by the wayside. To help employees get exactly what they need to proceed, request that they answer the question, "What do you need to complete your tasks in the upcoming week?" on each of their regular project status reports. Ask them to be specific—each request should name the employee or team, the exact item that's needed, and the ideal delivery date. With this information, you can create a running timeline that makes it easier to spot backlogs or delays. When necessary, you can step in to move things along more quickly and prevent bottlenecks. As an added benefit, more specific project status reports can help improve employee communication.

The process of creating an effective template for project status reports can be time consuming, but it has dramatic payoffs. By asking the right questions, you can train employees to provide useful, detailed reports that keep you updated and informed.


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