The first time I had to do a professional progress report, I panicked. I always thought I was an organized, big-picture person. I thought I had each step of the project, each stakeholder’s task mapped in my mind. But I found myself at a loss…
I didn’t know where to begin my report or what to include. So I did some research and asked my co-workers for advice.
I’m glad I did because they shared some useful tips on how to use visual communication in a progress report. They also pointed me towards a ton of templates to use as a starting point.
Now, I’ve filled out countless progress reports and learned some valuable lessons along the way. So, gather around everyone! I’ll show you the magic of using progress reports for your business, including how to incorporate data visualization.
(Most importantly, you’ll find a generous list of templates you can use with our report maker to get the job done!)
Click to jump ahead:
- What is a progress report?
- Why are work progress reports important?
- How do you write a progress report?
- 3 tips to write great reports
- FAQs about writing a professional progress report
What is a progress report?
Let’s start with the basics. A progress report includes a detailed description of the current status of a project, as well as forecasts for the future. You can use this type of report to share insights on project status and performance. You may also project results and timelines based on the milestones your team has achieved and the challenges you’ve faced so far.
These reports often contain a summary of communications between a team member and a project manager. This helps stakeholders get a snapshot of how a project is progressing.
Keep in mind: a progress report may be for your team alone, your company as a whole or your board of executives. Depending on the audience, you may want to include more or less granular information.
Why are work progress reports important?
This may seem obvious, but reporting on progress is key for keeping your team on track. Consistent project updates will ensure everyone is working on the right tasks, at the right time. These reports also provide an opportunity for reflection…
What’s going well? What isn’t? Do the project objectives still make sense? Do they need adjusting? By taking the time to reflect before a project is finished, you’ll be able to catch any problems, adjust and increase your chances of success.
Sounds good? But wait, there’s more…
Here’s a closer look at the benefits of creating a professional progress report:
Improves team collaboration
As I mentioned, progress reports are all about keeping teams on the same page. Generally, everyone on your team would receive a copy of the report. That way, everyone can see what’s done and what remains to be done.
This is also a good way to keep your team motivated during long projects. By reporting on everything that’s been accomplished, they can see just how far they’ve come.
In the initial phases of a project, your progress report may be as simple as a timeline. This type of report works well during the planning stages, too. For example, check out this weekly reporting template:
You can customize this template however you need. Style the text, swap out the colors, add in your logo and voilà… you have a professionally branded report.
Guides decision-making throughout a project
Again, if you wait until the end of a project to reflect, you may miss opportunities to course-correct along the way. No project plan is perfect. There will always be unforeseen circumstances. A task that requires more time. A team member that drops out of the race…
A progress report can help you deal with these hiccups. By proactively checking in on a project, you can make decisions about the best use of resources. Or even, whether you need to switch lanes entirely!
Creates a detailed audit trail for all projects
While a progress report isn’t an audit, it does provide a record of all the work undertaken during a project. In other words, it’s useful if you or your company need to create an audit trail using project execution records.
Of course, progress reports are also useful if you’re answering to execs, giving updates to your fellow execs or simply referring back to the next time around.
Take this quarterly project status report as an example. Using this template, you can share a high-level overview of a project with a simple progress bar featuring a clear percentage, or swap in any chart to depict progress. With Venngage’s editor, you just have to double-click on the chart and input the appropriate value.
Promotes transparency and accountability
Transparency and accountability are buzzwords in business, but with good reason. Without transparency, there’s no accountability. And without accountability, well, your project is going to be a slog.
Progress reports are a great way to maintain transparency and accountability throughout a project. Not only can you see exactly who’s done (and doing) what, but you can also highlight the allocation of funding and resources, as well as results.
How do you write a progress report?
Now that we’ve talked about the perks of using a progress report to visualize your company’s projects, let’s dig into the good stuff. Here’s how to write a detailed progress report:
Determine your report’s objectives
Of course, your report will have different objectives depending on the format. If you’re putting together a weekly report, those objectives may be tasks accomplished. You may also include notes about roadblocks or problems solved.
A monthly or quarterly report will likely look at larger milestones instead and give a broader overview of the progress made on a project. This type of regular project evaluation may also compare progress to previous months.
Pro tip: while designing in Venngage, you can create a new color scheme, or use one of the many automated color palettes available. If you’re on a business plan, you’ll also have access to My Brand Kit, which allows you to upload logos, choose fonts and set color palettes. Then, you can easily apply your visual branding to every design.
Collect all your data
Once you’ve established your objectives, you can gather the necessary data to report on them.
For example, with a weekly report, you may need to check in with your team members to get a status update on their tasks. With a monthly report, you may be able to pull results, in addition to a broader status update.
Whatever claims you include in your report, just make sure you can back them up with data. If you’re saying a project is 90% complete, that percentage should be calculated based on real numbers, not estimates.
In general, you’ll share a broader progress update on the first page of your report. Then, the following pages will show the supporting data.
Perform a detailed data analysis
Now for the fun part. (Yup, I’m a data nerd.)
Analyzing your data is the logical next step. I like to start by organizing my data into buckets. For example, I might have a bucket for tasks accomplished, outstanding tasks, blockers, budget and key learnings to date.
Often, I’ll include a bucket for outstanding questions. And I analyze all of the above to identify patterns and make informed predictions.
Once you have all this information, make a note of which pieces of data can be visualized. Graphs, charts and other visuals help simplify complex data and reduce the amount of text you’ll need in your report. (More on visualizing your data in just a sec!)
Pro tip: when creating a report in Venngage on a Business Plan, you can collaborate in real-time with your team members and invite them to work on a design. You can also leave comments and get feedback, right on the platform. Alternatively, you can share your design online, via email or download a high-resolution PNG, PDF or interactive PDF.
Outline and edit your report
Ah, the outline. I create an outline for everything I write, whether it’s a blog, business plan, or yes, a progress report. In my experience, it’s the best way to avoid writer’s block. With a detailed outline, you’ll never get stuck staring at a blank screen again.
At this point, you know your objectives. You’ve collected and analyzed all your data. All that’s left is to turn it into a story.
I like to start with objectives and work my way backward. In my outline, I’ll cover objectives on the first page. Each one gets its own heading with supporting data underneath. I’ll also include a high-level description of my project on the first page.
I like to organize the following sections by objective, too. This creates a natural hierarchy while keeping goals and objectives top of mind.
Nail down the length of your report
Keep in mind that you don’t want your report to be the length of a bible! No one has the time or attention span for that. Here’s a quick rule of thumb: a progress report should be around two to three pages.
This should give you enough space to state your objectives, present supporting data, showcase progress and make any predictions. If your outline is more than three pages, have another look and see what you can trim. As all good writers know, sometimes you have to kill your darlings.
Design your report using visuals
A picture is worth a thousand words — there’s a reason we’ve all heard this saying a thousand times!
Engaging visuals are the perfect way to turn dry data into meaningful, digestible statements. But you don’t have to create these visuals from scratch or hire a designer for that matter. By starting with one of Venngage’s templates, you can simply customize the visuals to suit your needs.
For example, this project management status report template includes several images, charts and icons. You can swap out the images with your own or browse over three million high-quality, royalty-free photos to find something suitable.
You can also change the icons to reflect your data. With Venngage, you get access to over 40,000 icons with thousands of diverse options to reflect a range of skin tones and cultural backgrounds. Plus, you can change the charts to best represent your data.
By using visuals in your design, you’ll break up walls of text and make your report both aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand. In the end, this will help you improve communication and impress any stakeholders involved.
With Venngage’s report maker, the design process is quick and easy. And best of all, you can do it all yourself — exactly the way you envisioned.
Related: 5 Best Report Creators for Businesses in 2022
Get feedback from your team
Before sharing your final report, consider getting feedback from your team.
They may have additional insights to share on a project’s progress. They can also help spot faulty data and prevent any embarrassing retractions down the line. This is also just good for morale. The more involved your team feels in a project, the more invested they’ll be.
Finalize your report
Last step: proofreading.
Make sure to double-check everything, from spelling and grammar to project details and data visualizations. This step ties in with my point above. Getting a second pair of eyes to proofread your report is always a good idea.
When you’ve been staring at something for weeks, it can be hard to catch mistakes. Your team members can look at your report with fresh eyes and share fresh insights.
In the data-heavy example above, a misplaced comma or rogue denominator could make all the difference. So don’t skip that final once over! At the end of the day, the goal is to create a report that’s as accurate as possible.
3 tips to write great reports
I’ve talked a lot about how to use visuals to create an engaging, full-featured progress report. But what about words, you ask?
Keep these three quick tips in mind to breeze through the writing part, too:
- Stay focused
And I mean hyper-focused.
Remember the first step in this guide: determine your report’s objectives. By staying focused on your objectives, you’ll avoid unnecessary tangents. Plus, you’ll have a lot less editing to do when it comes time to kill your darlings!
If a point doesn’t tie back to your objectives, skip it. This will give your entire report a sense of direction. It will also help your team members digest and retain the information.
- Discuss your objectives in a balanced manner
If you have multiple objectives, make sure you give each one its due.
It’s true, one objective may be more important than the other. For example, you might dedicate more real estate to outlining project tasks than predicting future progress. Just make sure to weigh positive and negative data fairly.
You don’t want a rose-colored report, so to speak. This will set unrealistic expectations and be more harmful than helpful down the line. Instead, use all the available data to share a balanced perspective in your progress report.
- Use a consistent reporting style
Reports are no place for flowery language.
To make your report as effective as possible, use straightforward, simple language. Make sure to define any acronyms or technical terms at the beginning of your report. And remember the three Cs while you’re writing: be clear, concise and compelling.
FAQs about writing a professional progress report
What are the three types of progress reports?
There are three types of reports based on the time span they cover:
- Weekly: These reports typically cover a team member’s individual progress and how it affects the entire project.
- Monthly: These progress reports typically provide a broader overview of a project, including team member progress, methods and projections. Monthly reports are usually data-dependent and require more visuals than weekly reports.
- Quarterly: These detailed reports cover a three-month period. Quarterly reports include a lot more data and will require more visuals to make them digestible and engaging as a result.
What are the qualities of a good progress report?
The qualities of a good progress report are:
- Comprehensiveness: Provide a total overview of a project using clear objectives, simple language and a balanced ratio of text and images in your layout.
- Data-backed: Make sure your report includes accurate data that you’ve double-checked for any discrepancies.
- Rich in visuals: Leverage engaging visuals to break up the text in your report and turn your data into a compelling, easily digestible story.
Write a detailed professional progress report and achieve your goals
I know from personal experience that writing a progress report can be daunting at first.
But with these tips and templates, I’m confident you can do it. So go ahead, give it a try. Create a beautiful, raise-winning report with Venngage for free. Just remember to clearly define your objectives first… and don’t skimp on visuals!