Reporting

Project Management Report: 6 Best Practices for Writing One

48 experts share how to create a project management report that keeps you on top of your projects without feeling overwhelmed.

Masooma Memon Masooma Memon on April 26, 2022 (last modified on May 4, 2022) • 16 minute read

Creating a project management report that’s read cover to cover is easier said than done.

For starters, shortlisting project metrics to feature in the report can be confusing. Choosing a report layout doesn’t make things any easier. To top it all, you need to revise the report at least twice to ensure there’s no reporting error.

So where do you start? What metrics should you choose?

We’ve got answers to these questions and more – all sourced from 48 experts who run multiple projects at a time. Half of these contributors come from the B2C services/products industry. For the remaining half, 25% are from B2B services/projects businesses, and 25% work in agencies (digital, media, or marketing).

Here’s what we’ll cover today:

Dive in.

What is a Project Management Report?

A project management report is a short document sharing an overview of a project’s progress. It helps you:

  • Track project progress – see what’s covered, what’s in the pipeline, and so on.
  • Identify risks and schedule variances to manage them well on time.
  • Provide a documented record of how a project progressed for future decision-making.

What Should Be Included in a Project Management Report?

According to our respondents, the most important metrics to add to a project management report are:

  • Cycle Time. The time you spend working on a project, including the wait stages that occur between tasks completion.
  • On-Time Completion Percentage. A quick, at-a-glance progress bar showing how much of the project is complete.
  • Time Spent. The time you’ve already spent on completing the project.
  • Budget Variance. A measure of how well the project is on track with its decided budget. If it’s not, by how much is it going under or over budget.
What Should Be Included in a Project Management Report?

While these are the top there (Time Spent and On-Time Completion Percentage tie at number 2), other essential information to add to a project management report include:

  • Planned Hours vs. Time Spent. An overview of how well the project is on track of the time dedicated to it.
  • Cost Performance Index (CPI). A measure of how the budgeted cost of work completed (calculate using Earned Value) compares with the actual cost of the work completed (measured using Actual Costs). CPI is calculated by dividing EV by AC.
  • Customer Satisfaction/Loyalty. How satisfied is your client/customer? A simple starred rating system can help monitor this.
  • Customer Complaints. Number and a brief description of the complaints your client/customer made.
  • Budget Creation (Or Revision) Cycle Time. The time spent on creating the new budget (after its variance).
  • Number of Change Requests. A quick look at the requests the client made.
  • Return On Investment (ROI). Depending on your project’s stage, this is the profit generated or profit expected to be generated. It’s usually calculated by taking the actual or estimated income and subtracting it from the actual or estimated costs.
  • Number of Adjustments to the Schedule. How many times changes were made to the planned project schedule?
  • Resource Capacity. Or how many in-house team members are available to take on the project tasks.
  • Number of Project Milestones Completed On Time. A quick look at how many of the project milestones you were able to hit as per the set schedule.
  • Planned Value. The cost allotted to the work you’ve scheduled.
  • Line Items in Budget. How planned budget divides into different categories such as the budget for supplies, budget for salaries, budget for fringe benefits, and more.
  • Number of Errors. Number and overview of mistakes made throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Number of Returns.
  • Training/Research Needed for Project. A brief look at the research or training given for completing the project including costs incurred and the time spent on it.
  • Number of Cancelled Projects. A number of projects dropped (either from your end or the client’s end).
  • Number of Budget Iterations. Or how many times you had to revise the budget due to the variances in the actual budget planned and budget spent.
  • Net Promoter Score. A numerical score estimate of how likely your client/customer is to recommend your services to others.
  • Resource Conflict YOY. A rundown of how many projects require the same resource (read: particular employees) for their completion.
  • Billable Utilization. A measure of how much of employees’ available time is spent on project-related activities.
  • Employee Churn Rate. Or the number of employees that leave your agency or business in a specified time (helpful so you can tell how the churn rate impacts ongoing projects)
  • FTE Days vs. Calendar Days. FTE refers to the number of hours worked by a single employee in a week. For example, 40 hours a week (1 FTE) i.e. 8 hours for 5 days are the standard working hours at most companies. So if you have 3 full-time employees and 2 part-time employees working 3 days a week, then the total FTE becomes (31) + (20.6)= 4.2.

That said, the exact metrics that you add to your project management report depend on:

  • The type of report you’re creating (project pipeline overview or specific project report)
  • Who you’re creating it for (teammates, stakeholders, or clients) and
  • Report complexity and frequency (weekly reports, for example, aren’t as in-depth as quarterly reports).

This brings us to our next question: how often should you be creating a project management report? Let’s look at that next.

How Often Should You Report on Projects?

The answer to this depends on your project’s duration and reporting processes.

Our research tells us that the majority, 77.1% of our contributors, have projects running for about a year or less. Only 22.92% of respondents on average have projects that last longer than one year.

Average project duration

It’s why it makes sense to report either monthly or quarterly instead of daily. No wonder, more than half of our respondents share they typically report monthly on their projects.

Average project reporting frequency

That said, your reporting processes also play a role. For example, you could be having a monthly reporting process in place to keep clients updated on the project progress. Similarly, you could be creating internal project reports weekly or monthly.

6 Best Practices for Writing a Project Management Report

Now that you know what to include in your project management report and how often to create it, let’s look at how you can improve your reports by writing them well.

Here are our expert-backed tips for you:

  1. Use simple language
  2. Create a simple report layout
  3. Use videos or dashboard to report on projects
  4. Make it easy to read
  5. Visualize data
  6. Use templates

1. Keep it simple

An effective way to improve project management reporting is to simplify everything – from the words you use to the metrics you add to the report.

To begin with, simple words make it easy to understand what you’re sharing. This is important because no one – neither your clients nor the stakeholders – have the time to decipher difficult vocabulary and technical jargon. Using simple language makes understanding quick and easy though.

Sonia Navarro from Navarro Paving agrees. “The most effective practice that has done wonders for my project management report would be being concise and straightforward.”

Navarro lays out how they ensure their project management reports follow this tactic: “Our reports move along the hierarchy chain and are seen by company stakeholders consisting of mostly C-level executives. Some of these individuals have technical knowledge while others don’t.”

“So, when creating a report, we assume that no one has the technical expertise,” Navarro outlines.

“This assumption allows us to use easy-to-understand terminology. This best practice allowed us to close the communication gap between managers and their respective team members. We avoid using jargon so that stakeholders can easily understand the report without having to read extensive texts.”

Related: Business Report: What is it & How to Write a Great One? (With Examples)

2. Create a simple report layout

Again, this helps with making your report easy to read by making it clutter-free. The key here is to identify the most important project management metrics to add to your report and how you’ll present them.

Related: Reporting Strategy for Multiple Audiences: 6 Tips for Getting Started

Take it from growth360’s Sasha Matviienko who shares their project updates over three main areas only. These are:

  1. “The Planned vs Actual numbers for the resources that we used
  2. Progress that was achieved compared to the planned timeline
  3. Team utilization.”

Says Matviienko: “When we shifted to this methodology, we were able to get a good understanding of the budget, timeline, and hours that our team has. So we always know what to focus on in order to improve project execution.”

Not only that but having a strong grip on your team availability and the free hours available helps you decide how many projects to take on in the future. This way, these important metrics help manage open projects as well as project pipeline better.

Like Matviienko, Adil Advani from WELLPCB also focuses on keeping their project management reports simple. The layout they follow? “The most effective approach I use is a short summary of my achievements followed by some specific recommendations on what could be improved.”

“This combination enabled people who were not in the know about my work to see how successful it has been without having to read an entire report or dig through details they didn’t need, while at the same time helping those who want more information find out exactly where it can be found quickly and easily (for example with headings),” Advani elaborates.

“Another benefit is that this format requires less energy because there are fewer words per sentence than when you write everything down chronologically; as such, if you have writer’s block or just feel tired after working hard on your projects then this practice helps put the finishing touches back into perspective.”

Not to mention, the layout combats reader fatigue too.

3. Use videos and dashboards to report on projects

If you aren’t a fan of writing reports, you can try any of the following two options – as suggested by Hannah Buchholz from ClearPivot:

In Buchholz’s words: “Instead of writing reports, we either have monthly meetings or share videos with clients to update them on how the project is going. We use Databox which makes it very easy for the clients to visualize and understand how things are trending.”

Creating videos is a straightforward affair. Simply record your screen sharing your project management dashboard and walk viewers through updates. Screen recording software such as Loom, VEED, and Vimeo can help with this.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that you need to keep your videos short and to the point instead of going on and on. In short, remember to respect your viewers’ time.

Plus, even as you create a video, you need to add captions to it to make it more accessible. And, make sure to include bullet points in written text with the video for a quick overview of what’s in the video.

To some of you, this can be a lot of work. An alternative? Buchholz’s second recommendation. Databox.

Use it to create dashboards showing project progress. The interesting bit? project management metrics are automatically updated in real-time so you don’t have to do any manual work.

What’s more, if you like, you can pair the dashboard update with a quick video. However, you wouldn’t need to supplement this video with written text as the dashboard already features all the required info in a visually engaging manner.

4. Make it easy to read

Only Stitch’s Susan Melony recommends keeping the report’s format simple to improve its readability.

Sharing their experience, Melony writes, “It took a while for us to come up with the perfect reporting style that everybody agreed to. The components of the report were the same practice. We have always believed in keeping the format simple and easy to read because we believe in transparency between the organization.”

“Reports are to be submitted monthly as an amalgamation of the progress at the company, giving an overview of the activities, highlighting strengths and weaknesses to work on in the next month,” Melony explains.

“We switched to a cost-effective project management tool that helped data collection and storage, the most commonly used is Monday.com and ProofHub.”

Project management tools, no doubt have increased efficiency in the company as it has helped us plan a project, giving us valuable input depending on the inflow and outflow of cash and previous sales records,” Melony continues.  

“It is time-saving as compared to manually entering data, it is automated and chances of error are also minimized. Digitizing project management has helped us largely in allocating resources and controlling project risks in the future.”

The takeaway? Using the right project management tool can help you save time, reduce the risk of reporting errors, and create reports that are easy to read.

5. Visualize data

Instead of sharing hard numbers as plain text, present them as charts and graphs to make them easy to read and digest. Doing so also aids decision-making as Victoria Mendoza from MediaPeanut notes.

“As a project management expert and as CEO at MediaPeanut, I have prepared numerous reports in the past decade and I think the most important thing to do is to separate data and figures from your insights, opinion, and analysis [using data visualization],” Mendoza highlights.

Snorkel-Mart’s David Morgan also applauds using visuals in project management reports. “Adding visuals to my reports allowed every stakeholder in my organization to easily understand where they are struggling and how it is affecting the entire project.”

“The color code option in Teamwork also made it easier to judge the status of a project, if it is active, late, or completed,” adds Morgan. “It was also critical to make our reports easier to interpret, as executives received dozens of reports every week. So, making them visual, cut their work in half.”

Sharing their process, Mendoza writes: “Whenever I prepare my PM reports in the past, I usually come up with a good layout to distinguish what are the hard data and numbers that need to be considered in decision making.”

“In my experience with various clients, they usually go by the numbers and would value the figures rather than what the one making the report has to say,” observes Mendoza.

“While it is also a good backup information for the graphs and tables, most of our clients really want the figures to speak for themselves. Why we separate figures, numbers, and graphs from our observations and personal opinion in the reports is important as we don’t want to be subjective with our reporting.”

Related: How to Visualize Data: 6 Rules, Tips and Best Practices

And one good way to separate the two is by using subheadings carefully. For example, when adding your recommendations, add a subheading reading “next steps” or “suggestions.”

In a nutshell, using this layout for project management reporting helps you back your observations by data and evidence according to Mendoza.

6. Use templates

“The most effective way to write a project management report is to create a template,” opines Austin Fain from Perfect Steel Solutions. “You can create a skeleton that works for any occasion.”

Says Fain: “After years of writing technical reports, I have realized this is the best way to save time and energy. This unfinished draft can be filled in by every individual involved in the project and I can edit it later. It has increased my efficiency as I work on more projects simultaneously.”

“I also realized that the analysis part can be changed for each report depending on the requirements,” Fain adds.

“So, I don’t need to think a lot each time. I believe we saved a lot of time and energy after creating a comprehensive report. This is because we have a pre-prepared template, so we don’t have to create a new draft for each report.

The time spent on developing reports is utilized elsewhere, as I just change the structure a little and show it to the higher-ups. They can add essential information, and I edit it later on. This has an overall positive impact on our productivity levels.”

Top Tools for Making Project Management Reports

And, finally, before we wrap this up, let’s look at the tools used for project management reporting.

According to our research, over half of our contributors use Trello, making it the most popular tool. Other widely used tools include Asana, a centralized dashboard such as Databox, and Monday.

Top Tools for Making Project Management Reports

When choosing from these tools for managing your projects though, make sure you select the one that has the lowest learning curve. This will make it easy for you to not only get started but also regularly use the tool.

Improve Project Management Reporting with Databox

In summary, effective project management reporting helps you track progress and performance. In turn, this helps you handle current and future projects better.

But you don’t have to put hours and hours of work into creating project management reports. Instead, use Databox to quickly create visually engaging dashboards that show all your essential project metrics on one screen.

Since the metrics are auto-updated, you don’t have to worry about reporting errors as well.

It’s easy, isn’t it? So take Databox for a drive for free today and instantly improve your project reporting game.

About the author
Masooma Memon
Masooma Memon Masooma is a freelance writer for SaaS and a lover to-do lists. When she's not writing, she usually has her head buried in a business book or fantasy novel.
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