“Truthiness” in your charts – % Complete

One of the most-often received questions by our support team, is: “Why don’t my progress bars match my status date in OnePager?”

For us, this question brings to mind “Truthiness.”

It is the undying question, which is often driven by an unfortunate misunderstanding, usually on the part of the audience/leadership, that progress is a linear, daily constant, and how complete a task is directly equates to its Status.

This alternative fact is even perpetuated by Microsoft, who defines the % Complete field on their support page as “the current status of a task, expressed as the percentage of the task’s duration that has been completed.”

If you’ve ever had an executive team beat you over the head that the location of your % Complete bars is suggesting to them that you’re behind schedule, even though you might have a separate status indicator that says otherwise, you’re going to want to avoid that situation again, as much as you can.

Essentially they’re asking you to add more truthiness to your plan, rather than present the data as-is, just so they can feel better about what they’re seeing. They want you to follow the advice of The Colbert Report: “Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you.” And so, you begin to cook the % Complete values so it looks as if progress matches the status date, for all of your tasks.

In the real world we know that progress is, for the most part, NOT linear, and that if our % Complete does not equal how far through a task we are, in terms of its duration, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re ahead of, or behind, schedule on that task, or on the project, as a whole.

So many other factors are at play (the below are just a start):

  1. Did we build any slack into the plan?
  2. What is the critical path?
  3. How are the tasks loaded, individually?
  4. How much detail is being kept in the plan (resources)?
  5. How thoroughly were the tasks estimated?
  6. Are our resource shared?
  7. Is there change being inflicted to the plan by circumstances out of our control, and did we plan for that?
  8. Were all of the above discussed and documented?

Some industries and projects are more resilient (not resistant) to change than others, by either their nature, or culture. They plan for the plan to evolve…and it pretty much always does.

So where does the desire for truthiness, on the part of the audience, come from? I’d like to suggest it’s born out of a lack of early expectation-setting, for the level of project management rigor that must be present for the work at hand.

Most of the OnePager Pro community are not using Microsoft Project to manage resources. But, if you plan to reduce truthiness, this is an obvious step. Managing resources across your portfolio, is critical to having an accurate Status for your tasks. Inherently it forces an organization to take a hard look at who is spending time on what, make assignments of resources to tasks, and then have those resources track and enter their time.

Project, luckily, is built for this. So it’s simply a matter of biting off the level of additional time it will take you to have your team administer the data.

Without this level of detailed management and tracking of resources, both % Complete and Status are simply a FEEL…they are truthiness. But – truth be told – sometimes, that’s all the rigor that is required.


What are your thoughts on this topic? Where does your organization or initiative fall on the truthiness-spectrum? We’d love your comments.

Here are some other articles that you might find interesting on the subject of % Complete:

Your Project Status Date isn’t Percent Complete

Why do Summary Tasks Always Appear Behind Schedule?

Progress and On-time Status are two very different things

This entry was posted in OnePager Pro Tips, Resources by Jay. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jay

Devoted father of two, lover of mountains, entrepreneurism, and beer. Jay carries with him fourteen years of project management experience within the cable, telecom, construction, software development, and energy industries. The spectrum of projects and programs that Jay has managed throughout his career is broad and deep, enabling him to help clients implement Chronicle Graphics software in a multitude of applications. His employment history includes positions at Narvaes Construction, Leslie Brothers Construction, CSG Systems, Echostar Satellite Services, Comcast, and Level 3 Communications.

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