Agile, Career, Learning, Startup

The Art of the Status Update

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/goatifiedcreature/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/goatifiedcreature/

What I did, what I’m doing, and where I need help

Delivering a status update is a tricky thing. It’s really easy to overwhelm people with too much information, to leave things unsaid when you need more detail, and to leave out the “I need help” part of your message. So here’s a simple proposal, modeled off of the status updates my former CEO T.A. McCann asked team members to share at Gist.

Sharing Team Information

Having a regular schedule for sharing status updates helps a lot – at Gist, we shared these updates three times a week, right before our “standup” team meetings. T.A. wanted this information because he needed both tactical (what’s going on today) and strategic (what are the larger themes) feedback to know how his team was doing. We wanted these updates so we could know what other team members were doing. The system wasn’t perfect, but it made sure that everyone who came to our Standups was ready to share (at least some of) what was going on.

So how can you write a great status update? You should write the update quickly – spending just a few minutes to summarize and share the high-level information that matters – while also identifying any blockers that you need to discuss.

A “Cookbook” for a Status

In your status report to your team, make sure you answer these three things:

  • What did you do?
  • What are you doing?
  • Where do you need help?

A great update shares enough information for team members so that they can know what you’re doing, but not too much information so that it takes a long time to process the information and respond. If you share status in this way (usually in just a few lines) you can also think about larger, more strategic questions that relate to these everyday tasks.

A Longer-Term Status Update

Because simply writing a status update every two or three days isn’t enough to answer other questions that you ought to consider, you should ask bigger questions too. These might include:

  • What’s one thing I’m doing that I should keep doing?
  • What’s one thing I’m doing that I should stop doing?
  • What’s one thing I’m doing that I should start doing?

When you take a step back and name things you should add or remove from your typical tasks, you get better at valuing your work objectively and are more likely to see it from an outsider’s perspective. Getting into the habit of keeping and delivering a status report to a team is a great way to document what you do and gives you a consistent way to check what you do.

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