For companies looking at their alternatives for an earned value management tool, a common approach for the selection team is to develop a list of their business requirements. These lists often include a matrix of features and functions that are important to the company.
What we see missing in those lists is an assessment of the likely total cost of ownership for the tool. It is not easy to identify objective measures for potential internal support and maintenance costs for a purchased commercial off the shelf (COTS) earned value management tool.
We have listed top tips that can help in the assessment process.
Tip #1: Conduct a pilot implementation using the earned value management tool.
This is the best way to gain a better understanding of how the software supports your earned value management process and procedures. Define a time-boxed schedule for the pilot implementation. If possible, use a real project for the implementation. Select experienced project control personnel to assist the selection team to put the tool to the test. The pilot implementation should cover the project life cycle including startup and setting the performance measurement baseline (PMB), as well as the execution, monitor and control phases. Additional emphasis on the regular status, analysis, performance reporting, and change management processes is helpful because this is where project control challenges often surface.
Can the tool support ad-hoc project control needs? For example, perhaps a control account manager notices a negative trend surfacing in their performance metrics. Can they drill down into the data for root cause analysis? Can they easily produce a variety of data views using sort, filter, and pivot table options to help them do that? Or, perhaps they need to do a series of what-if analysis to determine the best option to handle a realized risk. They also need to document that analysis to process a baseline change request. Can they capture that rich text information and include it in the tool’s database?
Tip #2: Differentiate between tool configuration and customization.
Most COTS earned value management tools provide various configuration options useful for setting up the software to align with your business environment. For example, do you collect actual costs at the control account or work package level? Do you need to add a user defined field at the work package level to identify a charge code? Having a defined schedule and cost data architecture can help you verify the tool can support your requirements and to set those configuration options appropriately when you install the software.
Tool customization is where things get more interesting. These are areas where the tool provides some level of functionality you need, but is missing some pieces or the output isn’t what you expected. The pilot implementation helps to highlight these process areas. Once you have a better understanding of toolset functionality, you are in a better position to identify and assess your options when you find gaps in the software functionality. You shouldn’t be forced to change your process because of a lack of functionality in a piece of software. Your process should always take precedence. How important is that functionality to you? How big is the gap? What are your options to fill the gap?
Did the software vendor gather the functionality specifics from you and implement the change in the earned value management tool within hours or days?
Or, did the software vendor tell you needed to purchase another piece of software they are offering thus increasing the overall cost to deploy the tool? Perhaps their recommended solution or an implementation consultant’s solution is to create one or more custom add-ons – often labeled as software extensions. That leads to our next tip.
Tip #3: Tool customization increases implementation risk and total cost of ownership.
Why is this true? A one-off implementation always cost more. The minute you customize a COTS earned value management tool, you are locked in. It also means you need to maintain those extensions in-house. You have just incurred extra costs for as long as you continue to use that tool because now IT is involved. You also need other dedicated resources to perform software administration functions. These resources will need to be available when users have problems when the extensions don’t work. And, when the vendor updates the tool, you will need to verify the extensions still function properly. When they fail, it will be necessary to update your extensions.
Worst case scenario, you are locked into a legacy version of the earned value management tool and can’t take advantage of new features without a significant rewrite of the extensions. Or, purchasing more software from the vendor. Your maintenance costs have just increased even more.
It is often easy to rationalize one or two extensions. Perhaps the vendor states they intend to include some of the functionality you need in the next release. You will need to weigh that against what you experienced with the vendor so far. How quickly did the vendor respond to software issues during the pilot implementation? Consider the vendors release or update cycle – how often does that occur? You may need to depend on those extensions for longer than you planned.
Assess Your Options
You do have options for earned value management tools. Don’t settle for a vendor who suggests your best option is to buy another piece of software or a custom add-on. ProjStream follows an agile development approach with fast incremental releases and seamless updates – this includes adding functionality to support client unique project control requirements.
Give us a call today to schedule a demo of MaxTeam earned value analysis software. See for yourself how MaxTeam can support your earned value management process right out of the box with built-in workflow functions, automated change control audit logs, bi-directional schedule integration, role-based grid views, and easy to use reporting wizard.