How to Design a Project Report

A project report is an essential tool to allow clients and colleagues to contemplate a project's status and initiative.
A project report is an essential tool to allow clients and colleagues to contemplate a project's status and initiative. (Image: Patrick Ryan/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Project reports are a professional component of any project, big or small. They provide important information to clients and team members regarding the project's scope, milestones, time-line, assigned tasks and progress. The report need not go into fine detail on every aspect, but its content must be robust, useful and easy to comprehend. Designing your report to highlight key initiatives and deliver progressive information through the use of charts or other visual elements will make the report more engaging and easier to follow.

Make a cover page. The graphic direction you take is up to you. You can use templates, backgrounds, or design elements in the program, such as Word's Cover Page designer, found under the Insert tab. Bold colors and geometric shapes can be eye catching, but be careful not to overwhelm the purpose of the page -- which is to present the project's name, project manager, report date and abstract.

Create a header and footer that will appear on all subsequent pages. The header should include the project name and date. The footer should include the page number and may also include additional items, such as the author's email address or a non-disclosure notice. If you are working in Word, you may double-click the header and footer areas to edit them. Be sure that "different first page" is checked under the Design tab options to keep the header and footer from appearing on your cover page.

Summarize the project's status at the beginning of your report by providing key information such as the current project period or phase, budget status, estimated completion date and overall project status. Common ways to note a project's status are by using colors such as Red, Yellow and Blue to represent Bad, On Target or Good. You can use whatever indicators you wish, but they should be terms your team will understand.

Follow the summary with a list of team members and a short description of their responsibility to the project. If the project is being undertaken by a large team, you can opt to list just the leaders and stakeholders.

Break down the project milestones using a list format. The milestones are major tasks completed at intervals throughout the project that serve as measurements towards completion. Milestones may also be prerequisites for all the tasks that follow, and assist in building structure. An example of a milestone might be "Create wireframe" or "Build application code." List the expected date of completion for each milestone.

Include a visual time-line below the milestone breakdown that begins with the project start-date and ends with the estimated delivery date. A time-line can be created using Word's Smart Art feature, imported from Excel or from a graphic editing program, or depicted using text. Other formats for a time-line include calendars or circular diagrams. The illustration allows the reader to get a quick impression of the project's progress.

Add three more paragraphs or lists summarizing the project's accomplishments up to this point or during the current reporting period, the goals for the next phase and any changes that have been made to the strategy.

Complete your report by presenting any issues, risks or requests. These should be introduced with a short summary followed by a list. When presenting risks, it is important to also add supporting text explaining why it is a risk and how it might be mitigated. If a risk strategy is unknown, indicate that these are items up for discussion at the next project meeting.

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