Need to implement a cost toolset quickly to support earned value management system (EVMS) contractual reporting requirements? Perhaps you have a management directive to get a toolset in place in a short time frame with limited budget and project control resources. This presents a number of unknowns for the software implementation. The task can seem overwhelming. Where do you start?
A previous blog discussed taking a bottom up approach for creating useful process and procedures to make an immediate difference for project personnel. The bottom approach produces the desktop instructions first because they focus on helping someone complete specific project control tasks using the various toolsets. In contrast, the top down approach takes time and requires a larger up front budget involving a host of players. It often takes longer to provide project personnel with what they need. The image below illustrates this top down and bottom up approach.
Consider taking a similar bottom up approach for the software implementation. With defined objectives, implementation plan and schedule, you can:
- Reduce the time required to implement the new toolset,
- Demonstrate progress to management, and
- Enhance your project control practices to support earned value management.
The focus is the same: provide guidance to project personnel so they understand how to complete specific project control tasks using the new toolset. The difference here? The objective is to implement the software along with guidance that incorporates scheduling, earned value management (EVM), and other project management best practices that drive enhancements up through the workflow procedures and process description. A side benefit from this approach is you can also increase the quality of the schedule and cost data to provide relevant and timely information to make effective management decisions.
As part of the process, be prepared to address schedule or cost data quality issues with a mitigation plan. Poor data can create the perception that implementing the toolset was a waste of time and money. Don’t let that happen to you. Consider completing a data quality assessment up front so you know what data issues need to be resolved. Where possible, correct the issues before you start creating data in your new toolset.
How does the bottom up approach work? Apply rapid deployment techniques to deliver implementation functionality and enhanced project control practices incrementally. Break the implementation activities into weekly deployment cycles that follow the natural progression of the project management process. This includes:
- Determining the incremental implementation requirements and exit criteria for the cycle.
- Building it out in the toolset. This typically includes entering, integrating, importing, or generating the necessary data.
- Verifying the functionality is what you expected and the exit criteria have been met such as the ability to produce expected data views or artifacts.
- Deploying it for project personnel to use with hands-on training and mentoring.
Keep moving forward and learn how to apply the new cost toolset. Make any needed course corrections on each iteration. Fine-tune the toolset configuration or data integration details to support preferred or customer required project control practices. Focus on improving the data integrity and traceability.
Use the following steps as a guide to help you get started. The assumption for this discussion is you are implementing the cost toolset for a specific project.
Step 1. Install and configure the toolset for your environment. Consider using someone with a business process background that is an expert with new toolset to help you. High-end schedule and cost tools have a raft of options that allow you to tailor the software to match your environment – one size does not fit all. This flexibility is a benefit; however, the options can appear complicated and frustrate a novice with the software. A cross-functional schedule, EVM, and toolset expert who has implemented the software in a number of different business environments can help you sort through those options and determine the best approach to match your needs. Ideally, that person is also coaching and mentoring you along the way so you understand what the different options do and how they affect the data.
Step 2. Establish project control data incorporating schedule and EVM best practices. This is where you execute your weekly deployment cycles following the natural progression of implementing the project control process on a new project. The intent is to show weekly progress with the ability to produce a growing number of artifacts from the toolset. You are also training and mentoring project personnel on the preferred best practices to follow.
The primary process areas include:
- Organizing the work. This includes the work breakdown structure (WBS) and project organization breakdown structure (OBS) necessary to code the schedule and cost data. This is the foundation for data integration as well as to produce data views or reports. There may be related subsidiary coding or additional code lists. Think through what data views or reports you need to produce or how you need to select, sort, or filter the data. Getting this right up-front prevents having to re-code your data down the road.
- Scheduling the work. Getting this right makes your life much easier. To create schedule driven time phased budget data, you need a sound network schedule. This is where data quality problems often surface. For more discussion on what is a “sound” network schedule, see the NDIA IPMD Planning and Scheduling Excellence Guide (PASEG) or the GAO Schedule Assessment Guide. The schedule needs to model the expected duration and sequence of activities to complete the scope of work. Preferably, the activities are resource loaded and include the necessary coding such as the WBS, OBS, control account, and work package references. Work packages include an earned value technique assignment to identify how work progress will be measured. This data detail is required to produce the time phased budget data in the cost toolset from the schedule resource loaded activities. It may take a few iterations to get the schedule data in a state so it is ready to produce the time phased budget data.
- Budgeting the work. This includes identifying the project’s contract budget base and budget set aside for handling risk – management reserve. Subtracting management reserve from the contract budget base is the amount of budget available for the performance measurement baseline (PMB). The time phased budget data produced from the schedule should reconcile with this budget amount. Once the development process is complete, the schedule and budget baseline are established. This is the basis to measure progress as work is completed.
- Status and analysis, reporting and data views. This is where everything comes together – helping project personnel to use the data in the toolsets so they can manage the work proactively. Activities include executing the monthly business rhythm of statusing the schedule and calculating earned value in the cost toolset based on the work completed. This also includes establishing the interface with the accounting system to import the actual cost data into the cost toolset. Once you have the current earned value and actual cost data, the next steps are analyzing the performance data for significant variances and updating the estimate to complete. Focus on mentoring project personnel on how to produce data views that help them gain insight into what’s going on with the project, do root cause analysis for significant variances, making appropriate course corrections, and verifying the estimate to complete.
- Managing changes. This includes the activities necessary to maintain the scope, schedule, and cost baseline. The goal is to establish a baseline change control process that helps you organize and track approved changes to the baseline so you understand the reason for the change and the impact of the change. This history can be useful for the next time you bid on similar work effort.
Step 3. Produce the desktop instructions incorporating scheduling and EVM best practices. This can be part of the Step 2 activities to establish the toolset steps project personnel follow to complete their project control tasks. Develop and verify the content as you work through the process areas. Include screen captures where appropriate – add image markups such as circles and arrows to highlight fields or important options to select. Add user notes and warnings. Identify the list of applicable desktop instructions as deliverables for the deployment cycles.
What’s next? Once you have the toolset and desktop instructions in place, flow the enhancements up through the process levels. Update your workflow procedures as well as your process guidance to reflect updated roles and responsibilities as well as the new functionality available with the new toolset.
Need to implement a cost toolset such as Deltek Cobra in a short time frame with a limited budget? We can help. PrimePM has the cross-functional resources to help you create an executable implementation schedule, configure Cobra for your environment, and integrate Cobra into your project control process to incorporate EVM practices.