Tag Archives: EVM

Cost Engineering is an Oxymoron!

Cost performance is a symptom of other management functions. It is impossible to ‘engineer costs’. The only way to change cost outcomes is to change the other processes that incur costs.

The three key areas of business operations and project management that incur costs and where a change in the process will cause a change in costs are:

  1. Changing the procurement / purchasing / supply chain processes that acquire the required inputs to the process being managed.
  2. Changing the way the work that transforms inputs to outputs is undertaken through enhanced management and leadership including skilling, motivating and directing the people involved in the work and ensuring they have the correct resources and equipment to undertake the work.
  3. Focusing on the quality of the outputs produces to ensure the ‘right scope’ has been delivered at the ‘correct quality’. Too low and there are cost consequences in rectification, too high and you may have spent money unnecessarily.

These three elements exist in a risk frame. Whilst risk management will not ‘control’ the future, it will allow opportunities to be identified and grasped and threats mitigated and avoided by changing the way the work is undertaken and as a consequence optimise cost outcomes.

The two key facets that permeate all of the above are stakeholder management and time management.

  • Stakeholder management both within the team and externally, (including effective communication) is central to achieving a successful outcome at the best price. Stakeholders are in the supply chain, include the project team and contractors and can have a major impact on the risk profile of the work. For more posts on stakeholder management see: http://www.stakeholder-management.com/blog/?cat=5
  • Time management focuses on ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time, with the right resources and equipment to do the work in the optimum sequence. For more posts on time management see: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/category/project-controls/scheduling-project-controls/

Both of the above need regular reviews and adjustment within the overall frame of the emerging risk profile.

Where ‘cost engineering’ adds value is via techniques such as Earned Value (EV). Applying EV effectively allows the symptoms of a deviation from the expected performance to be highlighted through Cost Variances and other reports.

As with medicine and diseases, it is capability to recognise and correctly interpret symptoms that allows diagnosis that leads to the effective treatment of the under-laying problem. In project and business management space, this should translate to the requirement for managers not only to report a cost variance, but also to identify the cause of the variance and to recommend and/or implement corrective actions.

Whilst it is impossible to directly manage or control costs; timely and accurate information on cost performance can be a valuable diagnostic tool to remedy the real issues. What’s needed is for senor managers to stop focusing on ‘cost’ and start asking deeper questions about performance and risk. I know many readers of this blog will say this already happens in their organisations, but I also know that far too many other managers focus on the symptom of cost performance rather than the under-laying problem to the detriment of their businesses.

Earned Schedule

In the March 2003 edition of the PMI College of Performance Management journal, The Measurable News Walt Lipke published his seminal paper “Schedule Is Different” and introduced the world to Earned Schedule (ES).

The challenge of predicting the likely completion date for a project is fraught with issues. There are no established protocols for scaling the remaining durations in a CPM schedule to take account of actual performance to date and there is no way of dealing with the consequences of a ‘bow wave’ of non-critical tasks consuming float until after they hit the critical path.

Re-scheduling the project is the same as re-estimating the work, a practice long discredited by Earned Value (EV) professional as being less accurate and more expensive than using EV formula to calculate a predicted cost outcome. And, the SPI and SV calculations cease to have any validity as the original project completion date is approached. In short, SPI does not work and CPM is wildly optimistic.

Earned Schedule

Earned Schedule

Walt solved this problem at least in part with the invention of ES. ES uses standard EV data to calculate a set of schedule indicators, which behave correctly over the entire period of project performance. The methodology and spreadsheets needed for calculation are freely available from the ES website.

Now Walt has published a sensibly priced book that explains the concept of ES and additional advances to the theory and practice of ES including the “P” factor, a measure of schedule adherence and “Effective EV,” which discounts the EV accrued by EV earned out of the correct process sequence.

I downloaded a PDF version of Walt’s book from Lulu Publishing for under $15; printed paperback books are available from Amazon, Lulu and a range of other book sellers.

Used properly, ES is the bridge between EVM cost and network schedule analysis, improving and providing the base for further developments in cost-schedule integration. ES can’t replace scheduling (and does not seek to) but it does provide a useful insight above and beyond what’s achievable using either traditional EV calculations or traditional CPM scheduling.

This is a book serious project control professionals cannot afford to ignore!

Earned Value Confusion = No Value

I have just finished reading another article published in late 2008 where a proponent of Earned Value seems to deliberately set out to do as much damage to the general acceptance of the methodology as possible!

From its inception EV has been plagued with confusion generated by acronyms. EV ‘experts’ used to prove how knowledgeable they were by confusing business managers with a barrage of acronyms and formula. Before the turn of this Century, a decade ago, leaders in the profession recognised one of the major barriers to acceptance of EV was a general lack of understanding and sought to simplify the ‘alphabet soup’ that was making EV too hard for busy managers to understand.

ANSI EIA 748 A released in 2002, AS 4817 2003 released in 2003 and the 2000 version of the PMBOK® Guide all adopted a common, simple set of acronyms:

EV = Earned Value instead of BCWP (Budgeted Cost of Work Performed)

PV = Planned Value instead of BCWS (Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled)

AC = Actual Cost instead of ACWP (Actual Cost of Work Performed)

These standards between them cover some 90% of the world’s Earned Value community! The intention was (and is) to demystify the process of Earned Value so managers could understand the data their project ‘controls’ staff were generating and use the information to make wise decisions. A really great idea! EV is an extremely useful and powerful tool if the data being presented to management is understood and acted upon.

What I cannot understand is why so many self professed advocates of EV are so keen to cause confusion by writing articles using the old, superseded acronyms.

  • Is it to try to look clever by confusing the ‘dumb reader’?
  • Is it to attempt to re-wind history back to the 1990s?
  • Are they actually opposed to the general use of EV and seek to prevent its general adoption by spreading confusion?

The UK (where EV is used to a very limited extent) is the only place that still published standards that use the old acronyms. These ‘standards’ are primarily from the Association for Project Management rather than British Standards.

Surely it’s time everyone used the same acronyms for the same item in an EV article and dragged themselves into the 21st century – it’s hard enough getting EV accepted in senior management circles without so-called experts and practitioners creating excuses for ‘not understanding’ by reverting to outdated acronyms, even in the UK??

What do you think?

CPI Stability Myth

There is undoubtedly the equivalent of an ‘urban myth’ in circulation within the general project management community, arising from US Defence based research from the early 1990s, that the Cost Performance Index (CPI) always stabilizes at the 20% completion and the final outcome will be within 10% of this value and usually worse. This myth has been extended by some authors to all projects in all industries; and I would suggest that this is demonstrably false in at least some circumstances. If CPI stability was an incontrovertible ‘fact’ for all projects, there would be no need for active management of the project after 20% completion!

The erstwhile peaceful halls of the PMI College of Performance Management (PMI-CPM) are resounding to an ever increasing battle between the proponents of CPI stability and newer research suggesting CPI stability is not automatic.

 

Earned Value is a very useful project management control tool mandated by many Government agencies in the USA, UK and Australia; and the PMI-CPM is one of the leading international organisations focused on providing a forum for EV practitioners. However, the migration of the EV toolset from carefully controlled major defence projects into the general PM business community is definitely creating issues.

 

The DoD research established ‘CPI stability’ on a large number of military projects. Newer research by Henderson, Zwikael (See the Fall 2008 edition of Measurable News) has found CPI stability is not a ‘given’ and it rarely exists on commercial projects. These findings have prompted a very strong response (also in the Fall 2008 Measurable News).

 

Rather than arguing over research findings, I would the next steps should be to start identifying what underlying factors cause stability in the CPI measure as evidenced by the DoD research, determine if the factors are desirable and then find ways to improve project management practice in other industries so that the desirable factors are encouraged.

 

My feeling is that when CPI stability is shown to be established, the ‘CPI Stability’ is a strong indicator of other important (but much harder to measure) factors such as stable management, stable requirements, an efficient management system, effective project culture, etc (many of which are likely to be present in major Defence projects as evidenced by the research undertaken by Christensen).  Conversely, where CPI is unstable, significant changes in the underlying project can be reasonably assumed to be occurring, either at the management level or at the requirements/scope level. These changes may be beneficial or detrimental but are undoubtedly a risk that warrants the attention of senior management.

 

If these feelings are correct, it would also be useful to develop an understanding of the usefulness of CPI instability as a risk indicator (ie, what level of instability indicates a ‘project at risk’).

 

‘Watch this space’ there are likely to be many interesting moves over the next few months!