Project Management

Project Control: The Myth of 90% Complete

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of the Microsoft Project Made Easy series. For more project management advice, visit the website

Topics: Estimating

A typical team status meeting includes the project manager reviewing the work plan and asking team members to report on relevant task progress in the work plan. A typical response from team members is "The task is 90 percent complete," or some variable percent. Project managers can make the mistake of assuming a status of "90 percent complete" is an effective method to monitor task progress.


Using a status of 90 percent, the project manager updates the project plan and communicates to the stakeholders that the particular deliverable is 90 percent complete. Everyone feels comfortable about the number and they move on to the next status item. Another week goes by, and at the next status meeting, the task is still 90 percent complete with "just a little more work to go."


When the project manager asks why the deliverable wasn't completed, the team member responds with a list of other tasks or dependencies that are needed to complete the task. In the interest of a short status meeting, the project manager leaves the deliverable at 90 percent complete until next week. This cycle can continue week after week as the deliverable continues to fall further behind in the project schedule.


The "90 percent complete" approach to deliverable tracking is entirely subjective. The percent complete approach represents a quick estimate of deliverable status based on a team member's …

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