Earned Value Management Series: Part 3 – Percent Complete(s)

When it comes to project management, the percent complete is an incredibly important measure. It’s a statistic that can be used to determine the status of a task in relation to its overall completion. From a management perspective, it also offers an objective way of measuring the amount of work that has been completed when compared with the overall scope of the project. The purpose of this article is to help explain exactly what a percent complete is and illustrate how it can be used by managers when overseeing projects.

What Is a Percent Complete? Simply put, a percent complete is the measurement of how much work has been done on a given task when compared with the total amount of work needed to finish said project. For example, let’s say that you have a project that needs to be completed by June 15th and there are 10 equal parts that need to be completed before it’s finished. If you’ve completed three parts by June 1st, then you’re 30% complete. While that may sound simple enough, sometimes figuring out what constitutes being 30% complete can get complicated depending on who you ask. Is it 30% of the total hours needed? Parts? Lines of code? Manhours? There are many different ways to measure what constitutes measuring percent complete.

Calculating Duration Percent Complete

A duration percent complete is a simple calculation of your project status and can be calculated at any time. The easiest way to calculate this is by dividing the total effort in hours by the total hours expected (work remaining) as follows:

% Complete = Total Hours / Remaining Hours

This requires, therefore, that you have re-estimated the remaining duration your task will take. If you simply remove spent hours from the original estimated hours, you will not be providing percent complete; you will be calculating percent of budgeted hours spent.

One other tip if you are calculating this manually, it is important to ensure that you round up the numbers correctly. If you only have a small number of hours left to work, then this will be easy to do. However, if there are a large number of hours left to work, then it is possible that rounding down, rather than rounding up will be more accurate. This is because adding a decimal point can create a result that looks like the value is decreasing when it actually isn’t. For example: If there are 10 hours of work left and 8 hours worked in total, then we would expect the % complete to equal 83%. Instead, rounding down would give us 80%. This may then be interpreted as being behind schedule when in fact you are on track.

Calculating Physical Percent Complete

Previously we discussed rules of credit as a method of measuring progress. These rules are essentially steps or sub tasks with progress weightings. This can be as simple as a project such as painting a room in your house. The task is to paint the room and the subtasks would be things such as buying paint, buying drop cloths, putting up plastic to protect furniture, cleaning the room, etc. Tasks that are 100% must have all of their steps completed. Sub tasks, however, can be individually assessed for completion, and contribute up to their pre-determined portion of the task’s total percent complete. To calculate this, therefore, use the following formula:

% Complete = (Step 1 % Complete X Step 1 Weighting) + (Step 2 % Complete X Step 2 Weighting) + etc.

The key here is to ensure there are enough steps per tasks to prevent large gaps in progress scored. Similarly, too many steps may become difficult to manage. To help with this, you might consider bundling similar steps together, making them easier to assess progress. If you have 4 similar steps, such as cover the sofa, cover the lamp, cover the TV, and cover the table, you might group those together into “cover the furniture” and simply score 25% for this step for each item you see covered.

The key to successful physical percent complete assessment is in having predetermined rules of credit established. These should contain steps that are easy to score, and allow for meaningful progress between reporting periods.

Calculating Units Percent Complete

Tracking progress through units may be considered a version of physical percent complete. However many scheduling and tracking programs offer this third way of tracking, linked to the expenditure of tracked resources.

Tracking resource usage in Primavera P6 is seen as important for many reasons. It allows you to monitor your resource capacity and provide updated information through its built-in reporting so you can act accordingly. You can view resource usage from the Unit Resource Usage report or from a custom report that you create.

To use this method of tracking progress, you would need to re-estimate the remaining units required to finish a task, and update your schedule accordingly. The units themselves represent progression steps, much like in physical percent complete. For example, if your schedule is tracking the installation of 700 windows in a large building project, you may decide to input your windows as resources to be expended in your tasks. Therefore, you could simply count the number of windows remaining to be installed to score this task’s completion percentage. However, if more windows are added to or removed from your scope, you would need to account for those.

This method, therefore, suffers from the difficulties of re-estimation that duration percent complete presents. Yet it does allow for easy tracking of progress without requiring sub-task assessments as would physical percent complete. Progress in this manner is calculated as follows:

% Complete = Total Units / Remaining Units

Concluding Remarks

The traditional way of measuring project progress is using the ratio between the total work effort and the total time that was planned for the project in advance. This method is usually referred to simply as “percent complete”. However, because percent complete measurements are subject to human interpretation, they can be misleading and often result in inaccurate status reports leading to mismanaged projects. The duration percent complete method helps by bringing focus on the need to a re-estimation of remaining work. This, if done properly, will show a more realistic progression figure. However, physical percent complete reduces the need for re-estimation of work, as each step is scored based on its completion, not by the work or time expended. In certain cases, tracking units or resources can further remove the interpretation of progress present within each physical percent complete step. Therefore the method used to score each task’s progress should be decided by the project team, aiming to best match the method with the type of work each task represents.

The next article will continue discussing progression, this time with more detail and technical examples.