The previous article, The Program/Project Cost & Schedule Management Debates noted that while the weight of scientific evidence now strongly favours Earned Schedule (ES), another aspect of the Earned Value Management (EMV) and ES saga which has emerged over the past few years is an acrimonious debate on whether they can be used on Agile projects. The following quotes give some indication of the gap in opinion between Agile and traditional industry experts.
“Artificial measures such as EVM [Earned Value Management] typically prove to be overhead at best, whose only value is to cater to the dysfunctional bureaucrats infesting many organizations.” (Scott W. Ambler)
“Scott makes several fundamental errors in [his] discussion. … [You should] ignore arguments against EV[M] from those [who have] not … deployed it successfully. You wouldn’t take agile advice from someone who has not successfully deployed agile in a domain and context similar to yours. Don’t do the same for anything else.” Glen B. Alleman
The above quotes, with links to the full text, come from the ProjectFlightDeck website as part of a highly mathematical argument for adopting their Agile Earned Schedule Management (AgileESM©) products and services. The argument is advanced by Robert Van De Velde, Ph.D., P.M.P., who owns and operates ProjectFlightDeck.com. The website, http://www.projectflightdeck.com/AgileESM.php
notes that “The use of Earned Value techniques on Agile projects is not without controversy, but there is strong, objective proof that AgileESM© is valid for Agile projects.”
The above quotes come from The Controversy page on the website, which notes that “Both views are based on experience, and experience, although valuable, is not conclusive proof. Rather than countering one subjective claim with another, we need a more objective approach. If EVM metrics can be mathematically derived from Agile metrics, there is an objective reason to accept their validity for Agile projects.”
The full proof that EVM metrics can be mathematically derived from Agile metrics is provided in a 17 page document, together with an outline of its key elements. A more user friendly version is available in a presentation by Robert at the College of Performance Management (CPM) Earned Value Management World 2013 Conference.
In that presentation, under Lessons Learned, Robert includes another objection from Scott W. Ambler:
“EVM is incredibly attractive to managers desperate to make it appear that their team is making progress even though actual progress is questionable at best. This is particularly true of traditional teams who invest a lot of effort creating specifications, creating detailed plans, writing lots of supporting documentation, reviewing various artifacts, and making big promises that they’ll eventually get around to producing actual business value when they eventually finish up all the paperwork.”
Robert calls the traditional approach “High Ceremony” and answers that “AgileES is a Low Ceremony technique—it leverages data that is typically collected on Agile projects.”
Another Lesson Learned from Robert’s presentation relates to the Abilene Paradox:
“There are several potential factors that can negatively affect the efficacy of decision making by Agile teams. [Such] empowered, cohesive teams can exhibit problems such as the Abilene Paradox.”
“The Abilene Paradox is a form of collective decision making where a group decides on a course of action that no single member would have taken on their own.” – John McAvoy and Tom Butler
Robert’s solution to the Abilene Paradox is:
“Appoint a devil’s advocate to challenge group assumptions. Downside: the devil’s advocate role undermines cohesion.
Provide an objective, quantitative view of project performance. Upside: a depersonalized view reduces the negative consequences for the team.”
Robert’s presentation offers other practical advice, see http://www.projectflightdeck.com/media/Robert_Van_De_Velde–AgileES_-_Earned_Schedule_for_Agile_Projects_v3.pdf
It is worth noting that there is also an AgileEVM, “a light-weight, and easy to use adaptation of the traditional EVM techniques which provides the benefits of traditional EVM in Agile projects.” This is described in an article originally published in the Fall 2007 issue of Methods & Tools and now available on the Hubert Smits website. AgileEVM Metrics Provides Business Opportunity to Make Priority Trade-Off Decisions Early by Tamara Sulaiman, PMP, CST and Hubert Smits, CST
The article describes AgileEVM as “an adapted implementation of EVM that uses the Scrum framework artifacts as inputs, uses traditional EVM calculations, and is expressed in traditional EVM metrics.” AgileEVM provides estimates of cost at completion of the release and cost metrics to support the business when they consider making decisions like changing requirements in a release, “and is therefore an excellent extension to the information provided by burn-down charts.”
The article goes on to provide a worked example, answer common questions and conclude “The early warning that the AgileEVM metrics show, validates changes to release plans and provides business with the opportunity to make priority trade-off decisions early in the project lifecycle”, see http://www.smitsmc.com/news/88-measuring-progress-in-agile.
A recent plug for AgileEVM comes in a March 12, 2014 post by Aspenware Senior Project Manager Sally Tait, who notes that “At Aspenware we have adopted Agile Earned Value Management (AgileEVM) to help us not only track and communicate performance but also drive how to decide which dials to adjust to respond to any risks. In addition to tracking schedule efficiency, AgileEVM includes estimated and actual cost information to calculate how efficiently we are spending compared to the budget. AgileEVM uses information already captured for Scrum projects so there is no additional burden to Scrum teams to produce AgileEVM metrics”, see Introducing Agile Earned Value Management, http://www.aspenware.com/blog/2014/march/introducing-agile-earned-value-management.
However, it may also be worth heeding a note of caution sounded by Joseph A Lukas, PE CCE in a 2008 AACE INTERNATIONAL TRANSACTIONS paper, Earned Value Analysis – Why it Doesn’t Work. In this paper, Joseph notes that “If your organization is not at least a level 3 maturity level, you should not be using earned value. He goes on to list the top 10 reasons why Earned Valve Analysis doesn’t work and then to “delve into each of these reasons in more detail, and provide suggestions on how to overcome the specific problems “, see http://www.icoste.org/LukasPaper.pdf
Joseph’s reasons why EVM doesn’t work may help explain why Agile guru Scott W. Ambler has been so scathing about EVM. In fact, Scott has been doing some very interesting analysis of software project success/failure rates by development paradigm (Ad hoc, Iterative, Agile, Traditional & Lean). His latest survey was conducted in November and December of 2013, which he discusses in a February 04, 2014 Dr Dobbs blog titled The Non-Existent Software Crisis: Debunking the Chaos Report, see http://www.drdobbs.com/architecture-and-design/the-non-existent-software-crisis-debunki/240165910
(If Scott’s latest survey and debunking Chaos seem somehow familiar, it is because Scott’s 2011 survey featured in our Nov/Dec 2011 Newsletter, beside a Fran Mckeagney blog titled Meaningless: The Rise & Fall of the Chaos Report Figures, see http://blogs.innerworkings.com/fmckeagney/2010/10/01/meaningless-the-rise-fall-of-the-chaos-report-figures/)
So what can we conclude from the above debate? It appears EVM/ES, AgileESM© and AgileEVM will work for some organisations but not for others. The above advice from Joseph A Lukas on recognising your maturity level seems like a good place to start.