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April 17, 2020

5 Tips for Tracking Project Status on Remote Teams

In a remote reality, and a rapidly changing marketplace, communication is critical.
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In recent weeks, professionals across the world have been required to quickly develop and implement new communication habits. With widely dispersed teams, we are required now more than ever to communicate proactively and to ensure that those communications are productive. Alignment remains critical to effective teamwork but achieving that alignment has become increasingly difficult. So once direct lines of communication are severed, how do you ensure that your team stays in sync?

At CMG, we have seen and helped clients navigate this transition, and one thing has become clear: As the act of communication becomes more deliberate, so too should the format in which we communicate important information.

To do this, CMG often coordinates with clients using a simple, yet effective tool: the project status update.

Sounds easy, right? In theory, it is. But allow us to elaborate.

A status update is, in fact, exactly what it sounds like – a concise summary of the status of various work streams that a person or team has set out to accomplish. Critically, though, the status update is also a space to flag items that are behind schedule, identify necessary inputs, and address barriers to continued progress. Without the conversational space that we often use to raise these issues, a periodic status report can be extremely useful in keeping everyone on the same page and keeping projects on track.

But let’s be clear… It is not enough for team members or leaders to ask for status updates sporadically. In fact, we’ve found that this can cause more confusion. For this strategy to have maximum impact, teams should have clear guidance around a few important questions:

  1. What work streams do we track? – These are the activities that must be completed to successfully deliver on your goal.
  2. What are our milestones? – To effectively measure progress, teams should strive to set milestones for each work stream. These should be specific, time-bound objectives that move your team toward its broader objective.

    Think: “I want to complete [piece of work] by [date]” or “We want to launch[number] new webpages by [date].”
    Even better: “We want to launch [web page X] by [date], [web page Y] by[date], and [web page Z]by [date].”
  3. Who owns each work stream? – Owners are those responsible for completing each task being tracked. For work streams, this is the person who is ultimately responsible for making sure something gets done.Identifying a single point of contact helps teams establish and maintain accountability.
  4. Who is responsible for assembling the status update? – We find it effective to have one team member who is responsible for collecting status updates from each team member and assembling the update. In fact, you might say that this person is the “owner”of the status report (see #3).
  5. How often does the team review status? – Perhaps most critical to the value of a project status report is establishing a schedule for creation and distribution. Status updates may be reviewed and discussed in real time or they may be distributed for individual review(e.g.via email), but regardless of approach, teams should know when to expect to provide and receive status updates. For tight deadlines, more frequent updates or meetings may be necessary; for long-term efforts, weekly review may suffice. Find the cadence that works for your team and make it a habit.

With a clearly organized, regularly scheduled status update, teams are able to organize around a single source of truth when evaluating progress. Doing so reduces confusion around responsibilities and timelines and frees team members to focus on accomplishing what matters.

At CMG, status updates are a routine part of the way we ensure alignment with our client teams across multiple work streams, and they are a critical component of maintaining transparency and fostering accountability when working with remote teams.

So why use a team status update? In our experience, this format has the advantage of encouraging teammates to be deliberate in reflecting upon and sharing their progress with the team. Doing so enables team members to ask questions more quickly, obtain support more easily, and share progress more readily. And we believe that teams that do these things effectively are poised to succeed not just today, but in the long run as well.

Want to give it a try? Contact us for a sample status update template and customize to suit your needs.