Project progress

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Measure, evaluate and visualize progress in the project

The term project progress generally refers to the ratio of the work performed so far compared to the total scope of the project. This ratio is determined using various key figures. In most cases, the actual values of the three most important success factors - time, scope and costs - are considered and recorded in a plan/actual analysis. In project controlling, monitoring the progress of the project is one of the central tasks of project management. This task is either performed by the project management or there is a person or even a department responsible for controlling that performs this task at multi-project level. Most of the time, this is done using other company data in order to determine the overall profitability of the project landscape or project portfolio.

Definitions of project progress

In project management, there are different organizations and project management methods, some with slightly different guidelines. As a result, there is not just one definition of the term "project progress", but several slightly different ones.

PMBOK(R) Guide

The "Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge" from the Project Management Institute (PMI) is the US equivalent of the German DIN 69901 standard. This reference work defines project management terms, including project progress. However, the term "progress" is not used here, but rather "project performance" as a general term and "scope performance" or "work performance" as a more precise term.

By using the term performance, the focus is more on the result: are the results achieved satisfactory in comparison to the scope of the project. Here too, time and costs are taken into account and determined using the earned value analysis method.


The PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) method has a strong product orientation. Therefore, in contrast to the project management-oriented definitions of the PMI, progress is measured in terms of product status. It requires a list of all products to be created with status information in order to measure progress.

PRINCE2 recommends classic project management methods such as earned value analysis or milestone trend analysis for monitoring.

Conclusion on the definitions

Despite the sometimes differing concepts, all definitions of the term project progress have one thing in common: there should be a continuous comparison of the planned and actual status to ensure that the progress of the project is always kept in view as part of project controlling.

Measuring metrics for project progress

As mentioned at the beginning, the project parameters time, scope and costs, which are known as the (magic) project triangle, are the most important metrics for determining the progress of the project in a plan/actual analysis.

  • Time: The roughest unit is the duration between the start and end of the project. The scope of the project must be completed within this period. Therefore, time alone does not provide any information about the progress of the project. It must be set in relation to the scope.
  • Scope (quality): The scope of a project includes the objectives and all the tasks and resources required to achieve these objectives. This includes many metrics to determine the progress of the project, such as the activities, tasks and milestones in the project plan; the partial results in the form of features, partial products, services; the resources required such as people, machines, equipment. The quality of the delivered services must of course meet the quality management criteria.
  • Costs: The seemingly most obvious measure of costs can in itself be an indication of positive or negative project progress. However, like time, it makes the most sense when viewed in relation to scope. The costs can simply be recorded and offset against the total project budget. Or they can be viewed as project finances, differentiated according to accounting criteria.

These metrics can be used to derive methods for monitoring project progress.

Methods for monitoring the progress of the project

Percentage of completion

The term percentage of completion refers to the work completed at a certain point in the project and is expressed as a percentage. The tasks that have to be completed within a task are typically used for this, together with their estimated effort and the time actually required. These two values can also be used to calculate the costs if, for example, one hour of working time has a certain cost rate.

The biggest challenge in calculating the percentage of completion is realistically estimating the effort required to complete the tasks. Therefore, the percentage of completion as a measure of project progress is only as good as the estimates are reliable and realistic.

Earned Value Analysis

In contrast to the percentage of completion, the earned value analysis indicates the completion value in absolute figures. The focus is clearly on the measured value of costs: the current monetary value of the project is determined based on the work completed to date compared to the planned work to be completed.

In the earned value analysis, three measured values are therefore continuously evaluated: the planned value (planned tasks with estimated effort and corresponding budget), the performance value (completion value; how much work has been done to date

Budget utilization rate

The budget utilization rate is the ratio between the actual costs plus commitment and the approved project budget. Only the measured value of costs is examined here.

The budget utilization rate therefore indicates how much money is still available at any given time. This value does not indicate whether this is sufficient to successfully complete the project in terms of scope, which is why it is no longer relevant in project controlling in practice.

Milestone trend analysis

This controlling method is based on the measured value of time. The milestone trend analysis is based on the achievement of the milestones scheduled in the Gantt chart and is one of the simplest methods for determining the progress of a project.

The analysis is carried out regularly during the course of the project to ensure that the set milestones are met on time. This allows delays to be detected quickly and the effects of delays on subsequent milestones to be recognized. The most effective method is graphical visualization so that the trend can be easily identified using the line.

Visualization of the project progress


Using the example of milestone trend analysis, the advantage of dashboards as a visualization tool for project controlling is very easy to explain: in the diagram with the X-axis reporting dates and the Y-axis milestone dates, you can see the trend of each milestone. If the milestone line is mostly horizontal, the milestone will be reached on time. If the milestone line is mostly ascending, there will be delays and it is unlikely that the milestone will be met on time. If the line is mostly descending, progress is faster than planned and the milestone will be reached earlier than planned.

The informative value of dashboards is only reliable if the data sources - i.e. the data from the smallest planning unit task to tasks, milestones, effort, time recording and budgets - are continuously and consistently maintained.

Status report on project progress

In contrast to dashboards, which can be updated in real time and reflect the current status of project progress at any time, project reports are a snapshot. Usually in pure text form, often supplemented with diagrams from dashboards, status reports on project progress provide information on the actual status of the project at a specific point in time.

In highly volatile project environments, a status report can contain completely outdated project progress figures the very next day.

Gantt Chart

A Gantt diagram, also known as a Gantt chart, not only provides a clearly structured chronological overview of the individual project phases. The dependencies and restrictions can also be visualized. This allows delays to be identified in real time and the effects on subsequent project phases to be displayed.

To ensure that clarity is not lost even in large projects, it is advisable to break down large plans into sub-plans.

Burn-up/Burn-down Chart

Burn-up and burn-down charts are particularly widespread in agile project management in software development. They reflect the actual work performance by clearly showing how many tasks (items) have already been completed and in which direction the trend is going: upwards - new tasks are added; or downwards - tasks are consistently completed.

This is a very good way of measuring progress, especially when tracking performance in teams that are working on many small tasks.

No more manual project progress tracking

For a long time, all relevant key figures from various systems were visualized in Excel tables with pivot charts to measure project progress, sometimes with a great deal of manual effort. In the modern working world, not only is project management carried out with digital tools, but also the evaluation of the relevant key figures and thus project controlling.

Project management software with multi-project management features is the best way to do this. Find out here how InLoox can support you.

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