Jason Fried

June 20, 2023

73% of what?

Look around in the tools you use. Especially project management tools. You'll likely find the products proudly displaying the percentage of this or that that's been completed.

This project is 73% done. This task list is 57% done. This process is 42% complete.

It's almost certainly wrong. A lie would be more accurate.

Most of these percentages are attempting to measure work. But work isn't a vote — it's not either for this candidate or for that one. 62% voted for Candidate A is a fair assessment, but "This to-do list is 62% complete" is not. It may represent the percentage of items checked off vs. not checked off, but it doesn't represent the reality of what remains whatsoever.

Why's that? Because a number can't represent the position of a project, or a piece of work. There's easier work, there's harder work, there's known work, there's unknown work.

What does 62% done mean when the "remaining" 38% of the work is twice as hard as the initial 62%? Everything that's already done could have been done in a week, but the remaining 38% could take two months. If you do the easy stuff first, and leave the hard, or unknown stuff to the end, 62% done isn't just misleading, it's malpractice.

Numbers like these take the true texture of a project and flatten them like an iron into a false linear representation of progress.

You can blame the tools for this. People think they tools they use don't matter. That they're all roughly the same. They aren't. Not even close.

Tools leave an imprint on your process. They cut a deep groove in your organization. They form a scab that may take years of healing to clear up.

They give you a number so you run with it. In your presentation, in your reports, in your promises. They don't have to live with the consequences — they're just tools. But you aren't. You're the responsible party. Don't depend on the undependable.

Take your tools seriously. You become what they make you. Which means they can help make you and your team even better if you pick the right ones.

(PS, this is why we developed Hill Charts in Basecamp. They're the opposite of a false number — they're an intuitive, visual representation of where projects really stand. If you're curious, you can learn more here: https://basecamp.com/features/hill-charts)


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.