It is an undocumented fact that the last 1% of anything takes longer than the other 99%. There are plenty of examples to support this argument, perhaps none quite as visible as the progress bars we see on computers. You know, those little bars telling you how you are progressing in the installation of software or the execution of a program. More often than not, such progress bars seem to race through the first 99% like a blazing track star, yet when we get to that last 1% it seems to slow down to a snail's pace.
I have also witnessed this same phenomenon in project management situations. As we were building our office in Florida our contractor proudly proclaimed he was 99% complete and we should prepare ourselves to move in. Interestingly, that last 1% dragged on for days, weeks, and even a few months, thereby delaying inspections and prohibiting our move.
In the Information Technology field, it is difficult to get a realistic picture of how much work remains on a project. Programmers love to announce they are 99% complete in writing their programs, but somehow that last 1% never seems to come to conclusion. Either something was wrong in the design of their software they hadn't anticipated, something had changed, or gremlins had compounded their best efforts. Regardless, the project never ends.
This phenomenon is related to our perspective on work, specifically, "Is the glass half empty or half filled?" Instead of focusing on the work completed, people should be more concerned with the amount of effort remaining. For example, instead of asking about percentages, workers should be constantly evaluating the amount of effort required to complete remaining tasks in hours. Only after this is known should we consider the application of percentages, not before. Unfortunately, that is not the mindset in most project environments. Instead, people tend to consider the amount of work expended against the original estimate, not the remaining effort. This is certainly not a realistic or reliable way of reporting progress. It is pure fantasy.
Surprisingly, there are still quite a few project management packages allowing people to post percentages as opposed to automatically calculating it based on the estimate of hours remaining on project tasks which is simply ludicrous.
So, next time you hear someone claim they are 99% complete with something, it means they still have a long way to go and the person hasn't got a clue when it will be completed, but it's close...maybe. Ask yourself this, when was the last time you saw the final two minutes of a football game finish within 120 seconds? I've never seen it either.
"The last 1% of a project can take as long as the first 99%." - Bryce's Law
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.