Progress Bar Project Management

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To an outsider looking in, commercial software projects* should look like a well designed progress bar.

  1. The progress bar should display 0% at the beginning of the project.
  2. There should be steady incremental increases from 0% to 100% as the project progresses.
  3. The project should be complete at exactly 100% (not at 60% or 120%).
  4. The entire project should finish in as short a time as possible within the other constraints.
  5. The project bar should be visible and available to anyone interested in it, not hidden away.

We've all had to endure poorly designed progress bars; many usability failures in progress bars also correspond to project failures:

  • The "Jumpy": 0%...  long pause...  90%...  long pause... 99%... long pause... 100%
  • The "Time loop": 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, Step 2: 0%, 10%, ...
  • The "Moving target": 0%, 10%, 20%, pause, 5%, 6%, 7%, pause, 3%, 3.5%, 4% ...
  • The "Stuck in the mud": 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%, very long pause...

Many good project management hygiene exercises correlate with reducing the risk of the above project failures.  Some examples:

  • Continuously break larger tasks and projects into smaller ones to avoid "Jumpy"
  • Think through the whole project ahead of time to avoid "Moving target" and "Stuck in the mud"

Overall, all else being equal, you should look for ways to make your projects look more like well-designed progress bars.

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*projects involving basic research may be an exception, though very few commercial projects will involve basic research.

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