Imagine you are a passenger on a transatlantic flight to Vienna (or Rome or… dream a bit and choose your destination). At some point, you are going to wonder, “How far have we traveled?”, which is often another way of asking what you really want to know–which is when you will arrive.
You ask the flight attendant (or one of the screens in the back of the seat in front of you); and you are told that your flight has completed 10% of the entire journey; you are 10% of the way there. Does this help you? Not really. It’s merely a vague indicator that the journey has started; and, with 90% of the journey still to go, there is a lot that could happen to change when you will arrive–-bad weather could mandate a stopover at Heathrow, for example, until the skies clear.
Okay, so 10% doesn’t tell you much. Fine. How about 25%? If you knew you had covered 25% of the journey, would this be useful to you? No; no more than 10%, when you think about it.
How about 50%? Well, now, this is beginning to be helpful–you’re half-way there! You have accomplished half the journey; and, with 50% behind you without incident (whew!), you are getting a better idea of how close to your estimated arrival time you will actually land.
How about 80%? Yes, this is helpful. The pilot has informed you that, as a result of a tail wind picked up over the Atlantic, you will be arriving a half hour earlier than originally scheduled; and you have just enough time for one more episode of your favorite show before landing.
90%? Very helpful: You can now predict fairly accurately what time you will land; and you start to prepare by folding up the trays into the back of the seat in front of you and putting your seat in an upright position.
At 100%, it’s pretty obvious you’ve arrived. You deplane, thankful to have arrived safely, and ready to carry on with what you came here to do.
Now, put on your PM cap and ask yourself how meaningful it is to report project progress at 10% or 25% complete. Not very. The reality is, anything less than 50% does not add much value from a reporting perspective. It’s just a number.
When reporting project progress, a good rule of thumb is to report anything less than 50% as just that–(under 50%)–and qualify this by reporting evidence of tangible progress (e.g. kick off complete; project charter signed). Beyond 50%, report progress as 50%, again supporting this with statements (e.g. all Stage 1 code developed and checked in).
At 80% complete and 90% complete is where the numbers begin to have meaning: By this time, you have a fair degree in confidence in these indicators; and they provide clear signals to your stakeholders–return your seats to their upright position and prepare for landing.
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