Don’t Manage by Percent Complete

Most project management scheduling tools have a field for entering the percentage complete for each activity. Before an activity starts, it is 0% complete. When it is finished, it is 100% complete. However, in between can be tricky. On the surface, if a team member were 20 hours into a 40 hour activity, you would say he is 50% complete. But is he? He may be close to done, or he may be only 10% done.

The project manager could ask team members to report on their percent complete, but in many cases you will get an inaccurate number. If the activity is overdue, for example, the team member often gives the “90% complete” answer. This means that the first week the activity is late the team member says it is 90% done, the next week it is 95% done, the next week 99% done, etc.

A better way to get the information you need is to ask ‘When will the work be done?’ If the schedule shows an activity should be completed on the last day of the week, and the work is not done, don’t ask the team member for the percentage complete. Instead ask the team member ‘When will the work be done?’ Asking when the work will be completed gives you concrete information you can place on your schedule, while also getting the team member to make another commitment to the new end-date.

Manage the Schedule by Due Date

In most organizations, once the project starts the team does not collect the actual effort hours worked on each activity. Unless tracking effort hours is important to your organization, the project manager should feel comfortable to manage the project schedule based on completion dates – not effort hours.

For example, assume you have an activity that is scheduled to take 40 hours and has two-week duration. If the work is done within the two weeks, it may not be as important to know if the work actually took 35 hours or 50. It would only be important if the difference in effort hours caused another assigned activity due date to be missed. The effort hours are important in the estimating process since they help set completion dates and help balance workloads. But when the activities are assigned, getting the work done on time is usually most important.

If the work is being done by a resource that you are compensating on an hourly basis, it is important to understand both the effort hours and completion date. Now it does matter whether the 40–hour activity actually took 50 hours, since there is an incremental cost to your project.

Use Milestones to Take a Checkpoint and Validate Your Status

A milestone is a scheduling event that signifies the completion of a major deliverable or a set of related deliverables. A milestone, by definition, has duration of zero and no effort. Milestones are great for managers and the sponsor because they provide an opportunity to validate the current state of the project and what the future looks like.

If the milestone is important enough you could perform an end-of phase review. However, many milestones represent the completion of smaller deliverables or deliverable components and don’t rise to the level of holding a full end-of-phase review.

You can do the following activities at every milestone:

Validate that work done up to this point is correct and accurate. The client should have approved any external deliverables produced up to this point.

Make sure that the rest of the project schedule includes all the activities necessary to complete the project.

Double-check the effort, duration and cost estimates for the remaining work. Based on prior work completed to date, you may have a much better feel for whether the remaining estimates are accurate. If they are not, you will need to modify the schedule. If it appears that your budget or deadline will not be met, raise an issue or a risk and resolve the problems now.

Issue a formal status update and make any other communications specified in the Communication Management Plan.

Evaluate the Risk Register to ensure previously identified risks are being managed successfully. You should also perform another risk assessment to identify new risks.

Update all other project management logs and reports.

These activities should be done on a regular basis, but a milestone date is a good time to catch up, validate where you are at, get clear on what’s next and get prepared to charge ahead.

Use a Project Audit to Validate Your Schedule and Budget Status

Sometimes the project manager can get too comfortable (or too uncomfortable) in how the project is progressing. In many cases, it makes sense to have an outside party come in to evaluate the project management processes being utilized and double-check that the project is progressing as expected. This “outside party” could be any qualified person outside of the project manager. In some cases, your organization may have an internal project audit specialist. It is possible that the Project Director or the Project Sponsor could also perform this audit. The outside party could be an outside contractor or consultant, but they do not need to be.

The project manager or functional manager might call for a project audit as part of an overall quality management program. In some cases, such as a government project, periodic audits may be called for as a part of the overall contract. In any event, an outside audit should provide comfort to the project stakeholders that effective project management processes are being utilized and that the project appears to be on-track.

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