Schedule Management: The 0-50-100 Method for Tasks

I realized I haven’t been posting much about producing and project management this year, so I’ve decided to do a series of short posts for a few weeks going over some of the concepts I cover in the project management training I do.

If you want to spend more time managing your schedule and less time staring at it, at one time or another, you’re going to hear about the 0-50-100 method for managing tasks.

In my case, I was first introduced to it by a program manager where we were working on an integrated project plan that ran over 1,700 lines. There was no way we’d spend every status meeting figuring out the exact percentage of each task – nor what we needed to monitor to make sure we’re on track.

This is where the program manager let me in on a time-saving, sanity-saving trick, especially when using a schedule management tool like Microsoft Project.

I should probably back up a bit and clarify that this schedule management tactic is for when you have created your project schedule. Hopefully, you have broken down the work into logical tasks — and you have used your acumen, other people’s acumen, and historical information to give those tasks reasonable durations.

Now, to make sure your project schedule is not merely decorative shelfware, you’re using the schedule as a living document, getting updates as to whether tasks are complete or not — and by what percentage.

When you think about asking for the percent complete of a given task, that’s where this method makes so much sense. That’s because most, if not all, tasks can be expressed as one of three states:

  • 0% – The task has not been started.
  • 50% – The task is in process. Maybe it started yesterday. Maybe it’s about to be finished tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. For reporting purposes, any “in-process” task is always 50%
  • 100% – The task has been completed (and the people who need to confirm it’s completed have said it’s completed).

There are exceptions, which I can talk about in another post, but consider this: how valuable is knowing completion percentage anyway?

Do you really need to spend a single precious meeting minute on whether something is 37% or 42%?

No.

Anyone who is obsessing about that either falsely believes those abstract numbers will help OR is trying to evade the real question you or any other project manager wants to know:

Can we make our schedule?

It’s rare that I’ve been at an organization where schedule is not, ultimately, king. The 0-50-100 method allows you to zero in on risks and impacts to your schedule.

Here’s how those three simple statuses above help you do that:

0%, the Task hasn’t started.
Is it past the start date?

No? Good. Is there any reason to expect why this task won’t start on time? If the start date is within two weeks, does the task owner know they’re expected to start soon?

Yes, it is past the start date? Okay, how do we get started? What date should it start now — and how does that affect the project being completed on time? (aka, the critical path).

50%, the Task is in-progress
Cool. Did it start on time or did it start late?

If it started late, is there anything we’re doing to make sure it still completes on time? Are those efforts working? Do you need any help to make sure it gets completed on time? At all?

If it started on time, is it going to be completed when we scheduled? How confident are you? Are there any risks popping up that would stop you? Do you need any help to make sure it gets completed?

100%, the Task has been completed
Wonderful. Does everyone agree (who needs to agree) that task has been completed? Are the subsequent tasks starting on time? Does anything need to be communicated?

Is this task like any other tasks still being worked in this project? Were there any risks or lessons learned we should communicate right now about how this task went down?

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In other words, as a project manager, you’re using the 0-50-100 method to focus on solutions and support. The more time you spend debating and delineating exactly what the status of a task is during project status meetings, the less time you have to try and make sure things are on track or get back on track.

In other words, it saves time — and it focuses what management really wants to know: will the project be completed on time?

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