Project teams working for national science labs, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense rely on a project management approach known as earned value management (EVM) to deliver initiatives on time and on budget. Too many projects, however, face hefty delays in reporting and certification and struggle to onboard new team members due to the extraordinarily complex methods used to deploy EVM — methods that vary with each project.

The processes used on one project can’t always be easily reproduced on the other projects a team works on. This is often because the project managers, physicists and engineers that lead large-scale government projects are highly motivated innovators and freethinkers who want to reinvent the wheel in their own vision — improving it in the process.

As they do so, however, they create EVM procedures that are so intricate that it’s difficult to teach them to other team members or replicate them on other projects. Individual projects end up using a multitude of unique tools, methods and outputs that fragment EVM and make it impossible for organizations to work efficiently and effectively.

How repeatable processes change large-scale project management

Instead of creating fully custom EVM processes for each project, organizations should standardize EVM and establish repeatable processes that can be used across all projects. This entails crafting consistent methods for project controls, tracking, reporting and analysis. And there are myriad benefits to doing so:

Streamlined processes: When all of a team’s brainpower is working to craft exceptional, standardized EVM procedures that can be used across projects, substantial time is saved that employees can use to focus on their core work activities. Teams can work faster because EVM processes are routine — for example, monthly variance and analysis reporting becomes a straightforward practice that can be optimized instead of being a mad scramble at the end of each month. It’s also easier to meet timelines and budgets with processes that are improved with insight from the entire team.

Faster certification: With custom processes, each individual project must be certified by the Department of Energy or the Department of Defense every two years. It’s a costly process that requires months of preparation and a three-day full stop when officials visit. If EVM is standardized, only one or two projects must go through the process instead of every project underway.

Easier training: New team members only need to learn core processes and tools, instead of potentially dozens of processes and tools, enabling them to be onboarded more quickly. Everyone can be equally skilled in EVM, empowering teams with greater coverage and the ability to use personnel across projects.

Aligned staff: When everyone follows the same EVM process, the entire organization can rally behind reporting and work together to ensure success. There’s greater motivation and collaboration on EVM.

Greater creativity: Without the constant rush to complete monthly and bi-annual EVM tasks, team members have more room to think about their projects creatively. Experts can better apply their domain knowledge to an initiative instead of focusing on reporting, resulting in more powerful outcomes.

The do’s and don’ts of creating repeatable EVM processes

Ready to get started with creating cohesive, repeatable EVM processes? There are a few do’s and don’ts teams must follow:

Do use standardized tools. Pick a core set of software platforms and related tools that can be used for every project — and make sure they’re widely accepted in the industry. This streamlines training and enables organizations to unify expertise in their platforms of choice. For example, our team prefers Cobra for cost module reporting, Primavera for scheduling and The Hammer Solutions for reporting. By sticking to these platforms, our team already has the first several steps of a project under their belts when they begin.

Do standardize how tools are used. There are a million variations in how software platforms can be set up and used; for example, how the software interacts with other tools, where it’s drawing data from, or how a specific feature is applied. Normalizing how tools are used ensures that any team member can quickly understand the process that needs to be followed — they no longer must be experts in the tools themselves.

Don’t customize data fields for each project. Most complex projects that utilize EVM employ massive amounts of data. Customizing data fields within your software tools creates modules and reports that are unique and not repeatable – and therefore difficult to learn and replicate.

Don’t develop processes in a vacuum. Solicit and incorporate feedback from team members across functions to ensure that the processes created meet their needs and leverage the whole team’s expertise. Make sure to consider the requirements of every stakeholder.

At their core, standardized processes eliminate “check the box” syndrome and create a stabilized cycle that frees project teams to concentrate on what they do best. By shifting from individualized processes to repeatable ones, organizations change EVM from a reporting requirement into a project management tool that enables scale, efficiency and success.