The Status Report: Valuable or a Waste of Time?

The jury may be out on the value of status reports, but while you wait for a verdict, think about how we learn or don't learn how to write those reports.

Bryan Beverly, Statistician, Bureau of Labor Statistics

July 5, 2016

3 Min Read
Credit: iStock/shironosov

As an analytics professional, at some point you have been asked to provide a status report. The frequency may be monthly, weekly, or daily. The reports may be written or verbal.

They may be shared with your boss, your team, or a business unit. Regardless of the format, frequency or audience, the status report is a part of conducting business.

But let’s ask some tough questions concerning status reports: Do you ever grow weary in writing them? If you are a manager, then do you get tired of reading them? Are they used to construct performance evaluations or annual reports? How much do they help in contract surveillance? Are they believable? Are status reports valuable or a waste of time? Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

Status reports are valuable. They keep everyone informed on the progress made (or not) within a specific time period. If well written, a status report will clearly communicate the tasks in the backlog, in progress, and completed. It will identify scope, time or financial risks. The report will provide some insights on whether the available human capital is projected to be sufficient (or not) to complete the tasks. It will clearly delineate the progress of deliverables as it relates to them being designed, tested, or prepared for deployment. A well written status report is a decision support tool.

Status reports are a waste of time. The time used to write them could be better used to generate work products. They are inherently biased; accomplishments will be highlighted, and failures will be glossed over or not mentioned at all. Status report writing is a perfunctory task that does not help create code, crunch numbers, or make visual analytics. Status reports perpetuate the problem of projects producing reams of paper instead of high quality analytic products and services. What is really distasteful about status reports is that they are not always read in detail -- just skimmed. Even worse, their usefulness is akin to milk vis-à-vis wine -- the value of a status report deteriorates quickly after distribution and consumption.

To be completely fair, it is probably best to classify status reports as necessary evils. You need a way to monitor what people are doing, for their sakes and yours. Moreover since resources are invested into making a program or project successful, there must be a method of providing feedback to the sponsors and participants. But no one looks forward to writing them. Based on the scope of activity, writing status reports can absorb one’s time, energy and most creative moments.

Interestingly, writing status reports is seldom a part of professional preparation. As an undergrad or in grad school, you learned how to write research proposals and analytical reports, but unless you were a business major or had English as a minor, writing status reports was something you learned on the job. For most of us, this is a doable transition. But with a growing number of guest workers in the IT sector, for whom English is a second language, the challenge of writing a document for a broad company audience can be intimidating. There really is not much that can prepare you for this task.

So what are your thoughts about status reports? Are you an advocate for them or do you see them as Scott Adams does in Dilbert? Are status reports useful, usable and used in your company? Please share your thoughts.

About the Author(s)

Bryan Beverly

Statistician, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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