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How to Create a Project Summary that Keeps Your Client on Track

How to Create a Project Summary that Keeps Your Client on Track

To ensure good communication with your client (and his or her boss) you should share a project summary document every week. If you do it right, the project summary is guaranteed to keep your client on his toes, and keep his or her boss in your corner.

Client communication is one of the trickiest aspects of project management.  It’s not fun to share news that plans have changed and deadlines will be missed. But if the client is clear about why the changes are coming, you’ll earn their cooperation for managing changes to deliverables, budgets and timelines.

Target audience for your project summary
Target audience for your summary is crucial. Even though the summary will be distributed to the entire project team at the client location, your primary audience is the executive in charge. To begin every project, identify the person in the client organization who is ultimately responsible for the project’s success. This person generally has authority over budget — and is likely not your day-to-day contact. When you write your summary, imagine this executive reading it.

Project summary content
Project management is complicated and time consuming. There are hundreds of software programs to help track roles and responsibilities, requirements, tasks, timelines and budgets. Sharing these elaborate project plans with Gantt charts and work logs is boring and won’t accomplish what you need. The project summary should document critical project information in one page: what’s been accomplished, what hasn’t, what’s new and what’s anticipated that could impact your deadlines or budget.

Include only critical, actionable content in your summary. Remember, the target audience is the executive in charge.  If this person understands how the project is being handled, you will be in a much better position to gain his or her buy-in if you encounter cost and time overruns.

Template for project summary should include:

  1. Date range for summary – one or two weeks. It needs to be digestible and actionable. If you wait too long the summary has too much information, and it’s often too late for anyone to react to anyway.
  2. Executive Summary – in one sentence, recap current events and the larger goal.  For example, “Currently documenting technical requirements for online ordering system to launch in June.”
  3. Accomplished this period as planned – from your project plan/task list, enumerate the items that were accomplished on time during the period.
  4. Accomplished but not planned – list items that were not anticipated, but took up your time. Include things your client changed, asked you to research, anything that took time in addition to the scheduled tasks for the period.
  5. Planned but not accomplished – include items due on the task list that slipped and why (matter-of-factly describe cancelled meetings, unmet deliverables, delays).
  6. Items that need attention from the client – This is your plea for help. If you need something from your client such as missing content, a decision about something, dates for a meeting, put it here for all to see.
  7. Issues that may cause timeline to slip – you may reiterate items from above, or new items. Be concise about problem and impact. For example, “Need to reschedule wireframe review meeting caused delay of two weeks. Design approval pushed back two weeks; launch date impact TBD.
  8. Planned for next week – briefly lay out your expectations for your internal team and the client

I’ve found that producing this document weekly takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and well worth the effort. It’s a vital tool for making me accountable to my team, and my client accountable to his. That, in turn, makes communication easy.