Project Management: Earned Value Consulting; Could You Use Some?

by Humphreys & Associates on January 15, 2018


Failed Projects

A recent article discussed the results of a survey for the reasons that projects failed. The definition of failure was that the project was abandoned. Abandonment does not occur frequently in the world of government projects; especially defense projects where there should be strong “must have” needs driving the project. These projects tend to persist until completed even though the outcomes are not satisfactory. But there is a lot to learn from the list of reasons for failure.

Of the sixteen reasons listed, the top four had to do with changes to the environment that had given rise to the project. For example, changes in the company priorities was the most often cited reason for abandonment. In that same vein were issues with changing objectives and inaccurate definition of requirements. These types of failures are not topics for this blog since they do not immediately involve execution of the project.

Execution Problems

Lower on the list of those environment related reasons for failure were the ones more related to execution problems. These are of significant interest to a project management using an earned value consulting company such as Humphreys & Associates (H&A). These reasons related more to issues of poor project management that could have been corrected. In this area were reasons like “poor change management,” “inaccurate cost estimates,” “inaccurate time estimates,” and “inexperienced project management.”

The answers given in a survey situation depend very much on the mindset of the person responding. Is the reason really “inaccurate cost estimates” or should it have been “failure to execute to the estimate”? How many times have you seen a problem in execution “swept under the carpet” as being an inaccurate estimate or plan? One of these two answers points to the estimating system and process while the other points to project management. The estimates were generated; and, at some point, they were deemed to be sufficiently detailed to launch the project. If a scrubbed and blessed estimate is “inaccurate” that would still be a failure of project management. If the problem were really a failure to execute, then how easy would it be to blame the problem on poor estimates? This blog will discuss the cited failures as if they were execution failures.

EVM Consultant Specialists

There are situations in life where the need for specialized advice is common and well accepted by us all. When your doctor is unsure of the medical issues, the doctor will send you to a specialist. The reason is obvious. The specialist has learned so much more about a specific problem and has so much experience diagnosing and treating the problem that it would be foolish not to secure the services of that specialist. In fact, it might be malpractice. A project management consultant can be thought of much like a medical specialist.

There are similar situations in business where the need for specialized knowledge is critical. Large companies tend to have in-house legal departments to cover the day-to-day legal issues and tasks that are central to their businesses. But the need to go to outside counsel for large of unusual issues is accepted. Companies do not hesitate to engage the services of outside law firms to help them through troubled times. Project management consultants are like outside counsel.

What if there were a project management or earned value management situation you have never encountered before? A good example would be the times that H&A has been called in to help clients navigate the unhappy circumstances of needed to go over-target. Going through the over-target-baseline (OTB) or over-target-schedule (OTS) process is not a common experience. It is a tense time when careers can be on the line and the company reputation might also be at risk. It takes specialized knowledge to get it right. In some cases, it even takes the objective view of an outsider to help make the right decisions.

Specialized Knowledge

Another example of specialized knowledge being crucial is when the customer has deemed some issue on the project to be deficient. In some situations, a customer’s Corrective Action Request (CAR) can result in cost penalties and damaged reputations; possibly even worse consequences would result. Engaging the services of an EVM consultant with experience in identifying problems, building corrective action plans, and leading or helping make the corrective actions are valuable and necessary actions. Ask yourself how smart it would be to assume that those who were involved in the issue would be capable of creating a satisfactory solution.

These scenarios are aligned with the idea of project management consulting being something you only need in a crisis. There are other non-crisis needs for specialized support. Often H&A is engaged simply to help a client prepare a proposal. A proposal situation puts heavy demands on the company staffing levels and can require areas of specialized knowledge not available in the company. What if the company has never created a fully compliant Integrated Master Schedule (IMS)? What if there are not enough trained and experienced schedulers to work on the proposal? What if the company does not have a documented project management system?

Make or Break Opportunities

Projects can be huge and risky. They can be a make-or-break opportunity to a company. Where so much can depend on good project management, smart companies recognize the need for an outside opinion and outside talent. Just like the internal legal department, the internal project management group sometimes needs to call on outside subject matter experts. While it might be obvious, let’s look at some reasons why this is true.

There are more ordinary everyday reasons to engage a project management consultant. Perhaps an organization just managed to win a new project bigger than any they have won before. In this case they may not be ready to handle the project in terms of experience, systems, and even just talented headcount. A project management consulting company such as H&A can bring solutions to your earned value woes. It can also provide training temporary staff to get things going until the client is ready to take over.

Poor Communication

Let’s get back to the survey of reasons that projects failed. Are there issues on the list where project management consulting could have made a difference? Imagine an improved project management process and staff after a period of consulting to support creating or improving systems and training personnel?

The fifth most frequent reason for failure is “poor communication.” A good project management system with trained personnel is all about communication. Communication of plans, communication of progress, communication of issues, and communication of corrective actions are all actions required in a project management system. Quite often the problem of “poor change management” cited as the sixth most common reason for failure is reduced or eliminated after using the consulting services of a specialist?

What about the twelfth cited problem of “inadequate resource forecasting”? Would a well built and maintained resource-loaded Integrated Master Schedule (IMS) go a long way in providing forecasts of resource needs and the impacts of not having the resources? In fact, a proper IMS would help with several of the cited reasons for failure such as inaccurate duration estimates. In fact, the application of a process such as Schedule Risk Analysis (SRA) with the help of an experienced consultant can identify such issues in advance while there is still time to take action.

Earned Value Training

Disregarding the threat of failure as a motivator, the need for constant improvement should be enough reason to consider a project management consultant. We can all laugh at the time-worn clichés of “not-invented-here” or “we’ve never done it that way;” however, these are clichés for a reason. There is resistance to outside help and there is resistance to change. But outside help can be a great logjam breaker. An experienced and knowledgeable consultant can be your voice when you need someone who has, to use another cliché, “been there and done that.”

In fact, our consultants can laugh when they say they have “been there” and they got more than the T-shirt to prove it.

Printer Friendly Version

{ 0 comments }

Confusing QBD Baseline Changes with QBD EAC Changes

by Humphreys & Associates on December 11, 2017

Historic Battleship Engine Room

Quantified Backup Data

Quantified Backup Data (aka QBD) has become a requirement for contractors who make use of the “Percent Complete” Earned Value Technique (EVT). This requirement is actually a good thing because it helps eliminate the guesswork previously cited as a flaw in the percent complete EVT. Unfortunately, it has become a good idea gone bad through over-implementation.

The primary problem: Confusing “QBD Baseline Changes” with “QBD EAC Changes.” Many contractors are unnecessarily bogging down their change control process with requests to “change the QBD” when all that is really changing is the detail behind some of the steps in the QBD.

The Cake Example

Let’s take a simple, practical example of baking a cake to illustrate the difference. What follows is an approach found online from one baking company. The example weights have been added by the author.

 

10 Basic Steps to Making Any Cake Step Weight (Percentage of Process)
1.     Select the recipe for the type of cake 2%
2.     Select and prepare (grease) the pans 2%
3.     Preheat the oven 2%
4.     Prepare the ingredients 30%
5.     Mix the ingredients 40%
6.     Put batter in pan and bake the cake 5%
7.     Remove the cake from the pan 2%
8.     Let the cake cool 2%
9.     Make the frosting 10%
10.  Frost the cake 5%

 

For the context of this blog, this bakery’s approach IS the Cake (baseline) QBD. Chocolate cake, pound cake, apple cake, one layer cake, multi-tiered cake, birthday cake, or wedding cake. It does not matter. This bakery approaches making any type of cake with this QBD. Some cakes, however, are more complex than other cakes – not all cakes are created equal.

Steps 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 are standard and would likely have the same “budget weight” in the Cake QBD, regardless of the type of cake. Steps 4, 5, 9, and 10, on the other hand, might be more involved for a complex cake. Remember: Complexity does not change the Cake (baseline) QBD!

Simple Cake vs Complex Cake

Let’s look at the Cake QBD to see how different types of cakes are handled by comparing a Simple Cake, Vanilla with Chocolate Frosting, to a Complex Cake, Apple Walnut German Chocolate.

Follow Steps 1, 2, and 3 (unchanged)

Step 4: Prepare the ingredients

Simple Cake: Gather eggs, milk, flour, cake batter mix.

Complex Cake: Gather eggs, milk, flour, sour cream, walnuts, apples, coconut, lemon juice, pre-cooked apples, chopped walnuts, shaved coconut.

Step 5: Mix the ingredients

Simple Cake: Blend together the eggs and milk. Then add in the flour and dry cake batter mix.

Complex Cake: Blend together the eggs and milk. When smooth, fold in sour cream. Then add in the flour and the cake batter mix. When thoroughly blended, add cooked apples, lemon juice, chopped walnuts, and shaved coconut. Blend until evenly mixed.

Follow Steps 6, 7, and 8 (unchanged)

Step 9: Make the frosting

Simple Cake:  Pre-made chocolate frosting mix.

Complex Cake:  German chocolate frosting mix, add coconut, add chopped walnuts, mix gently until additions are evenly spread throughout mix.

Step 10:  Frost the cake

Simple Cake:  Frost between layers, frost top layer, frost side of cake.

Complex Cake: Frost between layers, frost top layer, frost side of cake. Apply apple wedges on top of the frosted layer, sprinkle on more chopped walnuts, apply frosting flowers around bottom with frosting tool.

As you can see, the 10 Step Cake QBD did not change throughout this process. What did change was the set of ingredients and some of the added lower level steps within the QBD Steps 4, 5, 9, and 10. This might add some cost (EAC) for the added ingredients, and for the additional labor of precooking, chopping, and shaving. However, in the overall context of the Cake Baking process, the steps (QBDs) and the associated weighting of each QBD remained the same. In this bakery, all that changes would be the forecast cost (EAC) for the complex cake over the simple one – i.e., no baseline change request (BCR) is needed to change the QBD!

QBD vs EAC

In this simple example, the QBD is Baking a Cake. It is not “Baking an Apple Walnut German Chocolate Cake.” If this were the QBD, then this bakery would have hundreds of QBDs, depending on the different types and complexities of cakes the bakery could possibly make. For example, would you want a separate QBD for a birthday cake to say “Happy Birthday Johnny”? No, that would be a cost (EAC) for the Frosting QBD Step. The QBD EACs affected would be Step 9, Make the frosting, and Step 10, Frost the cake. Rather than hundreds of QBDs, this bakery has ONE! The cost (EAC) of a cake varies based on the complexity and content of the cake.

This QBD approach applies to any number of other processes. Here are a couple of others:

Flowchart Showing the difference and similarities of the scientific and engineering methods.

Above: Basic idealized steps of the scientific method (left) and engineering design process (right).

*From sciencebuddies.org

 

In this case, the complexity of the problem being addressed might impact the amount of research required or the experiments or brainstorming solutions needed. This could dictate the number of times the yellow box to the right (the re-do box) is required. However, the approach is exactly the same until the process achieves the “Results Align with Hypothesis” (for the scientific method) or the “Solution Meets Requirements” (for the engineering design method), and the results are communicated.

The House Example

Another practical hands-on example could be the steps in building a house:

  1. Grading and site preparation
  2. Foundation construction
  3. Framing
  4. Installation of windows and doors
  5. Roofing
  6. Siding
  7. Electrical Rough-In
  8. Plumbing Rough-In
  9. HVAC Rough-In
  10. Insulation
  11. Drywall
  12. Trim
  13. Painting
  14. Finish electrical
  15. Bathroom and kitchen counters and cabinets
  16. Finish plumbing
  17. Carpet and flooring
  18. Finish HVAC
  19. Hookup to water main, or well drilling
  20. Hookup to sewer or installation of a septic system
  21. Punch list

As with baking a cake, for this builder, the size of the house will make a difference in how much the house will cost, but the QBD approach to building each house is the same. Some of the lower level activities below each QBD step might be more involved. For example, Step 2, Foundation construction might be more involved if the house is to have a basement. Other steps might be more or less involved. Step 17, Carpet and flooring might stop at the concrete slab because the buyers want to have their own custom flooring and carpeting put in later. None of these examples change the 21 QBDs this contractor follows when building a house. The lower level activities will simply cost more or less than other models (the EAC – not the baseline QBD), but the overall weighting of the QBDs for “Building a House” would be the same.

The Scope Has Not Changed

The same approach can be used for engineering drawings, conducting inspection testing, developing a drug for FDA approval, a scientific approach to a health problem, or any other process that follows a standardized approach toward its end product. The key is segregating the EAC aspect from the baseline QBD aspect of the process. Don’t get mired in constantly trying to “change the QBD” when it is not needed.

If the basic steps do not change, the QBD is not changing! More or less granularity in the lower level details beneath each QBD step is handled in EAC space and will be reflected in the cost of the task. You do not need to change the budget. Why? Because the scope has not changed.

Repeat with emphasis. THE SCOPE HAS NOT CHANGED – you are still:

  • Doing an engineering drawing,
  • Resolving a scientific or engineering design problem,
  • Building a house, or even just
  • Baking a cake.

Let’s keep QBDs simple for the CAMs – and keep the change control process uncluttered.

 

Humphreys & Associates can help with your QBD planning and implementation. Contact us at (714) 685-1730 or email us.

Printer Friendly Version

{ 0 comments }

Updates to the Compliance Review Series of Blogs

November 20, 2017 Compliance

Humphreys & Associates has posted an update to the series of blogs discussing the DCMA Compliance Review (CR) process. “Compliance Review” is a common term used for any type of formal EVM System review DCMA performs to determine compliance with the EIA-748 Standard for EVMS guidelines.  This includes a Validation Review (VR), Implementation Review (IR), […]

Read the full article →

Formal Reprogramming – What Happened?

October 20, 2017 Earned Value Management (EVM)
Formal Reprograming Graph

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….an Over Target Baseline (OTB) – by design – was a rare occurrence (and the OTS concept did not even exist as part of Formal Reprogramming). Formal Reprogramming was a very difficult and cumbersome process that most contractors (and the government) really did not like to […]

Read the full article →

Along the IMS Time-Now Line

August 22, 2017 Integrated Master Schedule (IMS)

Recently one of our consultants was instructing a session on the Integrated Master Schedule (IMS) with a group of project personnel from one of our larger clients. The group was a mixture of beginners with no real experience in schedules and some much more experienced practitioners; some with more than 10 years of experience. The […]

Read the full article →

Humphreys and Assoc Reviews 7 Principles of Earned Value Management Tier 2 System Implementation Intent Guide

April 27, 2017 ASPR
Thumbnail image for Humphreys and Assoc Reviews 7 Principles of Earned Value Management Tier 2 System Implementation Intent Guide

In this video we review the 7 Principles of Earned Value Management Tier 2 System Implementation Intent Guide published by the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, or ASPR. This Guide is primarily used by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, on countermeasure R&D contracts that have a total acquisition cost greater […]

Read the full article →