Management tips on how to effectively ask for and receive actionable status information from your staff.

As with most things in life, staff management can seem easy but the devil is in the details. It took me years of trial and error to learn the best method for gathering status reports from my staff. When done right, status reporting is quick, painless, and informative. When done wrong, it leaves more questions than answers.

I will lay out my deceptively simple status reporting process below. I hope you find it as helpful as I have.

Status Reporting: The wrong way

All too often managers will approach their staff and ask “How is project X coming along?” or “What’s the latest with project X?” . The problem with asking for a project’s status in these ways is two-fold:

  1. It leaves room for vague answers such as “Fine. Project X is fine.” Vague answers are death to status reporting. They tell you nothing.
  2. It is conversational rather than formal. When you are asking for the status of a project from someone who works for you it should be a formal question with formal answers. There should never be ambiguity in how to answer your question. The response should always be clear and informative.

Status Reporting: The Right Way

The Process

I recommend that you institute this status reporting process in a staff meeting or some other formal setting. Your status reporting method should be official team policy. Your staff should always know what you are asking for when you inquire about status. They should always know how to answer. And both the question as well as the possible answers should be set in stone.

Ask the Right Question

Correct status reporting begins and ends with a manager’s ability to rigorously follow their own process. Always ask the right question: “What is the status of Project X?”

Get the Right Answer

There should only be three answers to the status question. Each one is easy to remember but is an effective status report.

  1. Green - The project is on track. No deadlines are in danger of being missed.
  2. Yellow - The project is on track but endangered. One or more deadlines are in danger of being missed.
  3. Red - The project is no longer on track. One or more deadlines have been missed.

These answers are telling. Green is obvious. Yellow means that you should spend some time digging deeper and helping your staff overcome their obstacles. A Red stats means that things have gone awry.

If your team is effectively reporting status, no project should ever jump from Green directly to Red. If this happens, whoever has been responsible for the project has not been honest in their status reporting.

Bonus Points

A good manager always offers to help. The status question I always ask my staff is “What is the status of Project X? And, do you need any help?”