This article was originally published by Trevor K Nelson.

In the world of project management, or any business management domain really, we deal with status reporting on a regular basis. Daily, weekly, monthly… Red, Amber, Green… we all find ourselves having to tell others how we’re doing.

And that’s the problem.

No one wants to report that they’re behind, or that the progress has suffered on their watch. We all want to be up to date, on target, and proving that we’ve got everything under control. So when asked about progress, we usually respond with ‘it’s done”, or “it’s just about done”. We fudge the numbers just a bit. I mean really, we are ALMOST done, so our reporting is ‘fairly accurate’. We’ll be done before the next reporting report. Right?

I’ve managed programs and Project Managers for quite a few years, and after dealing with this for a long time, I realized that within project management there exist several definitions of Done. I found that I had to be very specific in what definition the PM was using when they tell me that ‘it’s done’. I found myself asking “are you Done, are you Done Done, or are you Done Done Done?”

Done = this is the first tier Done. It means that the project/task is 80-90% complete. It’s ‘mostly done” but there’s still work to be done before we’re finished. We’ve got the bulk of it done, but we can’t stop just yet. It’s close enough to be able to report ‘complete’ without feeling bad.

Done Done = this is the second tier Done. This one means that the ‘work’ is complete, but there’s still sone close-out items to be done. The crews are off the job, resources have been reassigned, but we still need to come out contracts, deliver some docs, do some recap, collect payment etc. We’re ALMOST there, but we can’t just stop looking at the project just yet. We’ll have to re-visit at least once more during the next status meeting.

Done Done Done = this it the third and final tier of Done. this is the one I’m looking for when I’m told something’s Done. This one means the project/task is done, it’s turned over, it’s implemented, contracts are closed, payments have been received, etc. This one means that in the next status meeting there’s no reason to ask about this one, because EVERYTHING’s done and closed out.

As a PM in a contractor-based organization, this third tier is the most important. In order to be efficient, effective, and profitable, we need to be clear on where we stand with all of our projects. Having all of our projects reported as (first tier) Done means that we still have to allocate resources to those projects. It’s a false positive. and it wreak havoc with planning. With these ‘gray’ definitions it becomes very difficult to accurately project workload capacity and capability, since you’re never quite clear on where you stand.

I’m not sure there’s any way to stop the fudging or multiple definitions of Done, and having to use terms like these is a bit childish, but making sure you dig a little deeper and and clear on what tier of Done a PM is using will go a long way to making sure you’re clear on what the real status of a project/task is.

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