Writing a progress report is one of those tasks that sounds simpler in theory than it is in practice. Your goal is self-explanatory — to update the reader on, well, your progress! But in practice, you need to find a balance between including all relevant information and excluding distracting, extraneous details. That’s not always easy to do, and it can be especially tough if writing isn’t typically part of your job.
Progress reports vary a lot based on the specifics of your work. That said, there are still some guiding principles that will help you make your report helpful, accessible, and informative.
Keep reading as we break down what a progress report is, why it matters, and how to write one. When you’re done, you’ll be ready to write an exceptional progress report, and we’ll even give you a free template you can use to nail it every time.
What is a progress report?
A progress report is a formalized way to keep people updated on your work. Usually, they’re intended for an audience that wasn’t part of your work but is still connected to it in some way. This could be someone supervising you — like your manager — or an external stakeholder. Progress reports can be written daily, weekly, quarterly, or even annually.
These reports can also be issued as part of general updates on company performance, especially as quarterly or annual reports. Obviously, they provide information about your progress, but they also discuss blockers, whether or not they were overcome, and how. They’ll also include important KPIs.
Good progress reports contain detailed, specific information, not generalized statements. If you’re working on a long-term project and will be reporting at regular intervals, it might be helpful to structure all your reports from the same standardized template. This will give you a consistent frame of reference when you’re looking back at the project’s trajectory.
In addition to keeping other people in the loop, reporting on your progress can help you and your team stay on track. It forces you to assess how far you’ve come and think critically about obstacles, both what caused them and how you solved them. It also helps you and your teammates get credit for your hard work!
Why are progress reports important?
When you’re knee-deep in your project, progress reports can sometimes feel like a waste of time. After all, you’d rather be getting the work done than writing about it!
But in reality, progress reports are incredibly important in project management. Here are a few ways that progress reports make work better for everyone.
They make it easier to work together
Progress reports give everyone visibility. This helps you avoid information silos, confusion, miscommunication, and inefficiency. They also promote collaboration. If multiple teams are working on a project, it’s easy to spot ways to help each other, since everyone knows exactly what’s going on.
Progress reports track individual contributions
Once a project’s completed, it can be tricky to remember exactly who handled which task. But there are many reasons why that information should be carefully documented. For example, if a problem arises later, you may need to look back and see what caused it. Did someone drop the ball? Conversely, if the project is a success, your progress report makes it easy to see who deserves to have their efforts recognized.
In either scenario, the report removes ambiguity. Who did what is crystal clear and not up for debate.
They help you reflect on success and failure
Progress reports provide value long after your project wraps up. Going past individual employees’ successes or failures, they can reveal the big-picture loopholes, oversights, and inefficiencies that impeded your progress. Many companies will also analyze progress reports in aggregate to improve all their operational processes.
How to write a progress report
Your progress report should be clear, concise, and informative. If you’re not much of a writer, don’t worry — the point of a progress report is to share information, not show off your storytelling skills.
Here are some general best practices to follow when you’re writing your report.
Set a schedule
Outline when regular progress reports should be delivered and make sure you get buy-in from your team. Set specific deadlines for submission or they will sink to the bottom of everyone’s to-do list and never get done.
How often you need to write a report depends on the project’s size and complexity, but keep things realistic. Asking teams to report too frequently can lead to unhelpful, surface-level reports, while not enough reporting can lead to important milestones being missed.
Start with the basics
Keep your progress report simple
As we mentioned, progress reports should use simple, accessible language to convey information. This is not the time to emulate your college philosophy paper. Overly complicated phrasing won’t make you look smart and professional, it will confuse your reader and obscure your meaning.
That’s not to say you can’t use technical or industry-specific language — after all, in many situations, these terms are the simplest way to convey your meaning. If you do choose to use specialized terms or acronyms, you may want to define them. This depends on the audience of your report.
Progress, plans, and problems
One technique to keep things brief and to the point is known as “progress, plans, and problems.” The idea is that unless you’re talking about an accomplishment, projected future accomplishment, or a roadblock, it doesn’t belong in your report.
When managers, supervisors, and colleagues are aware of your progress, plans, and problems, they have a holistic view of where the project’s at and can see where their attention is needed.
It’s not enough to just tell the reader what you accomplished — wherever possible, you should prove it, too. Use charts, tables, or graphics wherever you can to help the reader visualize your progress. Try to source data from tools you’re already using.
Progress report template
Need a hand writing your progress report? We have a free template you can use to draft your reports. Just click the link to access the Google Doc, and download the template. This template follows the pointers outlined above, as well as including a section where you can draft an executive summary.
Visibility, accountability, and communication
Even when you understand their importance, writing progress reports can feel like taking valuable time away from actually doing the work.
But reporting on your progress doesn’t need to be a hassle. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll get in the habit of writing clear, helpful progress reports that make it easy to update your colleagues, assess your performance, and keep your project on track.
1. Progress reports are one thing, but your project reporting workflow needs to be on point, too. Learn more about this workflow here.
2. See the power of Unito in action.
3. Ready to start? Try Unito free for 14 days!