In this post I will take an extensive look at a set of fields that report progress in the schedule. I will have a close look at the Percentage complete entities within Microsoft Project There are % complete, % work complete fields and then there is also something called Physical % complete. In the field I get asked about the differences between the 3 fields on a regular basis. This post will help clear up some of the confusion, I hope.
March 2016 update ——————
Raphael Santos, Consultant at Sensei Project Solutions, is kind enough to provide a translated version of this post in Portuguese. Here is the link: http://www.raphael-santos.net/2016/03/campos-de-percentual-concluido-do-Microsoft-Project.html.
@Raphael; thanks man!
The fields and their Microsoft descriptions
Microsoft has a nice page where all fields are noted down including descriptions on what they do. Here are the entries for the % complete fields: Percent (%) Complete (task field) The % Complete field contains the current status of a task, expressed as the percentage of the task’s duration that has been completed.
Percent (%) Work Complete (task field) The % Work Complete field contains the current status of a task, resource, or assignment, expressed as the percentage of work that has been completed.
Physical Percent (%) Complete (task field) The Physical % Complete field shows an entered percent complete value that can be used as an alternative for calculating budgeted cost of work performed (BCWP).
Oh Microsoft, such sweet words, but now let’s see it in action! I created a project with example tasks to show the changes when progress is made. I use Microsoft Project Professional 2013, but the functionality is the same in older versions.
Percent (%) complete and percent (%) work complete
The simplest version of monitoring progress in a schedule is the percent (%) complete field. Just like the description on the field tells us, it only reports progress on the tasks duration. Here is a reflection of that noted down in a few screenshots:
This first on is real simple, I have a task with no assignments on it and no costs associated with it. Nothing going on really, but somehow we will have progress on it :). Now in the second example I have an assignment of 80 hours of work, and the task is a fixed duration task:
Wow! What happened? Clearly the percent (%) complete field doesn’t show everything that is actually happening here. I did 75% of the work already, and progress just shows 50% complete. That is because I am looking at a field that just shows me progress in duration. The percent (%) complete field doesn’t cut it.
Let’s have a look at the same example, but now with the field percent (%) work complete:
The above example is relatively easy to read because it is a fixed duration task. Fixed work or Fixed units will show interesting, and more complex, results.
Look at the example below and see if you can figure out what happened with the percent (%) complete field:
In this task I have 80 hours of work to do in 2 weeks. However I decide to work 12 hours straight every day in the first week (I’m just that kind of guy). When the task is a fixed work task, Microsoft Project 2013 (and any version before this one) will look at the remaining amount of work and figures out in what amount of time (duration) I can do that work. Resulting in a duration cut by half a week.
For the percent (%) work complete field this means: 80h = 100%, 20h remaining = 25% therefore: 60h of actual work result in 75% complete. For the percent (%) complete field however: 2 weeks was 100% but now 1,5 weeks is 100%. And because I have already completed 1 whole week, we can say I did one third of the work. Ergo, 2/3 or 67% complete!
Percentage (%) work complete will report progress on the amount of work that was planned, and gives a percentage that might differ from just the progress that is reported on the duration of a task.
Therefore; any project manager that has a schedule that is heavily focused on the amount of work that needs to be done, rather than a focus on the amount of time is takes to be done, should take the field % work complete into account when reporting progress.
Earned value management and Physical % complete
On to the last percent complete value within Microsoft Project. Let’s have a closer look at the description at the start of this post: “an entered percent complete value”.
Let’s put the physical % complete field in all earlier examples and have a look at what progress is shown there:
No progress at all. That is because this field is a manually changeable field. Let’s have a look what happens when I set it to 100% for all the fields:
There still is remaining work, % complete and % work complete don’t change and also the graphical part of the tasks still show a little progress bar that relates to % complete.
The “Earned Value method” is a column or option that you would need to set for tasks or the complete schedule in order to get the progress monitored based on this field. You will find the option if you double click on any task:
As soon as you set the value to Physical % Complete, there are changes in calculating the value in budgeted cost of work performed (BCWP). And this in turn results in different values in the other Earned Value fields. The following description comes from the Microsoft help file:
“Here’s a simple example of how the % complete values may differ, based on the earned value method you use. Say you’re building a stone wall that consists of 100 stones stacked in 5 rows.
You lay the first row of 20 stones in 20 minutes. However, the second row takes you 25 minutes because you have to lift the stones up one row higher. The third row takes you 30 minutes, the fourth 35 minutes, and the last row takes 40 minutes, for a total of 150 minutes for the project. After completing the third row, you could say that the wall was 60 percent physically complete, because you had laid 60 of 100 stones.
However, in terms of duration, the project was only 50 percent complete because you had only spent 75 of the required 150 minutes. Depending on how you get paid for the work—how the value is earned (by the stone or by the hour)—you may choose the percent complete value or the physical percent complete value to properly reflect this in the earned value analysis.”
Please be sure to know that all other EV fields in Project are still automatically calculated based on values in your schedule. More information about Earned Value Management (EVM) can be found on my post about Earned Value Management.
Behavior in Project Server and Online
The progress fields act just the same with the Project Server and Online versions. So don’t worry, you will not need to learn a new skill set. However, it would be wise to get a company policy in place for progress reports. Is your organization interested in duration progress, work progress or product complete progress? That might be an interesting thing to figure out, and maybe your reports would look a whole lot better and more accurate.
The option to get progress based on what the actual team members report still works based on the settings you have in place. With an added luxury that you do not need to report progress yourself, you just need to check if people actually did what they were supposed to do. And if they didn’t, act on that: Manage by exception! Some things that you could do:
- Reject the task update, and tell the person to report what has actually taken place. Only if you are sure more or less work has been done by the person.
- Locate any deadlines in the schedule to see if you are still meeting demands. Tasks will shift if a person writes more or less hours on a task and that task is a fixed work or fixed units type.
- Get in contact with the person, why did he/she differ from the plan? Can you help him/her in any way? Pick up the phone or maybe you got Lync or Skype, people have never been more reachable then today!
Final notes on Percent complete in Microsoft project
Last thing to take into account: progress is only reported on the selected tasks or their summary task. If you have a summary task with 2 subtasks and a milestone, make sure you set progress on the milestone as well. Or just set the summary task to 100% if you are all done with the tasks. If you do not, the summary will stick with 99% complete.
Thank you all for sticking around till the end. This has been the second “About” post and I had a lot of fun diving into this very specific part of Microsoft Project.
If you are curious about the first post, which is about Baselines, click the link. About posts became a regular feature in TPC, I’ve created a useful combo post that you can find here. Also make sure to check out the redesigned resource page.
And to close this post, be sure to check me out on MPUG. 9 of my articles were featured in the 99 top articles in 2016, very proud! And as always: Thank you all for reading.
Kind regards and till next time,
Erik van Hurck