Published here June 2009.


Musings Index

Our Way with Numbers in Life Cycles and Percentage Progress

For years we have railed against the term Project Life Cycle. We do not think that projects go in circles, or at least they shouldn't do so - they have a life Span. But Life Span or Life Cycle, have you ever given serious thought to where that term comes from? Of course, it comes from how we view our own lives. And the numbers that we associate with life's progression can therefore be related to the project life span.

According to the story circulating on the Internet, the natural life span goes something like this ...

The only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids. If you're less than 10 years old, you're so excited about moving ahead that you think in fractions. "How old are you?" "I'm four and a half!" You're never thirty-six and a half. You're four and a half, going on five! That's the key.

You get into your teens and now they can't hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead. "How old are you?" "I'm gonna be 16!" You could be 13, but hey, you're gonna be 16! And then the greatest day of your life ... you become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony. You Become 21, Yes Sir!!!

But then you turn 30. Oh, oh, what happened here? It makes you sound like bad milk. He turned 30; he's no longer a part of the smart young set - he's definitely getting up there! What's wrong? What's changed? You become 21, you turn 30, and then suddenly you're pushing 40. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it's all slipping away. Before you know it, you reach 50 ... and it's time to rethink your life and see what lies ahead. But wait!!! You make it to 60 and you were not sure that you even would!

So you become 21, turn 30, push 40, reach 50 and make it to 60. You've built up so much speed that you hit 70! And this is where the cycle thing comes in because after that it's a sort of day-by-day thing; the middle of the week is a sort of peak - you hit Wednesday! Worse, you get into your 80s and every day is a complete cycle; you hit lunch; you turn 4:30; you reach bedtime.

And it doesn't end there. Into the 90s, you start going backwards; "I was just 92." Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again and start reverting to fractions "I'm 100 and a half!"

ooo OOO ****** OOO ooo

Now let's see what happens on a project. Fortunately, very few projects last 100 years, though there are some notable examples that have lasted for well over 100 years. Instead, we measure progress in terms of percentage which sort of amounts to the same thing. It's just a question of scale.

On every project we start full of excitement and great expectations. Yes, we have definitely started - in fact we are probably one-and-a-half percentage done. With all those percentage points ahead of us, we can afford to be generously accurate! In short order we become fifteen-to-twenty percent and the going gets really serious but nothing to worry about - yet.

Next the project turns 30%, maybe 32%, but soon pushes 40%, reaches 50%. But wait!!! You make it to 60% and sometimes wonder how you did. But now you have built up real momentum and before you know it you're at 70%. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it's time to rethink your project and see what lies ahead. It's all slipping away and before you know it, you hit 80% ... And this is where that cycle thing comes into play because are you really at 80%? Or have the digits been catching up on you unnoticed? Maybe from now on we should inch up at only a couple of points per report?

And then you get into the 90s and you're really down to one point per report. And then a strange thing happens. Because it is difficult to go over 100% - and be credible - you hit 99% and have to go back to the way you started - in fractions. In fact you may even have to admit that, well may be, last report we were really only 97% complete. That should give you a little breathing room.

But as luck would have it, that's when those smart project auditor boys step in and, with an eye to a lucrative assignment, declare unambiguously that you are only 87% complete. That's the point in time to "Let 'em get on with it", dust up your resume and move on to the next great project.

And so the cycle begins again ...

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