A practice I have recommended to many clients that are challenged with getting an accurate assessment of project progress on traditional life cycle (waterfall) projects is the use of inch-pebbles. By decomposing each activity in the overall work breakdown structure to as atomic a state as possible, progress can be reported objectively as being done or not done.
However, the ubiquitous concern that is always raised is that it is impractical to sub-divide certain activities to be below X days (where X is the desired level of control granularity).
My response to this concern is that the apparent inability to sub-divide an activity further does not imply that it cannot be measured objectively which is really what we are trying to do – get away from the evil of having tasks (and by association projects) get to 80% complete in an expected time frame and then to take forever to get to 100% complete.
A good example of this concern is coding a software module. It may seem to be an atomic activity, but it is rare that a developer will just start coding and continue in a linear fashion until it is done – chances are they are doing some sort of sub-division and working on each component of the module in turn OR they are first designing the “skeleton” and then fleshing out each limb. Regardless of the approach, a quantitative approach could be used for progress reporting – whether that is in terms of screens, function points, user cases, interfaces or stored procedures.
A similar example is a design document – if it is going to take more than a week to complete the first draft of the document, surely there is a defined table of contents or structure to it that could lend itself to quantitative measurement.
What we are trying to achieve is to decompose work activities to the point where their completion can be assessed using a 0/100 reporting model OR so that progress can be accurately estimated using parametric or quantitative methods.
So here’s my challenge to you – are the lengthy durations of your project tasks due to necessity or inertia?