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Every task, milestone and project in Clarizen features two invaluable parameters that are usually not used to their full potential – these are ‘expected progress’ and ‘% complete.’The following article demonstrates how careful observation of these two parameters, and the relations between them, provides actionable intelligence and insight to any project.

The ‘expected progress’ parameter is a system calculation of the expected linear progress of a work item over time. For example, if a task’s duration is 10 days, then by 4 days the system calculates the expected progress as 40%. The expected progress of a parent work item is a weighted aggregation of its sub-items’ expected progress. Clarizen re-calculates the expected progress every time a change is made to the WBS (work breakdown structure). While it can be arguable that real life progress is rarely linear, we see that for practical uses, the expected progress is a good enough approximation.

The ‘% complete’ parameter is a user report of the progress achieved as of date. This parameter by nature is subjective and may be biased. The % complete of a parent work item is a system calculated weighted aggregation of its sub-items’ % complete.  Considering its ambiguous nature, the % complete can never be accurate. We can only know how much time/effort was required to complete a task and our rate of progress in hindsight. Nevertheless, it is important that % complete be reported throughout the organization. In practice, reporting progress in 25%-30% approximations is good enough for longer tasks. For shorter tasks (e.g 1-2 days) teams should not be bothered about updating partial progress – reporting upon completion is good enough.

Clarizen provides a traffic light ‘status’ of a work item based on the relations between the % complete and expected progress. As long as the % complete is within 10% of the expected progress, the traffic light is green. A difference above 10% will project an orange light, and when the due date is exceeded the light will turn red. A healthy project WBS will have an assortment of green and orange statuses, with the occasional red.

I monitor the Clarizen status indications as part of my daily routine. I browse through the traffic lights at the milestone level, and use the red and orange indicators to drill-down and identify root causes for delays and bottlenecks. While this is an effective practice, one must be aware that a snapshot of the current indicators reveals just a partial picture, and may be misleading. The story becomes really interesting when we observe how expected progress and % complete trend over time.

For example, a certain milestone indicator may show green at a given moment, but that does not mean that we are on track. Perhaps progress is slowing down and about to become orange? Or perhaps it’s green because we adjusted the due dates and pushed them out when we understood the initial objectives could not be met? This may result in a creeping project delay, camouflaged by the green indicator.  Knowing how much distance my project has covered so far is not good enough. A seasoned manager would eyeball the projects velocity and acceleration as well.

To do this I used Clarizen’s data objects and business rules to capture daily snapshots of my program’s expected progress and % complete parameters. Each night I recorded these parameters for every project and milestone in my program. I used report charts to plot % complete vs. expected on a timeline. The following are example of such charts from three different projects.

Example A – The healthy ‘At Risk’ Project:
Progress Trend Analysis
This project shows a gradual and consistent advancement both in expected progress and % complete. Because the difference between the two parameters varied around 15 – 22% the project ‘status’ indication was ‘At Risk’ for most of the time. Yet, the trend showed the progress was consistent and in control. Here’s what the project traffic light indicator showed:

Progress Trend Analysis

Example B – The tight ‘On Track’ Project:
Progress Trend Analysis

Notice that in this project the expected progress and % complete almost coincide, thus the status indicator was constantly green. Yet a close look at the expected progress line shows two alarming curves.

On July 23 and on July 30 expected progress decreased. This is due to two last minute, high priority, change requests that were added to the scope just a month before go-live:
Progress Trend Analysis

Another point worth noticing is how the % complete figures jump up in fixed weekly intervals:
Progress Trend Analysis
Once a week the organization’s executives would review the Clarizen dashboards. On the morning of that day project teams made sure Clarizen was up to date. This illustrates one of the fundamental necessities of successful collaborative work management – executive interest and participation is a prerequisite for widespread adoption.

Example C – The Over Ambitious Project
Progress Trend Analysis

In this project we took on a scope and schedule that was apparently beyond the team’s current abilities.

Two thirds of the way into the project, % complete was falling 32% behind expected progress, and the difference was just getting bigger by the day. On August 4th the team began to push out some unrealistic due dates, thus decreasing the expected progress (I). As days went by, % complete continued to top at 60% and the team made two additional corrections to expectations (II & III). On August 24, the team finally grasped reality, and postponed substantial deliverables to phase 2 (IV).
Progress Trend Analysis

As you can see, expected progress and % complete can tell very interesting stories. In a collaborative work management environment, where several participants contribute to building the WBS and to reporting progress, the parameters become very reliable. Tracking their trends is a good habit to adopt.