Using Earned Value Management in the Real World

Project management seems to lack some effective tools for earned value management.
I want to know, how many project managers use the typical earned value management tools offered in the PMBOK? Whenever I ask this question, the unanimous response is that 90% of my students and clients either use none of the offered formulas, or they use one or two basic ones for high level reporting. So I propose the same question to you, “what do you use in real life?”
In response to the average response, I would like to discuss the challenges to EVM tools and the need for alternative approaches. Part way into any project, the project manager is faced with the challenge of analyzing performance against the planned baseline. When there is a deviation from the plan, the pm must assess the extent of the deviation in the present, and forecast the impact of the deviation in the future. There are many things that make this difficult. I would like to discuss: number of tasks, number of people, complexity and/or type of work required.
Number of tasks: measuring one task is often difficult enough, but when you have a larger project with upwards of a thousand tasks that are interconnected and co-dependent on suppliers, logistics, border crossings, regulatory audits, quality control, etc., you now have a fluid, constantly changing environment. Welcome to the world of project management. Suddenly, measuring current status is tuff enough, let alone forecasting one week into the future.
Let’s add people: projects would be great without people. Unfortunately we need people to do the work. With people we have varying levels of skill, training, education, competency, availability, etc. This results in varying levels of progress, motivation, and levels of engagement along with challenges building teams, maintaining open communication, solving problems and coordinating effort at the basic level.
That may not be complicated enough, let’s add some complexity to the type of work being done. Complexity tends to require higher levels of collaboration and team efforts. Now we have some major challenges. In most organizations, teams are pre-assigned without consideration of appropriate fit to the work or each other. This results in poor alignment of: personality types, skill sets, personal interests, education, competency, or aptitude to learn.
In my next two blogs, I’ll propose some alternative approaches that may make your life more tolerable, or at least extend your career as a pm beyond the month.

Larry T Barnard
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