Sometimes you see a status report where the author claims a project is 99% complete. Usually the author is trying to convey the impression that everything is almost done, just about finished, the end is in sight, and it's all over but the cheering. But very seldom is the truth so rosy.
What usually happens next is that the subsequent status report also says 99% complete. As a manager you might raise an eyebrow. But since the project is so close to the end you don't ask any questions. You let it slide and the author feels like she/he dodged a bullet. Then the next report is still at 99% done. You start to feel uncomfortable, but you might be afraid to address the issue.
Now you and the author are both turning a blind eye to the problem. In reality, if the manager doesn't react early, the manager is becoming complicit with the author in a conspiracy to hide an incomplete job.
One of the reasons the 99% problem is so seductive and can't be solved easily is because no one wants to address the issue. Managerial avoidance behavior is reinforced by the fact that no one feels compelled to do anything about it. After all, the project is almost done, so the team must have done a good job. Right? Wrong.
99% is one of the biggest and most seductive lies in management. Who can get in trouble if something is so close? But without diving into the reasons for the missing 1%, you don't really know if the project is actually done. The last 1% may represent the most difficult, or most unpleasant, or most complicated part of the project. Or, it could be the one part that the project manager doesn't want to address.
The next time you see a status report with a 99% complete status, all the alarm bells need to ring. As a manager, you need to start asking questions right away. Don't wait for the problem to slip through the cracks and don't assume that the reported 99% complete represents 99% of the work and time and cost. The last 1% may hide a nasty roadblock that can't be solved easily.
Now that I've written this post I'm going to keep an eye out for 98% complete status reports.