In an integrated cost/schedule environment, activities in a schedule are identified with their control account points (that is, control accounts or work packages) in an Earned Value Management System (EVMS). This integration allows budgets and forecasts to accurately reflect the most current actual and estimated scheduling information.
By Alan Kristynik, PMP
You can create an integrated cost/schedule system between Deltek Cobra (Cobra) for multi-program cost engine for Earned Value Management (EVM) and Microsoft Project Professional.
By linking Cobra project(s) with a scheduling tool, you can have a system that provides for single data entry. This avoids both the extra effort and the increased risk of error associated with having to enter the data in both the schedule and Cobra. The detailed resource-loaded schedule provides the time-phasing of the budget in Cobra while status data from the schedule generates earned value in Cobra.
The Cobra Integration Wizard also allows you to load code files from your schedule. You may save only the settings you have made for your configuration, or you may synchronize Cobra with your schedule as well.
Share Cost and Schedule Information
When planning to integrate your Cobra project with a resource-loaded schedule, consider the best practice tips below.
- An activity in the schedule should correlate to a work package in Cobra.
- Activity durations should be from six to eight weeks in order to calculate accurate earned value (by collecting actual costs at the cost account level, you can reduce the number of charge numbers). Note: Activities with longer durations can be used if the progress technique of their work packages is Percent Complete. In this case, the Physical Percent Complete entry in the schedule should be based on something that can be measured objectively, such as the number of completed drawings.
- Budget revisions should begin in the schedule as additions or revisions and be updated in Cobra.
Because Cobra supports the milestones progress technique, it is also possible to set up a system where several activities in the schedule generate a single work package with milestone steps in Cobra. In this scenario, the baseline finish dates of the activities in the schedule can be correlated to the milestone steps in the work package. Note, however, that the earned value is calculated as a weighted percentage for all budget elements of the work package.
While Cobra does have the ability to build the schedule and load the budget manually, this process does not promote integration between cost and schedule. The best usage of this feature would be to add the following items into the Cobra project:
- Level of effort and apportioned work packages
- Planning packages maintained in Cobra
- Budget revisions made in Cobra
- Adjusted resource hours updated in the scheduling software
You can then use powerful features in Cobra such as top-down planning to convert these resource loadings into a fully costed budget baseline, and you can update the schedule with data from Cobra.
The Integration wizard is a user-friendly feature that allows you to define how your Cobra project should be created or updated from your schedule. The Integration Wizard also allows you to load code files from your schedule. You may save only the settings you have made for your configuration, or you may synchronize Cobra with your schedule as well.
The following is a list of items that can be loaded from a schedule:
- Code files
- Resource definitions and rates
- Code assignments
Prepare Cobra for Schedule Integration
It is possible to load information such as rates from your schedule using the Integration wizard.
If the information in the schedule is not accurate, you can create these files manually before using the Integration wizard and refer to them during the integration process. You may need to create the following files before the integration process:
- Code Files
- Resource Files
- Template Resource Files
You can create an empty project in Cobra into which to load the schedule data. For example, if your schedule contains cost classes other than current budget (CB), you should create a blank project with all valid cost classes defined before loading the budget.
Note: When loading data into an existing project, delete items from Cobra that are not in the schedule option located on the Action Selection page of the Integration wizard.
If the work package record does not exist, Cobra creates the appropriate progress technique and sets the work package start and finish dates exactly equal to the activity dates. If the work package record exists at the time you load the schedule, Cobra adjusts only the required data. For example, if the activity has slipped and the finish date is greater than the work package finish date, Cobra adjusts the work package finish date, not the work package start date.
There are three ways to create code files and breakdown structures:
- You can have the Integration wizard automatically create these files, in which case Cobra determines the structure type from the data in the schedule.
- You can create the empty code files manually before running the Integration wizard. This enables you to specify the structure of your choice. The Integration Wizard then populates the code file with the values found in the schedule.
- You can create and populate the code file before loading the schedule. This enables you to validate the entries in the schedule against the code file.
Note: If you want to use a non-significant breakdown structure in Cobra that is punctuated in the schedule, you must create the non-significant breakdown structure before the integration process. You can then load the codes from the schedule into the code file.
You can roll up resource information by defining the budget element calculations for a higher-level resource. It is possible to roll up resource information by defining the budget calculations for higher-level resource but not for lower-level resource. The lower-level resource requirements can be combined and rolled up to a higher level for costing purposes.
Cobra loads the unit rate from the resource file only if the value for the rate is any value other than 0 or 1. If the rate for the resource is not equal to 0 or 1 and a calculation template is not used, Cobra creates resource assignments with the result of HOURS and DIRECT, where the direct rate comes from the rate defined in the schedule. If the rate for the resource is equal to 0 or 1, Cobra creates the resource assignment with a single result of DIRECT.
You can load direct rates from the schedule using the Integration Wizard. If you have results other than direct, enter these rates into the rate file before loading budgets or forecasts. For example, if you plan to use a template resource file, you will need to create OVERHEAD and G&A rates.
Template Resource Files
You can define complex burden structures to be used during the load resource definition process in the Integration wizard by creating a template resource file.
You can create a calendar in two ways:
- You can have the Integration wizard automatically create the calendar file.
- You can create the calendar file manually before running the Integration wizard. This enables you to adjust period cut-off dates and working hours before the baseline is loaded.
Note: Cobra determines baseline spread by fiscal cut-off dates and working hours.
Data Import from Microsoft Project
Use the Integration wizard to import data from Microsoft Project. Cobra integrates with Microsoft Project Professional using the XML file format. You must save your project in XML format by selecting File > Save As on the file menu and choose XML format (.XML).
Note: If you use Microsoft Project Server, you can save the file as an XML file, or you can set up a direct connection to the Project Server Reporting database. You must perform a series of steps to set up the integration, and you must you have access to SQL Server Studio and the Microsoft Project Server database.
Options for Importing from Microsoft Project
Before you import data from Microsoft Project, you must make some decisions and perform some set-up steps that control how data is imported
Identifying the Link
Before importing data into Cobra, you must define how you want to link activities to control accounts and work packages in Cobra. You usually use the WBS field to identify the control account in Cobra and the Activity ID to identify the work package. Alternatively, you can use a code on the activity to represent a work package in Cobra and use the activity ID as the milestone. You can assign the following to the activities in the project that correspond to the various Cobra items such as control accounts, work packages, and milestones:
- Activity ID
- Text fields
- Outline controls
Avoid using the Task ID in Microsoft Project because Task IDs automatically renumber when you insert an activity. You can copy the WBS number to a text field before importing data into Cobra; if you reorder the activities in Microsoft Project or indent an activity, the WBS number is automatically changed by Microsoft Project. If you use a text field to link with Cobra, you do not have to worry about Microsoft Project automatically changing the link values.
You can also use text fields to identify the progress technique and the class. You can use number fields to identify the milestone weight. You can also import the task work, cost, or BAC values as milestone weights.
Outline controls in Microsoft Project only store the lowest level data. If you are importing into a Cobra project that has a validating code file that is punctuated significant, Cobra determines the parent information and enters the entire code. If you are creating the code file or importing into a field that is not validated using a code file, Cobra imports only the local portion or lowest level found in the Outline code
Resource and Rates
Cobra imports only the standard rate for the default cost rate table. If the rate for the resource is greater than one and a calculation template is not used, Cobra creates resources with the result of HOURS and DIRECT, for which the direct rate comes from the rate defined in the schedule. If the rate for the resource is equal to 0 or 1, Cobra creates the resource with a single result of DIRECT.
When Cobra links with a resource-loaded schedule, it uses the resource assignment (work field) from the schedule as the value for the base. For material and cost resources, Cobra uses the cost field from the schedule as the base.
In Microsoft Project, you can save time-phased data in the database. If you save time-phased data, Cobra retrieves the data from the database and spreads it into the calendar periods.
Cobra retrieves the data from the database and spreads it using the dates and values in Microsoft Project. If your Cobra calendar is not month end, there is a difference in the spread because Cobra must spread the values into fiscal periods. If you have a month end calendar in Cobra, there can be a slight variation in the spread because Microsoft Project does not always store the records using a month end date. Regardless of the calendar, the total work is always the same in Cobra after importing, but the exact monthly spread can vary a little.
Microsoft Project Fields Imported
- Schedule Dates—The Start and Finish dates are retrieved.
- Baseline Dates—The baseline Start and Finish dates are used.
A best practice to consider and embrace within an organization deploying Microsoft Project and Cobra is to document desktop instructions for the EVM user community to access as needed. Promote and keep “evergreen” as programs and organizations mature in EVM capability.
This topic is the second of four in my Deltek Cobra cost/schedule data sharing series:
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