In many instances there is no forewarning; schedules
slip, costs soar, and the project manager is faced with
the near impossible task of explaining why each impact
occurred. With contractors performing the majority
of the work, the management job can become even
more obscure. The simple lack of proximity to the
contractor can limit effective communication. Add
to that a mixture of cultural differences and a desire
for the contractor to portray the most optimistic view
of their performance, and you create an even more
difficult task for the project manager.
This was the scenario when the Habitat Holding
Rack (HHR) manager at Marshall Space Flight Center
(MSFC), Stacy Counts, was introduced to the overall
concept of Earned Value Management (EVM). Faced
with increased costs (which eventually resulted in
decreased scope of the project), continued schedule
slides, and several technical anomalies, she was
looking for a way to gain a better handle on the
As a component of the Space Station Biological
Research Program (SSBRP), the HHR project is an
integral piece of the Program content. The HHR is
the first rack hardware to be delivered for the Program
and has therefore been the first rack to move through
the trials of test and verification—documenting
anomalies and technical difficulties that will benefit
the other SSBRP rack projects. For these reasons,
the HHR maintained high visibility throughout the
manufacturing and assembly process, continuing through test and verification activities. Needless to
say, the higher visibility emphasized the need for
improved performance on this project. And to improve
project performance, Stacy first had to figure out
how to measure the cost, schedule and technical
Enter the concepts of Earned Value Management
As the principle center for EVM, MSFC was fortunate
to have a group of experts—Jerald Kerby among them—
whose knowledge of EVM was substantial, and who
were willing to work with Stacy to apply the principles
of EVM to her project. The overall goal was first to
understand performance and better deal with the
current overrun environment.
Second, EVM would be implemented to improve
the ways of managing cost and schedule concerns, and
to plan ahead for future impacts that might result from
the current situation. The process helps to measure
performance in cost, schedule, and technical areas,
and it would also help Stacy better identify her project
risks. By measuring performance effectively and
predicting a good percentage of issues/concerns upfront,
mitigation plans could be put into place to help reduce
or eliminate big impacts to the project.
The first step: determining the status of the project
Without an understanding of the current project status,
there is no baseline from which to measure future
evaluations. For a standard project that is in the early stages of design development, an Integrated Baseline
Review (IBR) is held. Much like a Design Review,
the IBR is a review used to understand the project’s
performance measurement baseline (PMB) and project
objectives. The IBR also enables project personnel to
understand the PMB in three areas: cost, schedule
and technical performance. Based on this review, the
project identifies and documents the risks associated
with elements of the project so that mitigation plans
can be developed for each.
But since the HHR Project was only two years
from a completion date when Stacy came on board
and recognized the need to use EVM, Jerald helped
her to conduct a “mini-IBR,” or a benchmark review.
This helped them to assess the health of the project
and to establish a more realistic PMB. The review was
scheduled in such a way that it would not interfere with
the contractor’s regularly scheduled tasks.
The entire process went smoothly, and every effort
was made to alleviate intrusions that would cause cost
or schedule impacts in performing this review. Once
the review was completed, the entire team had a much
better vision of the remaining tasks, and individuals
came away with a clearer picture of their piece in the
overall project flow.
With contractors and government personnel
working from the same baseline, the last step in the
review was to come to documented agreement on
remaining project objectives. The review resulted in
a better-informed project team, and a group of people
that learned to work together rather than having a
“government versus contractor” mentality.
The second step: working with the schedule
In reviewing the PMB, schedule experts performed
a review of the HHR schedules to ensure that good network logic was in place and that all task dependencies
in the schedule were linked accordingly. Personnel
from the Project Analysis Office at MSFC worked with
Stacy and her team to determine whether the time and
resources associated with each task were appropriate.
Once the schedules were reviewed, specific issues
dealing with missing network logic and unlinked tasks
were discussed, and actions were taken to update the
schedules as needed.
During the schedule revisions the HHR team
first realized the importance, and impact, of EVM.
Although contractor personnel had established critical
paths for every piece of the project schedule, an overall,
high-level schedule did not exist to tie them together.
Once a good schedule was developed for the overall
project—linking all the major pieces of the project
together—HHR personnel could better predict a date
for completion of the work, as well as to develop a
true critical path for the project. This schedule update
also allowed for schedule changes to be added. These
changes helped to identify clear critical paths for the
project, and also helped the team to pinpoint an enddate
which was tied to the impacts of those changes.
The third step: applying the review concepts
Good schedules certainly help to better plan a project
in detail, but the implementation of that schedule is
key to any project success. Once the initial review
was complete—covering all functional areas of the project—the HHR team began to use EVM to regularly
manage the project.
The practice of EVM forced good planning by
measuring work progress and providing the cost and
schedule metrics to track project performance against
the baseline plan. Using initial data, as well as each
consecutive month’s data as it was delivered by the
contractor, the HHR manager could determine both
cost and schedule variances and identify developing
trends across the project’s tasks.
The fourth step: continuous review of data
The primary data was submitted by the contractor
via disk, loaded into a data analysis software tool
(wInsight), and a 5-page summary report was printed
for review with the contractor each month. This report
was reviewed alongside the standard Cost Performance
Report (CPR) that the contractor submits monthly.
With constant access to EVM data, both the contractor
and Stacy’s team were able to see a realistic picture of
where the project had been, where it was headed, and
how fast it was likely to get there.
It works if you work it
EVM is a management process that has been embraced
by project managers around the globe with good success.
It allowed Stacy to define a PMB for the project that
was more realistic than the previous baseline. It also
provided her with the necessary data to track performance
and to ably discuss project impacts with higher-level
management. This was the data the project team needed to back up that “gut” feeling that comes from years of
project experience—experience that says you will almost
always have schedule slips and cost overruns.
While EVM doesn’t make the problems go away,
when implemented properly it can help to identify
problems before they reach their full potential. Today,
project success is no longer an unattainable goal. By
using EVM data to guide a project on a monthly basis,
objectives can be more easily reached. With good tools,
solid upfront planning, and effective implementation of
these tools, project managers can be better informed to
make management decisions during the entire life cycle
of their project.
- When all members of the project team—whether
government or contractor—understand the objectives
and work together from the same baseline, you are more
likely to reach project success.
- The ability to track performance and cost and schedule
variances gives the Project Manager the information they
need for a preemptive strike to slips and overruns. That
is, they don't have to operate on their "gut feeling" alone;
they have the data as soon as a problem begins.
How can you change perceptions by introducing this tool to
contractors as a benefit to the team, rather than a way of
checking up on their performance?
Jerald Kerby is the EVM Focal
Point for Marshall Space Flight
Center, where he supports the
implementation of EVM for the
Stacy Counts manages the
International Space Station’s
Biological Research Project (BRP )
Habitat Holding Rack (HHR ). She
credits the EVM tools available
through the MSFC Chief Financial Office with
helping her to establish a realistic approach to
project planning, and a solid method for assessing
the quality of contractor financial data.