2018 has been a busy year but we've been making some serious ground on our research project looking at the impact of a low cost earned value management system.

Project Management software – yes that old chestnut! From hefty license fees to a confusing array of options, the debate continues to rage over what product/s will help your project come in on time and on budget. So what is the best solution? My simple answer to that is, how long do you have?

In 2018, GBA Projects was successful in attaining a grant to research and implement a simpler, low-cost Earned Value Management System (EVMS) with the aim to not only increase awareness of Earned Value Management and Project Control philosophy, but to also offer GBA clients a new tool.

To date we are halfway through the project and it’s safe to say that there have been many lessons learnt so far in our quest to find a simpler and more affordable solution.

We kicked off the process by conducting a range of interviews with various organisations to find out what cost systems they were using. What became clear was that the majority of organisations do not implement earned value particularly well and most of those businesses are not mature enough in project controls practices to warrant a full-blown EVMS. The initial cost for setting up a new system was also discouraging organisations to pay for off-the-shelf software and licensing fees.

The fall-out from this decision is that many organisations are reverting to a simple non-data centric spreadsheet format, thus creating a range of issues in understanding portfolio level cost performance and integrating cost with schedule data.

GBA Projects has developed numerous cost management systems for clients over the years using a varying combination of off the shelf packages. From this experience we were able to examine a sample of past projects, budgets and actual costs at completion, across numerous industries.

Interestingly, the projects that came in on budget (or better) did so by either implementing a tailored excel platform to manage cost or a high-level implementation within another system (Prism G2 or Cobra). But it was not necessarily the software that gained the results, but more so the competency and proactive behaviours of the teams on the projects.

Project managers who proactively managed their projects and engaged with the project controls function were better off, regardless of what system was in use.

Our findings demonstrate that an average of $4000 per month is required for the life of the project to maintain project data. The majority of projects that utilised a workbook as opposed to a commercial system, achieved between four and seven per cent savings – driven by the competency of the team and the proactive management of risk. Importantly the successful projects featured derived time-phased budgets aligned to estimate data.

Our team has reviewed several earned value standards such as PMBOK, PMI, AS-4817-2006 and the AACE standard 82R-13. The varying standards use different terminologies, which is extremely confusing for young organisations that are trying to get better at delivery. On top of this we have also had a close look at commercial products such as Cobra and Prism G2 – these market-leading products boast numerous features but can also be difficult to comprehend.

So, at the halfway point of this project we have examined what is required under the Australian standard and we can start to see what gaps need to be filled. We have also looked at application design theory to make sure that the Excel format is at the very least an easy-to-follow system. Finally, we have also looked at database structure and design to assist integration with other scheduling systems.

We are looking forward to seeing what we find out during the second half of the project and in the meantime, we better get cracking on all the coding because it is clear that the perfect solution simply doesn’t exist!

More to come.

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