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A Bridge to Enterprise Project Management, Part 1


Measuring a Project's Progress
Intermediate deliverables measure real progress.

"Projects reach 90% complete on time and on budget, at which point they remain 90% complete forever," or so the saying goes.  Percent complete is not a particularly accurate measure of a project's progress.  What does "90% complete" mean?  That 90% of the work has been done?  That 90% of the problems have been solved?  That 90% of the budget has been spent?  That 90% of the hours have been worked?  All or none of the above?  For some, 90% means there is a progress payment for stating that the work is 90% complete, whether it is or not.

Intermediate deliverables, which are closely associated with project phases, provide an easy, accurate measure of a project's progress.  Phases are blocks of time representing collections of related project tasks; deliverables are tangible results typically associated with the completion of phases.  Deliverables can be seen, tested, vetted and, most significantly, used to move the project further along.

    Step 1.  Start with the project's phases

    This sample shows a project with four straightforward phases: analysis, development, implementation and documentation. 

    Step 2: Identify deliverables associated with each phase.

    Here, intermediate deliverables have been added and highlighted in yellow.  These deliverables measure progress since it is fairly easy to determine whether they exist or not.  In this example, analysis leads to a set of specifications, development leads to a prototype, documentation ends with a documentation sign-off, and the final phase, implementation, ends with a project sign-off.

    In comparing deliverables and percent complete, note that it would be fairly vague to estimate this project's percent complete while it is still in the analysis phase.  Assume, for example, that this is a 40-week project and the team is four weeks into a five-week analysis phase.  It would be awkward to say that this project is 10% complete.  True, 10% of the timeline has elapsed, but the full team has yet to be assembled for the resource-heavy later phases and the full impact of potential problems has yet to be felt.  However, it would be justifiable to look at the nearest deliverable and confidently determine whether or not the specifications will be signed off in a week.  At this point the project is clearly not 10% complete, but the analysis phase itself may well be 80% complete. 

    Measuring project productivity in terms of percent complete is an art; measuring productivity in terms of phases and their deliverables is reasonably exact.  Percent complete, as noted in the opening paragraph, can mean many things, but a deliverable is either there or it isn't.  In brief, it is more productive focus the team on the current work and next deliverable than on the ultimate end of the project.  After all, the project can never end without its intermediate deliverables in place. 

Learn more about intermediate deliverables in the Multiple Projects Workshop or the Project Scheduling Workshop.
Implement these ideas with Technical Pathways'
Managing Multiple Projects or Project Mentoring services.

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