Website projects can involve many people, some for the entire duration, and others only for certain phases.
This can create quite the challenge in order to keep the necessary people up to date with relevant information, all at the right time. Head scratching, commence!
Disseminating information successfully could be on the syllabus for the dark arts class at Hogwarts. It takes practice and a good understanding of who you are communicating to in order for any progress report to be effective. There are five main areas to consider:
- Who – needs to be updated
- What – do they need to know
- Why – only update them if necessary so people aren’t spammed
- When – do they need this information
- How – best to delivery the update
Let’s look at these in more detail:
Who needs to be updated?
Knowing who needs to be updated is the first step. People who may need to be updated might include:
- Subject matter experts
- In-house/immediate project team (writers, designers, developers etc)
- Different departments (marketing, sales, legal)
- Third-party contractors/freelancers
- The powers from above with final sign-off and say-so (CEO, director etc)
It may be that one update will be suitable for all involved (lucky!), but chances are you will have to tailor updates for different people. Start by making a list of all the people that will require project updates.
What do they need to know?
It can be easy to overcompensate and end up getting too detailed in your reports. Establish what people want to know and share only that. Do they need an update on:
- The overall project status and progress
- How a specific phase or task has been achieved
- The latest for the budget and timescales
- What happened yesterday and what is needed today
These range from the very specific daily tasks to the top-level headlines of a project. Does someone want to know what stage the project is at and what is left to achieve or do they need precise information on what was agreed about a typeface, piece of content or functionality?
Find out and provide only that information. If you are producing one large report, pull out the relevant information for the individuals you are reporting to. Make it as easy as possible for them to get the information and answers they need.
Why do they need to be updated?
Relevance is key here. Understand why people need to be updated so you don’t spam them with unnecessary information. Considering the ‘why’ also means that relevant actions and information can be surfaced from the noise.
When do they need to be updated?
When they need to be updated on will be influenced by what they need to know. They might require:
- Daily check-ins
- End of week status reports
- Monthly progress updates
There’s little point in emailing someone regularly if they just want to know where things are at the end of each month. Similarly, if someone needs to be keep in the loop regularly, they may become anxious and concerned if they only hear from you every four weeks. Making the updates timely, for instance if the updates are also requesting actions, will ensure the recipient has enough time to do the required action too.
How best to deliver the update?
Once you know who needs what, and when, you can decide how best to deliver the update. There are plenty of options available, including, but not limited to:
- Slide deck
- Verbally (Phone call/in-person)
- A written report such as Google Docs/PDF/Word
Some people just love a slide deck or a whomping great PDF! But what they want doesn’t mean that’s what you should provide. Not to cause friction unnecessarily, but you have to consider the value of the time spent creating the report in relation to who is receiving it and why.
The information they need may influence the format it is provided via. If someone just wants the latest progress headlines then perhaps a quick phone call (though it can be good to have a paper trail for projects) or email should suffice. Written updates might be supported by Gantt charts, visuals, or other supporting information. Sometimes a picture is all that’s needed!
Here are a few tips when creating progress reports:
- Make it easy for readers to get the information they need. Perhaps add a summary at the start of the key milestones and steps so the skimmers can stay updated and the deep-divers can read all the nitty gritty.
- Write in appropriate voice and tone. There’s no need for the updates to be dry! If you have an internal content style guide then be authentic and write in that style.
- What you choose to omit is as important as what you choose to include. Be selective to keep reports relevant for the specific reader.
- Provide any supplementary information where relevant so people don’t have to dig around for things. Include links, visuals and anything else that the report references.
- If part of your update is to get approval/feedback/information, make it clear what is needed of the reader.
- Make it clear what’s been achieved and what the next steps are.
- Add stats is appropriate. Are you 65% done? Is content 30% approved and 70% in draft? What percentage of the budget remains?
- Highlight red flags as soon as possible. If you foresee a delay, change in scope/budget/resource, bottleneck, problem or anything else that may derail or affect the project progress, let people know. They may be able to help you avoid it rather than wait until it’s too late.
Effective progress report writing is about knowing your audience and being realistic about the time and resource it would take to provide different types of reports and updates. Make it as easy as possible for stakeholders to get the information they need and they are more likely to stay engaged with the project, be able to provide any sign-off, feedback, approval, answers you need in a timely manner too.
One of the biggest challenges of website projects is managing the expectations of all those involved but when you achieve this, the path to the finish line should be less bumpy. Well written and communicated progress reports will help you get there.