EVM replaces spreadsheets

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory manages 20 projects under earned value management

Managers get on EVM track

Moving from spreadsheets to earned value management at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory required clearing some change management hurdles, said Anita Zenger, project controls manager at the lab’s Plant Engineering Project Controls Group. For example, managers had to begin using a standardized project management infrastructure, having more accountability and ensuring that data is reported up the management chain.

When the lab deployed a suite of EVM products from Primavera Systems, managers needed a considerable amount of training on the new system, Zenger said. “We kind of fought our way through it.
It took more effort than I would have expected.”

Zenger’s group offers managers one-day and three-day courses on EVM. “Most of it is teaching people about earned value in the first place,” she said. “That’s ongoing. We’re constantly training folks.”

— Richard W. Walker

Overcoming a reluctance to apply earned value management to projects at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory requires patience. Once managers understand it, they usually recognize its value, said Anita Zenger, project controls manager at the laboratory’s Plant Engineering Project Controls Group.

“After they’ve actually managed a project using our earned value system, they came back and asked, ‘Can I use it on my next one, even though it’s not required?’ They start seeing the benefit,” Zenger said. “That’s when we know we have a convert. That’s way cool.”

Lawrence Livermore is part of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Its mission is to ensure that the country’s nuclear weapons remain safe, secure and reliable. Its workforce of more than 8,000 employees includes about 3,500 scientists, engineers and technicians.

Given the lab’s critical mission, officials must employ vigorous and disciplined project management best practices, including EVM, to achieve their safety and security goals. EVM gives managers greater project control and visibility by bringing together technical, schedule and cost performance data and providing an objective calibration of a project’s status, officials said.

“EVM is about as close to a management crystal ball as you can get,” Zenger said. “It allows you to trend the past in order to try to forecast the future. EVM allows you to learn from the past to mitigate risk and increase the potential for program success moving forward.”

Zenger’s group provides EVM services, including training and tools, to managers in the lab’s various organizations. The lab is using EVM to manage about 20 projects with a total value of about $500 million, Zenger said. DOE now requires any capital project valued at more than $5 million to implement an EVM system.

Until about two years ago, the lab was using a homegrown approach to project management that involved complex Excel spreadsheets taped to walls.

To simplify and automate its project management, officials began reviewing commercial software. They decided on Primavera Systems’ suite of EVM software in August 2005. Managers were relieved to move away from spreadsheets and cellophane tape, Zenger said.

EVM enhances the ability of lab managers to keep projects on schedule and on budget, and EVM data contributes to DOE’s planning and investment control efforts, Zenger said. “They put it into their system for doing their portfolio management.”

Management reviews of EVM data are critical to an agency’s capital planning and investment control processes, said Government Accountability Office senior cost analysts Karen Richey and Jennifer Echard in their newly released “Cost Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Estimating and Managing Program Costs.”

Looking to the future, Zenger said, management wants to expand the use of EVM at Lawrence Livermore. “We really want to make it available to the masses. Eventually, I think, it will be just how everyone does business.”

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