Microsoft Project Tutorial: How to Track Percent Complete

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, which 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 moves 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.

When the project manager asks why the deliverable wasn’t completed, the team member responds with a list of other tasks or dependencies needed to complete the task. In the interest of a short status meeting, the project manager leaves the deliverable 90 percent complete until next week. This cycle can continue week after week as the deliverable falls 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 feelings or intuition. This approach doesn’t inform the project manager about task effort or forecasted end dates. The problem is further propagated when project stakeholders communicate the same status to their colleagues.

The Tracking Percent Complete Solution

A recommended approach is to avoid the subjective view of task status and implement an objective one. To objectively measure project schedule and cost performance, the project manager needs to know the following:

  1. When was the task scheduled to start and complete?
  2. What was the original task effort?
  3. When did the work start?
  4. How many hours have been spent on the task?
  5. How many hours are remaining?

The first two questions can be answered by examining the project baseline. The project baseline is each work plan deliverable’s official cost, scope, and timing record. Once project managers understand the original task effort and baseline start and finish dates, they can inquire about the actual work spent on the task. The project manager uses the data to calculate an objective measure of work completed and, more importantly, forecast a task end date based on the remaining effort.

Task Percent Complete Formula

Task Percent Complete = Actual Hours Spent / Baseline Work (+/-) Remaining Work

Task Baseline Baseline Effort: 80 hours Baseline Start: 7/5/2004 Baseline Finish: 7/19/2004

Task Status Tracking Actual Start: 7/7/2004 Actual Hours Spent: 60 hours Remaining Work: 40 hours Forecasted End Date: 7/24/2004

Task Percent Complete = 60 hours / (60 hours + 40 hours) = 60% complete

In this example, the original effort was 80 hours, and the actual work required was 100 hours. The task also started two days later. Adding 20 hours added another 2.5 days to the schedule. If the project manager had not asked these questions and accepted a subjective 90 percent complete, the project manager would have assumed 54 hours have been spent with 6 hours to complete the task.

Tracking Percent Complete Benefits

Tracking project actuals provides the following benefits:

  • Improves project status reporting using accurate and objective task end dates.
  • Improves project status reporting by communicating an objective percent complete instead of a subjective percent complete.
  • Improves future project estimation accuracy by comparing project baseline work and actual work.
  • It avoids the guesstimate approach and uses project data to forecast completion dates.

Tracking Percent Complete Challenges and Roadblocks

If the project team is new to this approach, the project manager may experience some pushback or reluctance to provide estimates. A common fear is that the team member may face negative consequences for failing to complete the work within the estimated time frame. Other team members don’t want to escape the comfort zone of reporting, “It’s about 90 percent complete with a little more work to do.” To overcome the pushback, the project manager should encourage a work environment where missing estimates are not punished, although meeting estimates is encouraged. If project managers experience resistance, an effective technique is to break down the work into smaller chunks and translate end dates into project effort.

Asking a team member to complete the work in 3 days translates to 24 hours in the project plan. If they are only available to work on the task 4 hours each day, then the 24 hours of work stay the same, but the duration increases to 6 days. Project team members may indicate providing estimates of actual work remaining is also subjective. The original project estimate predicted effort based on team members’ experience and available information. During project execution, team members know more about the project’s tasks and remaining effort. The remaining work is based on more details than when the estimate was provided. Providing estimates will be easier as tasks progress since the team knows more about the functions’ remaining effort and related issues.


Regardless of your project tracking tool, ask your teams for the time spent and time remaining for each task in your workplace. Ask the five questions to identify when work started and forecast how much work remains. Avoid the subjective nature of reporting: “90 percent complete with a little more to go.” In our original scenario, the project manager reported a status of 90 percent complete using the subjective guesses from project team members.

After recording objective project actuals, the plan may still indicate the same percentage. Still, the project manager knows it was calculated correctly, and the forecasted dates are effort-driven instead of subjective estimates. Simply reporting the percent complete isn’t enough to provide accurate and data-driven end dates. Project managers who follow an objective schedule updating approach will benefit from improved project control and monitoring. The approach also provides a repository of actual effort that can be reused to estimate future project’s cost and timing.

Suggested articles: How to Calculate Earned Value in Microsoft Project | Finding Late Tasks with Microsoft Project Custom Filters


Andrew Makar

Andrew Makar, DMIT, PMP, CSM is an IT director with delivery experience across projects, programs and portfolios in Digital Marketing, Automotive, Software and Financial Management industries. He is an enthusiastic leader who effectively translates project management theory into practical application. His area of interest and practice is in implementing Agile processes and SCRUM techniques to deliver better software to his customers. Find out more about Andrew on and please reach out and connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

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