Whatever Happened to Weekly Progress Reports?

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Some business departments have eliminated the weekly progress report in favor of team, staff, or status meetings. While other managers are claiming too much time is spent in meetings and their employees should return to the written tools that proved successful for business communication in the past. There are pros and cons to both choices. For example meetings can generate new ideas, find solutions to group problems, and aid effective decision-making. Those are the meeting pros. The biggest con most people note is the cost of meetings in time that could be used for other work. This is true if the meetings are not productive and in no way move the team or individual work along. This frustrating con is too often the case in meetings that are held strictly to status everyone on what each other are doing. Most meeting are better held when group participation and activity is required.

The pros for returning to a written communication tool like weekly (or monthly) progress reports are that this forces the individuals to focus on what is most important to their management or business, they only ask for help as needed, and provide their own ideas for solutions along with implementation plans. Of course, another pro is that it reduces time required to attend a meeting. Cons of the progress report are some loss of collaboration with team or other staff, not meeting may result in loss of camaraderie or team spirit, and.the individual solutions or decisions may not be as good as what the team may have come up with. However a pro here is that the decision may be arrived at quicker.

Whether the progress is reported in a written report or provided as part of a meeting, the manager of the group must define exactly what should be in a progress report. Developing and using a standard format for progress will help individuals focus on what is important to their management and not waste time reporting day-to-day activities or incidentals. In the long run, it saves managers valuable time as well since they get the exact information they want and clarification on how they can help their direct reports to do their jobs better. Following are four sequential components in progress reports that have worked well for managers in the past.

A. Report job-related statistics or status metrics for goals.

This is numerical data that the manager may wish to see upon occasion but can skip over when in a hurry. This will be personal and job related goals for individual contributors or group and project goals for lower level managers and team leaders.

B. Highlight # of major accomplishments or high priority projects.

The manager will put a limit as to how many line items the progress report can include. This helps the person giving the progress report to focus on high priority items only. Most managers will limit # to 5 for individual contributors or 3-5 for project managers and team leaders.

C. Describe issues, barriers, or problems encountered along with possible alternatives considered and solutions you plan to implement.

In this section the manager finds out anything that might affect the individual’s ability to do the best job or potential causes for team problems or project slippage. If the person giving the report is highly confident and capable, this section should have fewer items than those listed in the accomplishment area. If this section has lots of issues, then the individual may require coaching to build their confidence or a mentor to help them become more capable.

D. Explain how manager can help.

In this case, the manager would be the one getting the progress report. If this is a written report, this section is often the first place a manager will read. Then the manager will read backwards though the report to better understand the need. This way the manager will know if they need to talk via phone with the person giving the progress or plan a meeting to talk with the individual. If the progress report is given in a meeting, someone may have volunteered to help or given a potential solution during the issues section and there is no longer a need for the manager’s help.

Using the four components for a standard progress report makes it easier for individuals writing reports, planning meeting presentations, or just talking about work-related topics to focus. Proper focus not only saves time, but it aids in selecting the best and right things to communicate. Use these four components for written reports or as individual sub-agendas in a staff or status meeting to ensure everyone’s focus is on the higher priority business items.

Understanding what makes a good progress report and the pros/cons of doing them in meetings or print will make managers and their direct reports more efficient and the reporting more effective. When trying to decide how to do progress reports, weigh the pros and cons along with the benefits and the costs. Then determine which type of progress reporting method best fits the business need by looking at an overall meeting purpose and the main reason for reports.

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