Agencies struggle with EVM as OMB deadline approaches

As the Dec. 31 deadline approaches for agencies to develop an earned-value management policy for IT projects, not all agencies have embraced the discipline and some may be challenged to meet the upcoming milestone, according to new report.

A survey of 109 federal executives found that 25 percent are unfamiliar with the project management methodology, and 21 percent lack personnel trained in EVM. Primavera Systems Inc. of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., which sells EVM software, sponsored the survey.

“The federal IT community is not embracing EVM,” said Joel Capperella, Primavera’s market manager for public sector/aerospace and defense, today at an event on EVM in Washington sponsored by the company. “Even if they are developing a policy, there will be some obstacles.”

Capperella said the challenges include lack of senior management support, little understanding of EVM methodology and the need for employees trained in the discipline.

“Overall, there is a disconnect,” he said. “The value perception of EVM is there, but there are significant barriers to its implementation.”

Earned-value management measures the value of work on a project against its cost. It integrates cost, schedule and technical performance measures in order to monitor and control project resources and compare a project’s results with one set of metrics.

The Office of Management and Budget embraced the concept in an August memo directing agencies to develop a model EVM policy by the end of the year. OMB will make compliance a part of the President’s Management Agenda e-government scorecard.

Even though many agencies are unprepared for OMB’s mandate, the survey found that 60 percent said they believe EVM leads to improved project outcomes.

EVM “gives you a holistic view of where your project is in its lifecycle,” said Tim Young, OMB’s associate administrator of e-government and IT. “You need to know where you are so you can know where you are going.”

Young said that EVM may be “burdensome and somewhat costly” to implement, but it gives agencies advance warning when their IT projects are running behind schedule and over budget.

Despite the mandate, IT managers have not quite taken to EVM. Because of this, agencies “will struggle to implement EVM plans,” the Primavera report concluded. “As a result, they are not likely to realize any real value from EVM in the short term and may fail to receive critical funding for capital IT projects.”

Young said after his speech that there will be no budget recriminations for agencies that miss the deadline, but he underscored that implementing EVM should not be simply about meeting the deadline and receiving the coveted “green” score on the PMA scorecard. EVM as a discipline will play a huge role in ensuring that risky projects come in on time and on budget, he said.

It may mean bad news for some projects, but “bad news is okay” if found ahead of time and fixes can be made, Young said. “Surprises are very bad.”

The Office of Personnel Management is a clear example of an agency benefiting from EVM, OPM e-government program director Norm Enger said.

OPM started researching EVM last year and launched a pilot program in the agency’s Human Resources Line of Business and five e-government initiatives, which Enger heads. The pilot was such a success that EVM is being implemented throughout the agency, he said.

“EVM moved from being nice to have [at the agency] to being critical,” Enger said. The discipline “lets you cut down risk and do a better job of making decisions.”

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