Deltek Cobra (Cobra) is a powerful system for managing project costs, measuring earned value, and analyzing budgets, actuals, and forecasts. It offers seamless integration with leading scheduling tools and unmatched flexibility to meet even the most exacting cost management requirements, such as the rigorous EVMS standard required by the U.S. and other governments.
by Alan Kristynik, PMP
Unlike other cost management software packages, Cobra does not limit you to a set of narrowly defined options for gathering, organizing, and reporting cost/schedule data. Maximum flexibility combined with powerful functionality is the central design goal for each system feature.
Earned Value Management
Earned Value Management (EVM) is a set of business best practices focusing on a combination of processes, people, and tools for enterprise project planning and control. Earned value (EV) is a means of putting a monetary value on project status to enable companies to measure project health. If an agency wishes to have funding from the government, the agency and its contractors must both use a valid Earned Value Management System (EVMS), which provides a sound basis for problem identification, corrective action, and management replanning. The EVM process integrates scope, schedule, cost, a performance measurement baseline, and earned value. It is an industry standard way to:
- Integrate scope, schedule, and cost into a baseline against which accomplishments can be measured
- Measure the progress of a project
- Forecast the completion date and final cost of a project
- Provide schedule and budget variances along the way
Earned value for completed tasks is equal to the total budget for those tasks. Budgets are established at the task level and as work progresses, the budget for each task is earned. For activities in progress, you can use several methods for objectively measuring earned value. The theory behind these methods is to multiply the budget by a percentage complete to calculate the earned value. For activities not yet begun, the earned value is zero.
By putting a dollar value on project status, earned value enables companies to measure project health throughout the life cycle of a project. Low earned value can act as an early detection mechanism, giving a company time to implement effective corrective action.
Deltek Cobra Progress Techniques
The progress technique selected for a work package determines how earned value is calculated. Earned value is used to measure the work package’s performance. Earned Value Management System (EVMS) guidelines provide several alternative methods for measuring the earned value of an activity in progress. To measure the performance of activities in progress, you need a system of measurement that includes objective judgments.
Most projects involve at least some work that is regarded as inherently immeasurable, such as work done by a project manager or quality control inspector. This type of task is sometimes referred to as level of effort (LOE). Its earned value is assumed to be the same as the amount budgeted. Basically, if the task is performed, the value is earned. For other work, EVMS guidelines offer earned value methodologies or performance measurement techniques (PMTs). Some common techniques include:
- 0/100: This is the most common milestone-based method, although it is often seen as harsh, as you get no value at all until the task is complete, regardless of progress.
- 50/50: This technique recognizes 50% of value when the task is started and 50% when completed. This method is sometimes abused, however, when value is given for starting a project but not necessarily achieving a goal.
- 25/75: This technique is like 50/50, only with a different percentage ratio.
- Percent Complete: This technique allows for the measurement of percentage complete. This measurement is subjective unless it is tied to a weighting system.
- Units: This technique is related to completed units weighting, and results in a percentage complete.
Cobra provides the following Progress Technique options to assign to a work package:
|Level of Effort
||This progress technique assumes that when a work package starts, its progress will not deviate from the original budget spread. Cobra lets you apply this progress technique to any work package, but it is most suitable for only a small number of work packages whose earned value is, by nature, unmeasurable. The value earned by an open work package using this progress technique is equal to its budget to date. The value earned each period equals the budget. In other words, the work package earns its entire budget up to the status date. An LOE work package should be set to In-progress before its baseline start date. If the work package is in a status period after the baseline start date, Cobra puts a cumulative-to-date earned value record in the current period. Similarly, if you change the budget in the previous period, Cobra puts a correcting entry in the current period. This ensures that cumulative-to-date earned value is equal to the cumulative-to-date budget. Note: For the percent complete value, Cobra will only use a positive number between 0 and 100.
||With this progress technique, milestones are defined, and relative weights are assigned to them. At any point, the value earned is the original work package budget multiplied by the combined weight of the completed milestones and divided by the total weight of all milestones. You can apply this method to any work package. It is generally the preferred method for work packages that span more than two fiscal periods. Cobra also provides a project option that allows you to define progress on a milestone as a percent complete. If the Allow percent complete on milestones option is selected in the Project Preferences tab in the Project Properties dialog box, Cobra uses the percentage complete approach in calculating earned value by weighted steps. Each step can have a portion earned, rather than forcing an all-or-nothing awarding of earned value.
||Use this progress technique if you want to manually enter the completion status of the work package as a percentage each status period. For example, if you enter 20 in the Completed field on the General tab of the Project view, 20% of the work package has been earned.
||Sometimes referred to as the “discrete” method, this progress technique is applicable to any work package that is made up of a predefined number of similar tasks. The value earned at any point in time is simply the work package budget multiplied by the number of these tasks completed and divided by the total number to be done. Use of this progress technique assumes that budgets are based on the units being measured.
||With this progress technique, 50% of the value is earned as soon as the work package starts, and the rest is earned when it is completed. Use this progress technique only for work packages that span a maximum of two periods, since value cannot be earned in any intervening periods. For example, if you apply the 50–50 progress technique to a work package spanning 4 months, the work package cannot earn any value during the second and third months (assuming it does not finish early).
||If you select this progress technique, no value is earned until the work package is completed, at which point the entire budget is earned. Use this progress technique only if the work package is scheduled to start and finish in the same period.
||All the value is earned as soon as the work package is started. Use this method only if the work package is scheduled to start and finish in the same fiscal period.
||This is a variation of the 50–50 progress technique (E). The percentage earned at the start of the work package (1 to 99%) is defined in advance by the user. The remaining percentage is earned when the work package is completed. This method should be used only for work packages whose schedule dates span a maximum of two fiscal periods.
||With this progress technique, the work package budget is earned in direct proportion to the amount earned on another related work package. You can apply this progress technique to any work package if the referenced work package does not itself use the Apportioned or the Level of Effort progress technique, and if the schedule dates are the same for both work packages. This progress technique is generally used when the activity itself is difficult to measure, but it is closely related to a more readily measured work package. Quality assurance is a typical example of this type of work package. Note: The Apportioned progress technique is not supported for the integration process. If you want to use this progress technique, you must manually select it on the General tab of the Project view.
||When you use this progress technique, Cobra always calculates an earned value of zero for the item. Use this progress technique if you do not want the work package to earn any of its budgets, regardless of its status.
|Assignment % Complete
||This progress technique lets you enter a percent complete for each resource individually. This is useful when you have long work packages and your resources are not spread across the entire work package. This is not a recommended method for work packages that contain apportionment resources because Cobra will be unable to determine the status of the apportioned resources
||This progress technique is associated with an apportioned budget. Cobra allows you to define budget items based on a percentage of other items, such as defining travel as a percentage of engineering. Work packages that use this progress technique can calculate earned value based on the same formula.
||This progress technique lets you define the steps and weight used in calculating the percent complete of the work package. When you add a step, the work package earns a percentage of the work package’s budget. This method is like Milestones (B) except that dates are not entered.
|Earned as Spent
||This progress technique calculates the percent complete of a work package based on actual costs, using the formula (Actual Cost/EAC) × 100. If Actual Cost exceeds the BAC, the earned value will equal the budget. This method is useful for progressing material items to reduce false variances. When actual costs are collected at the work package level, the percent complete is calculated using the total earned and BAC values at the work package level. When actual costs are collected at the control account level, the BAC is calculated using the sum of the work packages and the same percentage complete is applied to all work packages with a status of In-progress. If the Allow percent complete on milestones option is selected in the Project Preferences tab in the Project Properties dialog box, Cobra uses the percentage complete approach in calculating earned value by weighted steps. Each step can have a portion earned, rather than forcing an all-or-nothing awarding of earned value.
|% Complete Manual Entry
||This progress technique calculates earned value using the same method as % Complete. However, Cobra does not update work packages using this method when status is loaded from the schedule
Milestones and Steps
It is possible to define multiple milestones for each work package as a means of measuring progress. Unlike control account and work package keys, however, milestone key fields cannot be associated with a code file for reporting purposes.
If you select a progress technique of milestones or steps, you can define the milestones or steps within the work package. This allows you to have longer work packages and still objectively measure the progress within the work package.
When you add a milestone or step, you also enter a weight. When you complete the milestone/step, you earn that percentage of the budget. The only difference between milestones and steps is that milestones allow you to add a date. The date on the milestone is not used in the progress calculation.
You can also select the project property Allow entering milestones regardless of Progress Technique option to enter milestones on any work package. These milestones will be ignored during calculate progress. This option is useful when entering quantifiable backup data associated with the work package.
The only difference between milestones and steps is the ability to add a date for a milestone. Steps do not have dates. Both steps and milestones use a weight to determine the progress to be earned when an actual date is entered for the step or milestone. Similarly, if you have the Allow percent complete on milestones/steps option selected on the Projects Preferences tab of the Project Properties dialog box selected, you will be able to enter a % complete for the milestone or step and earn a portion of the value.
You cannot define milestones or steps for a control account because Cobra does not calculate earned value at that level. Steps do not require dates.
Although some project managers may want to define milestone/step weights as percentages that, taken together, add up to 100%, Cobra does not require this approach. Instead, Cobra sums the entered values and calculates the relative weighting factor for each milestone/step. For example, if you set up three milestones/steps and assign each a weight of 1, Cobra assumes that you want to earn a third of the work package budget each time a milestone/step is achieved. This method of calculating weighting factors is particularly useful in cases where you want each milestone/step to represent a dollar portion of the work package budget.
To help progress calculations to equal budget when work is progressing as planned, Cobra notifies you if there is more than a 5% variance between how a work package budget has been spread and how its milestones/steps are weighted. If a variance of this size is detected, you can either reconcile your milestone/step weights to the budget or adjust the weights manually. If the milestone/step varies more than 5% from the budget, a warning message is displayed. This budget variance can be changed to any value besides 5 for the entire project.
The default milestone/step-weighting value is 3 digits, which yields the sum of the milestone/step weights equal to 100. If the value is 4 digits, it will yield the sum of the milestone/step weights equal to 1000. The default factor is 100.
How Milestone and Step Weights are Calculated
When you choose to reconcile milestone/step weights, Cobra calculates the weight of each milestone/step based on the budget associated with that milestone/step:
- Cobra calculates the first milestone/step weight by taking the budget that is spread from the beginning of the work package until the first milestone/step, dividing it by the total work package budget, and multiplying the result by the milestone/step weighting factor.
- Cobra calculates subsequent milestone/step weights by taking the budget that is spread between the previous and next milestone/step, dividing it by the total work package budget, and multiplying the result by the milestone/step weighting factor.
- If two or more milestones have the same scheduled finish date, Cobra divides the final weight calculated for the first milestone by the number of milestones with the same finish date. This weight is applied to all milestones with the same scheduled finish date.
- When you load a budget from a schedule or an import file, all the baseline data for the work package is loaded and the milestone weight is calculated using the same formula as the reconciliation.
Cobra provides all the tools a project manager needs for cost management to ensure compliance with traditional EVMS guidelines yet offers the flexibility to serve a wide range of non-EVMS applications as well.
Because many basic design decisions are in the hands of the user, you can extend the capabilities of Cobra in many directions without needing custom programming. At the same time, you can easily integrate Cobra data with external systems.
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