Whether it’s a progress report or a post-mortem, every project manager eventually has to write a project report for the client or management’s benefit. The problem is, not all project managers know how to write a report, much less write an effective one. The good news is that it’s a skill that can be learned. And unlike other skills, you don’t need months of training.
There is no single correct way to write a report. There are many accepted formats and methods, each varying by industry, organization, or even manager. What is important is that it gets the right information across clearly and effectively. To write a good project report, you just need to follow these basic principles:
Write to the Reader
Remember that you’re not writing the report for yourself. You’re probably writing for clients or management, so you need to know how familiar they are with the concepts and terminologies that your team uses. If they’re not well-acquainted with it, you may have to spend the first part of your report defining them so readers can follow along. Or, you might want to dumb it down a bit to layman’s terms and cut back on acronyms and jargon. A good way to practice this is to do the same with meeting notes.
Structure your Report
One thing all reports should have in common is a form of structure. Ideally, you want to organize information into different segments so that your reader can identify relevant sections and quickly refer back to them later on. Common sections include a background or abstract to explain the project’s purpose, and a final summary of the document’s contents.
Back Up your Report with Data
A good project report is going to have lots of data backing it up, whether it is defending the team’s performance or breaking down a successful project. Accurate charts, spreadsheets, and statistics are a must if the report is to have any degree of credibility when presented to clients. Many project management tools provide flexible project reporting features to help PM’s compile and present data in meaningful ways.
Separate Facts from Opinion
You should never confuse the two when writing a project report, especially if you are doing a post-mortem on a failed project. Opinions are subjective and should never be presented as absolutes. The report should be scrubbed of any personal views or preferences unless absolutely necessary. And if your opinion is required, be sure to clearly identify it as such. You may want to put it in an entirely different section, if possible.
Image credit, J. Paxon Reyes, Flickr