Although tracking percent complete is a standard operating procedure (SOP) for every organization, some project management consultants comment on this SOP as a waste of time.

Traditional managers ask about percent complete because they have always done it that way. Some of these managers continue doing this because they don’t know better. Some of them know but can’t confront this issue and insist that it is really not that important. The point is, it doesn’t add value to the project and these percentages are actually inaccurate estimates of the real work done or remaining work to be done.

Here are a few reasons why ‘percent complete’ is an interesting project management topic:

  • ‘Complete’ may not mean the same level of detail or completion in the perspectives of the people concerned.
  • It is just an estimate and oftentimes, they don’t exactly present the real percentage of remaining work to be done.
  • It is very schedule- and deadline-oriented. Consideration should also be given to the team members’ efforts and the nature of the project.
  • Most team members work on more than one projects. Oftentimes, they are being interrupted and this makes it really difficult to estimate the actual time spent on the project or the remaining time needed.

For example, if I am a project manager and get asked how much is the percent completed, I would probably reply 10%-25% depending on the date the project started. But of course, the next week I am asked, I would improve it, such as 20%- 35%. When it reaches to 80% or 90%, this is the most difficult part because I just have to stay there or increase a little bit until the work is completely done at 100%.

In the case of software development project, there would be tasks such as writing codes, or documenting requirements or testing stages. It is a different thing when you are constructing a physical project that you will see it grow to completion and you don’t go back to test and revise codes. What I can say is that, asking about percent complete would not add much value in learning the status of a project especially if the project is about software development.

Project managers start to get anxious if the percent complete has reached 90% and then afterwards there is almost no progress. They start asking about the project from time to time and it drives them crazy to think that it seems the project is actually far from being completed instead of its reported 10% needed for completion.

So, if it is difficult to report ‘percent complete’, how should we do it then?

My suggestion is to base it in the 0, 50, 100 percent model. For projects that have just been completed, say it’s 0 or maybe 2% complete. For tasks that have already started, it can be around 50% and for those already completed, then you can proudly say, it is finally 100%. It may not sound that ‘real’ to the manager but it does give you an easy way to give information regarding ‘percent complete’.