The Naval Air Systems Command is expanding its use of EVM to monitor IT development projects, says NavAir’s Brenda Bizier.
Dec 31 2009

Mod to Order

Can fed-friendly software modules help agencies meet the EVM mandate? Possibly — but experts recommend that they also apply an enterprise strategy to monitoring earned value.

Earned value management isn’t a new concept to the information technology chiefs at the Naval Air Systems Command. They’ve used it extensively to monitor contractor performance. But turning that lens inward is another matter.

“Few government agencies, including NavAir, have been applying earned value management to a significant proportion of their in-house activity,” says Brenda Bizier, process owner for analysis in NavAir’s Integrated Project Management Division.

But that’s changing, as is the approach that NavAir and other agencies are taking to meet the Office of Management and Budget mandate that agencies use EVM to avert budget- and schedule-busting disasters on IT projects.

For the Navy, the effort entails implementing an enterprise resource planning system with an integrated EVM module customized for the service’s systems, Bizier says. The anticipated April 2008 release of the EVM function will give Navy organizations the means to apply the process to in-house activities. NavAir has developed tools to help with analysis and reporting of EVM information, and the ERP system should make the functionality more user-friendly, Bizier says.

Agencies across government have begun taking an enterprise approach to EVM, says David McClure, vice president for government research at Gartner of Stamford, Conn. The government generally hasn’t been gaining ground in EVM use to track IT projects because most early efforts bubbled up from the project management level, he says. Also feeding this trend are EVM modules and management tools that software makers, such as CA, Microsoft and Primavera Systems, have been tailoring to federal needs.

If agencies want to ramp up their success with EVM, federal and industry officials point to a three-pronged approach: integrate data-monitoring capabilities, establish agencywide ground rules and make sure employees who apply EVM know how to use it to its fullest potential.

Consolidation’s Crest

“I think we’re seeing a second wave of interest in EVM,” says Jose Mora, director of product marketing for CA Clarity, an IT project management application. Why? Because the learning curve for EVM can be steep, Mora says, and agencies’ initial approaches did not fully address the mandates. “We’re in Phase 2 of EVM, in which agencies are asking, ‘How do we do it right?’ ”

OMB put forward EVM requirements three years ago and finalized acquisition regulations for their use in mid-2006 (almost a year after the deadline requiring that agencies apply EVM to IT projects).

This spring, CA unveiled an enhanced project portfolio management application for federal EVM. The module integrates CA Clarity with EVM software from Integrated Management Concepts. Similarly, Microsoft provides a souped-up version of its Microsoft Project scheduling tool for use as part of a comprehensive EVM approach. And Primavera has a suite of EVM tools that mesh with the OMB requirements.

A chief issue for many agencies is integration, says Rob Spanswick, a Microsoft solutions manager. Because agencies began applying EVM on a case-by-case basis when OMB’s mandate first took effect, the result for many has been a hodgepodge of systems rather than an enterprise EVM approach, he says.

“As agencies start to become more experienced in their use of EVM,” Spanswick says, “you’re starting to see them consolidate around one or two standard systems. This makes their systems more consistent and lets them automate transmission of their earned-value data into various reports, such as their Exhibit 300 business case submissions to OMB.”

30% Factor by which EVM, when fully implemented, can improve IT program success rates.

SOURCE: Gartner, 2007

Among the chief challenges is gathering the cost, scheduling and performance data to measure earned value. The EVM process can be extremely complex because information often must be gathered from many programs, applications and systems, and then synthesized.

In theory, the data collection process can be done using existing systems, but in reality, gathering and preparing information from systems not originally designed to produce EVM data can be time consuming and confusing, McClure says. “The strength of these EVM software packages is they establish standardized terminology, standardized calculations and standardized data collection.”

In the CA Clarity tool, for instance, its Project Management Office Accelerator has prepackaged government portlets, reports and configurations that agencies can use to run compliant reports. “It captures all cost, schedule, risk and resource information,” says Gil DiGioia, vice president of federal sales for CA Clarity.

But simply forking over cash for software isn’t going to lead to project nirvana. Agencies must also establish procedures and controls to monitor a project and keep it on track, Microsoft’s Spanswick says.

“The EVM modules are easy to install and use,” he says. “But EVM is really about the project management process and how you treat the data. The tools only work if they are used properly.”

These modules can help agencies make better decisions, but they can’t make the decisions for them, adds William Mathis, senior director of solutions for federal technology programs at Price Systems, which works with agencies to establish baselines when they begin projects and to perform variance analyses when projects diverge from the baselines. “Just like carpenters need tools, EVM software products and services are professional aids for the program manager,” Mathis says.

Prep Work Required

The Government Accountability Office’s Karen Richey agrees and says this is one of the reasons that any large EVM effort also must include time and funds for training. Richey has used EVM and cost analysis for more than 15 years, first with NavAir and now as a senior cost analyst at GAO.

Based on her audits of procurement programs for GAO, she says, many agencies are just learning how to apply EVM to in-house development programs. Program managers need to educate themselves and other users within their agencies about how to apply EVM to get the most far-reaching results, about available tools and about consulting services. “We need EVM training to make sure we get the right help. There’s especially a lack of expertise in the civilian agencies,” Richey says.

EVM requires an up-front investment: People must be trained, processes put in place, EVM tools developed or purchased, and data collected and analyzed. But Richey contends the benefits are worth expending resources on.

“The bottom line is EVM is just good project management,” Richey says. “Planning your work, developing a baseline of schedule and costs, identifying the resources you will need — this is what you should be doing for any project.”

Photo: Cameron Davidson