Using the Deltek Cobra Top Down Planning Tool
Sometimes you work for years on various projects and never find a good situation to use a particular feature that you’ve been aware of, but more or less ignored all that time.
On a recent engagement however, I found myself working on some Baseline Change Requests (BCRs) whereby we needed to adjust planned values on some future Work Packages (WPs). For reasons that I won’t bore you with, the adjustments needed to be very precise changes to the fully burdened Budget At Completion (BAC) values for each of these WPs.
So how does one adjust the total currency value of a particular work package when there are multiple resources assigned with varying rates and indirect costs already assigned?
The Deltek Cobra Top Down Planning tool quickly appeared into my line of thought once I’d identified the scope and requirements of the BCRs. I needed a way to give Deltek Cobra the final number and let the tool do the heavy lifting when it came to calculating the totals for the various time-phased, Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS).
What Deltek Cobra is very good at is handling the weighting of values across multiple reporting periods. It does this based upon criteria you define during the setup of Cobra projects. For example, when you assign a resource to a work packages that spans multiple reporting periods, you can instruct Cobra to do this in a linear fashion: i.e. spread the total value evenly between each of the reporting periods.
Or, more realistically, you can ask Cobra to weight the values based on the number of hours or working days that fall within each period. Simply put, Deltek Cobra would allocate more hours and cost to March, than February based on the shortness of the February month.
Indeed you may recall seeing the Spread Weight Options settings in the bottom-right corner of the Project Properties dialog.
This is typically set during the creation of the original project and determines how Deltek Cobra will spread the hours of a resource when used. Spread Weight Options are detailed in another article, Cobra Spread Weight Options – as I return now to the point of this one.
When you want the BAC for a WP to land on a specific number you have a couple of choices.
- You manually edit the currency totals for the individual resource assignments until you hit the right number.
- You employ the Cobra Top Down Planning tool to do all the thinking for you.
Personally I’m rather fond of these little ‘do my job for me’ buttons built in to software tools. After all aren’t computers supposed to make our lives easier?
Before I go on, let’s assume that this project is integrated with a scheduling system, and the values gleaned using Deltek Cobra in this ‘what-of’ example will be fed back to the scheduling team to make like changes to the labor unit assignments in that system. You should never make changes to the Cobra budget in and integrated EV environment without synchronizing those changes in the scheduling tool. Otherwise you will obliterate the integrity of the integrated systems and stand to run afoul of the DCMA or other auditing body.
The reason we are doing the changes in Deltek Cobra first is because it is generally the system of record for all fully burdened costs. The schedule is typically the system of record for labor hours. If we attempted to make an adjustment to the hours in the schedule, we would not be able to easily calculate the exact dollar amount Cobra would calculate. It would therefore be very difficult to hit an exact figure such as $100k, without much finessing of the schedule hours.
Let’s take a look at both those options, as they are both legitimate ways to adjust budget and indeed Estimate To Complete (ETC) forecast values. We’ll use a simple scenario to illustrate the methods of adjusting a planned work package that has multiple resources assigned.
Manual Adjustment Method
In this first Deltek Cobra screenshot you can see a work package named Stress Tests with a total BAC of $161,049.40. However, management now feels that this amount has been way over-stated and would like to reduce the work package to a planned value (PV) of just $100,000.00. The remaining 61,049.40 will be reassigned to other planning packages or MR.
We have fie resource assignments on the Stress Tests WP. We could very simply set the total cost for each of the resource assignments to $20,000. Let’s see what that does to the overall time-phased assignment data and determine if this will give us a fair and accurate outcome.
In Deltek Cobra 8 versions, there are actually two places where I can make the adjustment to the total costs for a resource assignment: in the Time-phase spreadsheet in the CAWP table or in the Time-phase Detail area in the bottom section of Cobra’s window.
In this example, I’m changing the total cost of the Electrician resource’s assignment to $20k using the Time-phase spreadsheet Totals column.
Whenever you change a resource assignment total value, Deltek Cobra will prompt you to tell it how you want to respreads the adjusted time-phased values.
I’m going with the default of ‘All Fiscal Periods’ and ‘Use existing profile’. This will ensure that the weighting of the new spread compliments the weighting of the original value.
In the following screenshot you can see that with these settings, Deltek Cobra has done a very good job of keeping the spread weightings for each period in close alignment with the original spreads.
Take a look at the September and October periods for example. In the pre-adjustment time-phased table, the total costs for these were 7,538.25 and 14,774.89. These dropped to 4,476.60 and 8,774.09.
Just for giggles, I placed each of these ‘before’ and ‘after’ September and October numbers in a spreadsheet and calculated the percentage ratio for each of them. As you would expect Cobra nailed it. They were exactly the same ratio to six digits of precision, the level to which Cobra crunches numbers.
Finishing the experiment, I set each of the resource assignment totals to $20k and then looked at the results.
Cobra did a great job respecting the weightings of all my resource assignments in the horizontal pane. If you look at the following screenshot, you can see the spreads have held true to the original weightings in the horizontal pane, but my simple divide by 5 math solution ignored the weightings in the vertical pane.
The Big Question
The big question I have in my head now is – if I use the top down planning feature, will Deltek Cobra align the respreads values in both the vertical and the horizontal plane.
Let’s see what happens when I top down plan for $100k on the same work package.
Here are the steps:
In a fresh copy of the original project, I select the Stress Tests WP which shows the original $161,049.40 total cost.
In the Processes ribbon, select the Top Down Planning tool.
Click through a couple of introductory dialogs until the ‘Criteria Select’ dialog is displayed.
In here the Criteria field is set to Work Package, and then the Selection value is used to single out the specific work package we are adjusting.
In the next Classes dialog, the Budget class option has been selected. This is a baseline change after all so that is the class we need to alter.
In the next dialog, we get to select which results we wish Cobra to adjust as part of its top down calculations. As we are looking to adjust the total value of the WP to exactly $100k, we will need to make sure these are all checked. If we don’t, and someone recalculates the class at some later time, the BAC value would suddenly and horribly shoot up. So do be sure and click the Select All button if any of those puppies are unchecked.
And finally, the dialog you’ve all been waiting for: the Calculation dialog. In here you get to tell Cobra the total amount you want the WP to be adjusted to. So we enter $100K and click Next.
The Next and Finish buttons are clicked and Cobra is poised to crunch the new value for the Stress Tests WP.
If you are under correct baseline change control protocols, you will have the Audit feature switched on and the following prompt will appear. This is the moment where you are very glad you have some formally signed paper work to support your baseline change.
We enter our BCR number and narrative, click OK, check our log…
… with the paperwork out of the way, we get to look at the results of our labor.
As you might expect, Cobra has correctly respreads the entire resource profile in both the vertical and the horizontal direction, giving a much more balanced interpretation of the original weightings, while at the same time giving the WP an overall value of exactly $100k as required by the BCR.
In an integrated earned value system, the hours for these respreads activities should be printed off using a time-phased report or the Assignment Export feature in the Integration ribbon. These unit values could then be passed to the scheduling team for adjustment in the integrated master schedule (IMS) in order to synchronize the schedule back to the Cobra system.
This article has demonstrated that the Deltek Cobra Top Down Planning tool does provide a very quick and easy way to precisely adjust the total value of a work package, control account, even an entire project. I recently made good use of the Cobra Top Down Planning tool to help one of my customers quickly respond to some otherwise complex and time-consuming baseline change requests that needed to be squeezed in before the monthly reporting cycle go started. Without the Cobra Top Down Planning tool, I would have had to do each of the alterations manually on a project far more complex than the one featured here in this article.