Communication is a huge part of any project manager’s role. There are status reports to produce, performance graphs to analyze and stakeholders to talk to. Earned Value (EV) data is crucial aspect of communicating project progress accurately and transparently, and in this article we’ll look at several ways you can do that with reports and graphs.
What earned value metrics should you report?
Your system will probably be set up to generate reports that produce the ‘right’ earned value metrics, depending on your specific needs. Typically, project managers report:
- Cost variance
- Schedule variance
- At-completion variance
- Variance analysis thresholds.
However, simply providing the variances and thresholds themselves is not enough. The numbers are helpful, but it’s also important that the context of those numbers is understood. Include information about why the variance happened, what impact the variance is likely to have and how the team is dealing with the variance, for example, by providing a summary of the correct action plan.
What else goes in an earned value report?
There are other things you can include in an earned value report such as:
- Trend information, such as the pattern of variance over time
- Efficiency data
- The status of any corrective actions reported on in previous reports – keep reporting progress on these until they are resolved (or are no longer relevant)
You can also refer to where the data has come from as well as any statistical estimates.
The most important thing is to tailor your reports for the audience. It’s unlikely that an executive stakeholder or the customer are going to want pages of detail, an earned value chart, and lots of historical action plan information.
By contrast, as the project manager that level of data analysis and reporting is exactly what you want.
Make sure the template report is relevant and targeted to the person reading it. You can always add in more information later: in our experience, people rarely ask you to take data points out. Whatever data you include, it’s worth adding an explanation of what it is and what it shows, especially if your stakeholders are not experienced at interpreting the EV data themselves. As they get more experience in reading the reports, you can move that explanation to an appendix at the back or remove it completely.
Stakeholders benefit from having an impartial view of what a good and bad variance analysis explanation looks like so they can appropriately challenge where necessary.
Make EV reports easier to understand with graphs
Data tables might give you the right information and be easy to produce, but they are often tricky to read in comparison to a pie chart or S-curve. The simplest way to make your reports easier to understand is to add an earned value chart, with a note underneath about what it shows.
Use bar charts for showing comparative data, like comparing planned value to earned value. These can be updated month on month to show the trends.
S-curves show project performance on a cumulative basis. They might need to be explained to the report recipient the first time round, especially if they are packed with numbers and abbreviations. However, once the team is used to reading the S-curve, they’ll see how much information can be packed into a relatively small part of the screen.
There’s a reason why we say a picture paints a thousand words: it really is easier to explain project performance trends with a chart than with a paragraph of text!
Check the data is updated
The other thing that makes EV reports easier to understand is if the data is up-to-date. Before you generate the report, check that the project performance data has been updated in the system. Hopefully, the project team has added their latest time and cost data and noted the progress made on tasks, so the reports will reflect the latest position.
Create standard template reports
The good news is that most earned value management systems will do the heavy lifting for you and produce good-looking reports with charts and graphics included. Spend a little time configuring your system to output the data in the format you want, and then run a repeating task regularly to pull the data at your convenience.
Set up several standard reports and name the templates according to the audience. For example, the report that goes to the client may be a high level summary, and the report that goes to the workstream leader will have a lot more detail. All of these can be set up in advance and run as needed – it’s OK to have as many as you want so you can best tailor the information to the recipient.
The bottom line
The point of EVM reporting is to provide information from which to make decisions. Your communication can be tailored, articulate, beautifully presented and up-to-the-minute, but if the project management team and decision makers are ignoring it in favor of managing by ‘gut feel’ or some other measure, then it’s all for nothing.
Spend some time investing in the stakeholder relationships and explaining what the earned value metrics have to offer. If you notice that they aren’t informing project decisions, challenge why that is the case.
It’s also worth considering formal workshops and support such as variance analysis training for key members of the team. That will provide you with some in-house expertise and people with a good degree in confidence to interpret and use the data.
Once you’ve been working with and sharing Earned Value data for some time, you probably won’t notice any resistance to the information. People want accurate, reliable information to help them plan their next steps, and EV provides a robust project control mechanism that impartially assesses progress. That’s valuable data – and once your stakeholders are used to receiving it, they’ll be eagerly awaiting your next communication.