There's still a lot of debate among Project Management practitioners about how to calculate the % completion of a project. The most common formula is: (Actual Work) / (Work) x 100 = % Work Completed (where Work is calculated as Actual Work + Remaining Work) Where other inputs are used, such as Hours Billed, some use the formula: (Actual Hours Billed) / (Total Estimated Hours) x 100 = % Work

Completed Project management software will generally apply the first formula in calculating project completion percentage. It is often used to measure the status, or 'health', of a project. This, however, can be highly subjective on the part of the Project Manager. Generally, a score of 90% or above is considered good, 90-75% requires caution and immediate action, while anything below 75% means that the project is at risk.

Items such as scope and budget compliance, team confidence and resource availability among others are not entered into the equation. Another method used is known as Earned Value Management (EVM) or Earned Value Project Management (EVPM). It is a tool used to measure a project's performance as objectively as possible, involving all contributory factors. To do this, EVPM combines the measurement of a project's scope, schedule and costs in an integrated system. Project progress evaluation in the EVPM system consists of:

  • Identifying work to be accomplished in a project plan;
  • Assigning a value to the planned work through a Planned Value (PV) or a Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS); and
  • Quantifying the work accomplished versus pre-defined metrics through Earned Value (EV) or Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP).

Basically, the EVPM method involves quantifying a project's progress through PV and EV. EVPM claims that the system improves the analysis of a project's performance, provides an accurate forecast of a project's problems, and predicts its success or failure.

Progress and Completion

These methods are tools for measuring the progress of a project and do not answer the thorny question of when do you consider a project 100% complete. Because a project is complex and consists of many tasks with different stakeholders, some tasks may be complete and others not. The project, then, can only be considered 100% complete when all the stakeholders say it is so. The standard formula of (Actual Work) / (Work) may result in 100% but the project cannot be considered complete if one of the tasks has not been completed or milestones are misused.

Another contributor to the unreliability of measuring a project's status based on 'per cent completion' is that the scheduling of activities can give the wrong impression about a project's progress. If major activities are loaded at the back end of the project, the per cent completion of a project in its early stages may give the impression that the project is moving faster than it actually is. The more tasks there are remaining, the less accurate the forecast of the project's completion will be.

Set criteria for acceptance

In essence, then, a project can be considered 100% complete when the client accepts that the project is finished. To remove any ambiguity, it is important to set and document acceptance criteria before work is started on a project. This should be done at the Task level and the Project level. There are three ways to help implement this.

  • Measure against requirements - Acceptance criteria should be established based on requirements in a project specification or contract.
  • Party Certification - Independent regulatory bodies or associations may be used to certify that the acceptance criteria as specified have been met.
  • Piecemeal acceptance - Acceptance of the project's completion is done in a progressive manner as the project is ongoing. This enables closer scrutiny of the project's performance and avoids pressure on acceptance only at the end of the project.

This is a guest post written by Lewis Edward.