Incorporating Data Quality Checks into Your Performance Reporting Process

Posted by David Moore on May 14, 2018

Agency Whiteboard Writing

Why is incorporating routine schedule and cost data quality checks into your project control process important?  Everyone involved with a project must have confidence in the data to provide reliable information.  The project manager, management, project personnel, and the customer need credible project schedule, cost, and resource data to plan and execute the work as well as performance data for effective visibility and control.  Quality data is also an important part of producing contractual reporting deliverables.  The government customer performs data analysis on submittals to identify risk areas in an Earned Value Management System (EVMS). 

Project personnel play an essential role in creating and maintaining quality schedule and cost data.  With useful process guidance and toolsets in place, they can prevent and resolve data quality issues quickly.  Performing data quality checks should be a regular part of the monthly status and analysis cycle to ensure a high level of data quality is maintained for the life of a project. 

It all begins with personnel following a disciplined project control process so they routinely create schedule and cost data at the appropriate level of detail to match the project’s characteristics with the necessary coding such as the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS) to integrate the data.  With a sound framework for integrating and coding the data, the toolsets can assist in producing a schedule driven time phased budget plan that is the basis for measuring performance.  This framework is also the foundation to ensure data traceability and to perform data quality checks.  The image below illustrates these factors. 

Contemplating incorporating schedule and cost data quality checks into your project control process?  Here are a few tips to consider. 

Tip 1.  Create a repeatable process for performing the schedule and cost data quality checks.  Integrate it into your process for creating the project control data as well as the status and analysis cycle. 

Align your process and what you check for with industry standards or best practices.  Examples include the EIA-748 Standard for EVMS, the related NDIA Integrated Program Management Division (IPMD) EVMS Standard Intent Guide and Planning and Scheduling Excellence Guide (PASEG).  The PASEG discusses topics such as scheduling practices for creating a sound schedule and performing schedule health assessments.  Other references to consider include the DoD EVMS Interpretation Guide as well as metrics the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) uses for EVMS surveillance reviews. 

Tip 2.  Use integrated toolsets to simplify the process.  For example, using a cost tool such as Deltek’s Cobra that is integrated with a schedule toolset such as Deltek’s Open Plan, Microsoft Project, or Oracle Primavera P6, you can easily create a schedule driven budget plan from the resource loaded schedule activities.  You know they align because the source for the budget data is the schedule resource loaded activities.  The schedule activity status is also the basis for the work package earned value claimed in Cobra.  With integrated schedule and cost data, you can easily do data traceability checks such as verifying that the control account work authorizations match the schedule and budget data details. 

Tip 3.  Establish schedule and cost data quality checklists as part of the process.  Include an explanation why a specific data quality check matters.  For example, when someone sets a hard constraint date on a schedule activity, it affects the critical path method (CPM) forward and backward pass early and late date calculations.  Explain the impact – they are likely to get an inaccurate picture of the project’s completion date.  There may be a valid reason why they are using a hard constraint date, but they need to be able to articulate and understand the impact of their actions.

Suggest these checklists are a combination of automated and manual checks.  Each have a role to play.  For example, tools such as Deltek’s Acumen Fuse can help analyze the construction of a network schedule to highlight where potential problems exist.  Are activities missing logic ties, have negative float, invalid dates, or out of sequence status?  This helps you to identify issues quickly, determine the root cause, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure the network schedule continues to be a useful project planning, execution, and forecasting tool.  An example of manual checks is to review the activity descriptions.  Descriptions should be unique and provide a useful, short reference about the scope of work, deliverable, or measurable result. 

With Cobra, it is easy to verify the bottom up distributed budget values at the work package/planning package level sum to the budget amount allocated to a control account that sum to the total amount for the performance measurement baseline (PMB).  With audit reports it is easy to check for any missing expected cost values for the current reporting period.  For example, are there work packages with earned value but no actual costs, or actual costs with no earned value?

Use the checklists as an opportunity to educate project personnel on how to identify data quality issues and the impact.  What do they mean and how do they address the root cause?