Do Percent Completes mean anything on schedules

Most people working on IT projects are familiar with the type of meeting where a Project Manager calls up a project plan and asks team members to report progress on particular tasks. Usually this is in the form of reporting a percent complete. Important questions are are they useful and do they mean anything? I once worked with a respected Project Manager who believed not. She worked on the basis that tasks have three states only: Not Started, In Progress or Complete.

A problem with percent completes is that they are highly subjective to the person reporting them. One team members 20% will be another team members’s 40%. A key idea of project plans is to breakdown work into chunks and work out the sequence that tasks need to be completed, i.e. which tasks are dependent on others being finished. As a project manager or scheduler, Knowing that a task is 30% complete is possibly telling you nothing more than the task was started but not finished, and that it’s not possible for a dependent task to start yet.

One rule I support that I’ve seen used in practice is the 5 day rule. This means that no task in a schedule should be more than 5 days long. If a team member identifies a task that is 20 days long, they can try to identify four separate stages lasting approximately 5 days. Using shorter duration tasks will make it more practical to track it as having only Not Started, In Progress or Complete status.

Percent Completes do have their place, for example in large construction projects that need to use Earned Value calculations to examine cost and schedule together and calculate values such as CTC (Cost to complete) tasks, but for software projects they often do not add value.

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