Using Status Reports for Project Management

Managers are very busy individuals. Not only do they need to manage their staff but they are also often involved in strategic initiatives with their own management. This means it can be difficult for them to stay on top of all of the activities their staff are engaged in at a detailed level.


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At the same time, managers need to be aware—at least at a high level—of the status of key projects and activities so that they know when to step in to provide additional direction, coaching, or course correction. This is where a very simple status report can be an extremely effective tool.

The Stoplight Approach to Status Reports

Depending on the organization and the activity being undertaken, status reports can contain a wide variety and wide scope of information. As noted above, managers are busy people and may not have time to read extremely detailed reports on a regular basis. The University of Wisconsin recommends the “stoplight approach” to reporting up:

  • Green (Status update)
  • Amber (Warning)
  • Red (Crisis)

“Using this system–by first providing a status update, and then a warning, followed by explaining the consequences of a potential crisis–will help eliminate any element of surprise,” the University of Wisconsin writes. “After all, getting your manager to act based on fear is not a sustainable or good way to get things done.”
The value of using a color-coded approach to convey this information is that it provides a quick and clear way to visually identify the status of a project and identify if, and when, the manager should step in.

Periodic Review

Status reports don’t necessarily need to be reviewed with employees each time a report is submitted. Much of their value comes in the form of documentation that can be reviewed in a retroactive context. But managers should set aside some time to periodically review status reports with their employees.
This not only reinforces the value of reports (if nobody’s reading them, employees will stop submitting them or do the minimally required effort) but also gives managers a chance to work with employees to tweak the reports to ensure they contain the most relevant and valuable information and are formatted for both ease of use and relevance.
It’s important for managers to stay informed on the activities going on within their team while not feeling compelled to micromanage their staff. Training employees on the effective use of status reports is a great strategy to achieve both goals.

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