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How to give a perfect work "update"

Work projects are ongoing, so it is normal to have managers and team members "check-in" with each other.


Be it over email, Zoom or in-person, it can be a bit daunting to have to answer on-the-spot "how's that project going"?


As with most communication tips you will see on this blog, the first thing to do is clear your mind, take a breath and follow a few simple steps...


  1. What - The very first thing is the situation itself, what is happening right now and some background for (sufficient) context. What you definitely want to avoid is going too far back in the story and annoying the listener. A tip - if you're not sure how much they know or remember, just ask! And that's where you start. Give a bottom line - this is where we are now, this is the latest, this is the problem we're working on etc.

  2. Why - The classic question, why care? Every leader needs to be reminded (gently of course) that this particular project or problem has rewards and consequences. The clear impact explained in hard facts and/or numbers is key to driving their reaction time to any support you might need, and to recognizing your achievement against the odds and under pressure.

  3. How - We're working with the classic "now what?" portion of your story - tell us what you're planning to do to mitigate risks, solve problems and drive the project further into its end stages. Most importantly, do you need something from your audience, a head count increase, green light on budget etc.? If so, tie it into the 'Why' as much as possible to ensure the justification for the request.

  4. When - Time is everything - what is the overall timeline, are there deadlines looming, how urgent is the situation? Without a sense of urgency, action will be delayed - and action delayed is as good as inaction. Make sure people feel the pressure of time ticking away if you're looking for management support to come through.

In closing, updates are more than just a chance to bring someone up to speed. It is an opportunity to exert your continuing influence, persuasion and credibility upon the audience, having them ultimately work well together with you and respect your efforts.


So the next time you're ready to update someone, instead of feeling pressure or tedium, think of it as a chance to show your success and prowess, which is why they say 'bring them up to speed!'

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