7 Tips for Writing Weekly Summaries That Are Actually Useful

May 10, 2020

A weekly summary can be the most impactful document of your week, or just another one that nobody reads. Let’s take a look at what makes the difference.

In many organizations, managers, team leads, and often all key employees are asked to write a weekly summary of their accomplishments, struggles, and plans. While these updates can be tremendously valuable in helping employees stay informed, they are often not used to their fullest potential. We gathered seven tips below to make your weekly summaries more beneficial to both your organization and yourself.

1. Include updates that impact others

Some managers require weekly updates to monitor employee performance, but that’s not the case we want to address now. Our focus is a weekly summary that is usually public within a company and is meant to increase transparency and coordination in the team and beyond. With this goal in mind, the focus should be on highlighting updates, decisions, and changes that have implications on other people and teams. Readers should feel confident that by following your weekly summaries, they won’t miss anything important. This is a great value proposition in the noisy world where it’s so easy to overlook a message on a chat channel and, as a result, either waste time on outdated priorities or duplicate effort. Keeping everyone on the same page on a weekly basis can greatly improve productivity and ensure that misalignment is discovered early enough to be fixed. Some people even call their weekly documents “briefs” (rather than reports or summaries) to highlight this underlying goal.

2. Provide synthesis, not just summary

A weekly brief is a great opportunity to step back from the day-to-day grind, remove the noise, synthesize the past week, and look at the next week from a broader perspective. This approach should be valuable and inspirational to your readers as well as to you. So instead of considering weekly summaries to be the necessary evil of corporate overhead, try to view them as an opportunity to truly stop, reflect, clarify, and prioritize next steps.

Some organizations follow a specific format such as PPP (Progress, Plans, Problems), but regardless of what template you use, the content should be more than just a log of all your daily work (for that, we recommend a practice of daily check-ins, a topic that we will cover in another article). Depending on the context, you might consider including specific “big picture” sections on key metrics and OKRs, recent learnings, or general “top of minds.”

3. Be brief and structured

Employees are constantly bombarded by a stream of unstructured information, so keep your weekly brief short and well organized. Use sections and labels to allow your audience to skim through the text quickly and only dive into parts relevant to them. Bullet points and short sentences will help, too. As a rule of thumb, you should target no more than one page of text and link to supporting documents for more details whenever needed. By following the same high-level structure each week, you will be able to write your brief faster and will also train your audience to know what to look for.

4. Use the Pyramid Principle

Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle is a classic tool used by management consultants to communicate with busy executives. Unlike in storytelling, where a great deal of time is spent on building suspense with the climax coming towards the end, the Pyramid Principle leads with the conclusion (the answer) and presents supporting arguments later or only when requested. A weekly brief is not a novel, so it should follow the Pyramid Principle.

Example

Avoid this story-telling model:

Last week was tough; one of our engineers quit unexpectedly, and the others were not as familiar with the codebase. As a result, the overall pace slowed down, and it doesn’t look like we will be able to launch on time. Instead of April, we are now looking at May.

Instead, use the Pyramid Principle:

App launch delayed due to staffing changes. New target: Late May.

5. Add visuals

Wherever possible, add interesting visuals to your weekly summary; for example, mocks for the new marketing campaign, photos from the last client workshop, or revenue charts. Visuals often carry higher information density than written text and will thus help you deliver your message while taking much less space. Visuals also break up the body of the text, so it looks less intimidating and is easier to digest. Just be careful about complex charts that take awhile to parse and understand. As we’ll discuss in the last section, your audience can often be cross-functional, so aim at making all the content, including visuals, self-explanatory.

6. Give credits

This is arguably a matter of preference, but consider highlighting exceptional contributions of your team members and colleagues in your weekly brief. This can be either a short section at the end, or a bullet point within a relevant section. While it never hurts to show appreciation for others in one-to-one settings, people appreciate a far-reaching acknowledgment of their efforts. Just remember that the bar for credits in a weekly brief — which is widely distributed — should be quite high to make sure they don’t clutter the actual updates.

7. Share it with the right audience

Even the most well-written summary can only bring impact if it’s read by the right people. In smaller companies it’s usually clear who the right people are, but this clarity can easily disappear as the organization grows. Often, people simply don’t know who should be in the loop because dependencies and implications on other teams and colleagues are not clearly understood and continuously change. This is a problem, especially if we tend to share our briefs with a fixed audience and might unintentionally skip those who need to know only about a specific topic covered in a particular week. Some solve this by expanding the audience to anyone who could be even remotely interested, creating rigid email groups for wide distribution. While that might work in the short term, this approach creates a lot of noise and causes information overload. As a result, people who don’t find updates relevant and useful on an ongoing basis will simply stop reading them. Let’s be honest — how many updates, regular newsletters or briefs do you get every week without even opening them?

We recommend creating a new set in Drup for your updates and also sharing your updates as part of all other sets that it is relevant to. This way, anyone in your team interested in the particular topic will be notified about your update.