How to Write Good Project Status Update Emails


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Here’s a guide with a practice that I learned to love as a project manager. Not only a few working folks are complaining about too many emails and other things that they consider to be mostly wasteful activities. While some of these might be relevant and others not, it’s hard to spot the gold nuggets in the desert of things you don’t need to touch.

It’s not easy to overcome, and it will take its time, but it is possible to forge an improved culture of communication around you. This culture change focuses on driving experiences in the way you want people around you to change without upsetting them or anybody else.

Most certainly, you will stop getting phone calls when you neither call someone nor pick up the phone. You are a lot less likely to be involved in email conversations if you never write any or respond to them. Of course, this doesn’t help you maintain your job for long. If you never invite to meetings nor attend them, you’ll stop receiving invitations as well.

At some point, people will approach you and ask for help more aggressively or just complain to your manager about the lack of cooperation, which would be the correct way of handling the matter from their end. Even if something is not in your scope, it’s unprofessional not to give any feedback. You are possibly causing delays to projects or cost time and money in another indirect way like that.

Using recurring status updates to save time

If you establish a reputation for a specific behavior, you’ll also forge a certain positive expectation. You can communicate proactively in a regular way and therefore avoid the intercepting email projectiles that push you out of your workflow. But how to go about it?

When you’re working on something, might it be a tiny project or a huge one that goes on for years, it’s good to prepare at least weekly status updates for all stakeholders. By providing the data, you can quickly inform everybody about all currently relevant aspects of a project without taking up much of their time. Keep it short and use only bullets. Use color code and stick to the same format always and for all projects. Following these practices gives your communication effort a sense of consistency and more value.

Send this out regularly but stick to a pattern. Make sure you announce to the stakeholders and team that they will receive the weekly update on every workday X going forward until the project completes. By doing this, your stakeholders know that the update is coming soon and are a lot less likely to fire out a single isolated question around the status. On the other hand, if they get asked for how it’s going, they are always able to provide third parties with the latest status data, without re-engaging with you, by merely forwarding the most recent status update mail. That’s better for them and better for you.

Further reading: 5 Tips to Write Better Emails

How about recurring meetings?

You handle meetings in a very similar fashion with the goal of preventing unplanned ad hoc phone calls or people contacting you in person about a particular matter. Beyond the field of managing projects, this also applies to managing operational teams. If everybody knows there is a weekly or monthly meeting coming up at a certain point, they are more likely to keep their questions or updates back until that time has come.

For critical and urgent matters, however, this can be counterproductive. If someone holds back key information until a regular meeting is done, this can cause delay and frustration, depending on what the matter is about. While it’s great to reduce ad-hoc communication and interruptions to a minimum, it’s also relevant to, again and again, make sure everybody knows you’re available for essential issues at all times. This will balance out over time as you practice it, but it shouldn’t be neglected altogether.

Further reading: 5 Tips for More Productive Meetings

How to write a status update?

I don’t want to link you with a template mail file as there are many formats and systems out there. I hope you’ll find the info below in simple text just as helpful. In the status update, you should only use quick bullets to allow the stakeholder to be informed about everything in less than a minute. If there are more detailed things for discussion, they’ll need to be addressed separately anyway and are most likely not relevant for everybody in the project team. This is nothing you can hire a writing service online to do it for you but I’m confident you’ll quickly grow to enjoy this kind of updates going forward.

After an item has been completed, remove it in the following update. Keep the listing to a maximum of 3-5 bullets. Track the detailed information in the project plan, not in the status update. It’s good to give information a color code. Use green plenty of times whenever things are done but be careful about marking something as amber and red. Only when things escalate severely, and management confirms it you should promote the project or single tasks to a more negative color.

Subject line: “Update: [Project Name] – [Date] – Status: [Green/Amber/Red] Example email body below:

Project: [Project Name]

Start date: [Start date] End date: [Planned end date] Status: [Green/Amber/Red]
Update frequency: [Weekly/Monthly] Project goals:

  • [Pending/Achieved] – [Overall project goal]
  • [Pending/Achieved] – [Overall project goal]

Status items:

  • [To do/In progress/Completed/Soon to come] – [Task that needs to be carried out] – owned by [task owner]
  • [To do/In progress/Completed/Soon to come] – [Task that needs to be carried out] – owned by [task owner]
  • and so on…

Comment: [Add a quick remark here if need be or remove this line] [Paste a current snapshot of your project Gantt chart here if you have one] You are receiving this information as you have been nominated to be a stakeholder in this project. If that is not the case, kindly advise who should be informed instead.

If you have a banner in your department or another kind of visual branding, you can use it in the status update email. However you do it, stick to it, and stay consistent. This is a great way to establish a professional brand for yourself, your team, your company, and your work as a whole. Bosses and clients love consistency. It builds trust and means they can depend on your work.

What do you think about such a proactive approach? Have you had different experiences, or do you agree with this practice? Either way, I’d love to hear your feedback below in the comment section. Thanks for reading, and have fun with the status updates.

Further reading:

Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isak
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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