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Why so much Talk about Earned Value? Who Uses it?

Earned Value Management, is one of the most taught and discussed topics of project management when it comes to classrooms and articles in magazines. So I figured I better do a blog about it as well. If nothing else, because I need a good topic and what could be better. Almost every project management class I have taught has had a section on Earned Value in it. Together with Charter, Schedule, WBS, and Risk, I would say it is the most lectured on topic.

But it is also true that almost no one in the classes I teach have ever, and probably will never, use it. There are exceptions of course, primarily among defense contractors, but the exceptions are few and far between. So why all the hype? I think there are two main reasons.

First, it is the most well defined project management topic out there. It tends to be exact, it has a lot of formulas, it is viewed as objective and it gives us a lot of details to impress management with. In other words, it makes project management look like science rather than art. In a world where project managers often feel that they don’t have time for a process, that they need to spend more time in soft undefined communication with customers, team members, and other stakeholders. In that world it is nice to have a good formula for SPI and CPI to tell you how you are doing on the project. They can show you that you are doing great even if you know differently.

The second reason is more positive. To do earned value, we need a well defined scope, we need a WBS and a detailed schedule. We must have ways to measure progress and analyze the status of the project. And we need to forecast the future. By using earned value, we put emphasis in all of those areas. So maybe earned value can be viewed as a framework that shows how the different pieces of project management fit together. Even if it is overkill for our project, it still shows the importance of planning, execution and control.

So, the next time that you are sitting in an earned value class, listening to an earned value presentation, or reading an article about it, try to look beyond the dryness of the math; its impracticality in your small project, and the sheer boredom often inherent with EV, AC, PV, CPI, TCPI, and the other terms. There are concepts and portions of earned value that can, and in fact must, be used on any project. And they’re worth talking about!

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