The 33rd Criterion – Putting People into the Earned Value Essentials

A Project Management Article by Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP, EVP

In working with a client on the basic rules of earned value, I found myself coaching them on the 32 basic rules, known as the Cost Schedule Control Systems Criteria (CS-squared).  As we talked to the specific subcomponents that have to be in place to make earned value sing and dance, the question surfaced time and again, "Where do my team members fit into this?"

It’s a fair and reasonable question.  And while the argument can be made that team members are responsible for all of the implementation of earned value, it’s notable that the criteria never call out a requirement for training, understanding or embracing earned value practice.  The issue goes unaddressed.

Now more than ever, this matters.  As the government continues to call for contracting transparency and for project accountability, earned value remains an obvious answer.  As Sarbanes-Oxley drives the publicly held private sector to higher accountability, earned value is one solution. The mounting pressures for earned value mean that we need to not only be able to practice earned value appropriately, but we need depth in our team to actually implement the 32 criteria well.  We need team members who know and understand the nature of earned value and what the implications are.  We need team members who genuinely understand their role in influencing the outcomes of earned value if we’re going to do the practice in a sustainable fashion.

The Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACEI) about four years ago implemented their Earned Value Professional Certification.  That was one step in the right direction.  It acknowledges that we need more than just a set of rules, we need referees.  But as with any good team, most of all, we need players who excel at the game.  Surprisingly, most organizations have almost no depth in this particular set of positions.  We don’t encourage our players to understand how their day-to-day efforts influence our earned value outcomes.  

And that’s where we need to start.  We can begin coaching our teams with three simple elements that will have a significant payoff in our earned value practice implementations: sizing, baselining and claiming.


Task?  Activity?  Work Package?  Control Account?  Most organizations are challenged by the basics of project language, let alone its implementation.  But if we’re looking for a simple way to start, it’s to clarify what constitutes a work package.  As project managers, this is one of those rare spots where we actually have autonomy.  We have the ability to enforce structure in our own little world.  On the PMP® Exam, we all remember that a work package is, in theory, roughly 80 hours of effort.  Does that have to be the rule?  No.  But we do need rules.  And surprisingly, rules are freeing.  They open the door to allow others to focus on the nature of the work, not its size.  If we can set the structure (and defend why it’s there for EVMS reporting purposes), we’ve taken a major step down the right road.


It’s my favorite Microsoft Project® question:  “Save with a baseline?”  We all face that question in one way or another, deciding when we officially have committed to the project plan and have sufficient buy-in to make it happen.  The tragedy is that in most organizations, there is little consistency on when that happens.  For some, it’s the moment that management says there’s a value to the project.  For others, it’s only after careful planning.  For good earned value practice, we need to get those within the team committed to a particular point in the WBS development life cycle where we all concur that the baseline should be established.  If we can get there with a degree of uniformity, we’ve taken significant steps toward the remainder of our earned value practices.


This is the toughest of the pieces.  While PMI leans toward a handful of claiming practices (traditional, 50/50 rule or 20/80 rule), there are a host of different ways in which progress can be claimed.  It’s a major chunk of the Earned Value Professional exam.  Even then, there isn’t consistency in how and when organizations apply them.  A little latitude has the potential to mean a lot of inconsistency, and that ruins an otherwise well-considered EVMS game plan.  Most team members don’t understand that they play a crucial role in claiming.  They are the ones responsible for ensuring their efforts are reported back to the organization.  They are the ones who have to report on their progress thus far.  They are the ones whose inputs ultimately determine what’s constituted as “done”.  

The Team

It all goes back to the ubiquitous “them.”  They have the responsibility to report.  To claim.  To baseline.  They have the opportunity to make our systems work or fail.  And they are our team.  If we’re smart about our processes and practices, we will invest in making their understanding of these three small elements of CS-squared our 33rd criterion.

About the Author

Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP, EVP

Carl Pritchard is a recognized author, lecturer and teacher in the project management community. He is the author of six texts, co-producer of the "Portable PMP Prep" and is the U.S. Correspondent for the British project management magazine, "Project Manager Today."

He has presented keynote addresses around the globe, and sits on the board of directors for and on the advisory board for the Project Management Leadership conference by QAI in Dehli, India.

He was the lead chapter author for the risk management chapter of the latest (4th) edition of the Guide to the PMBOK.

Carl Pritchard can be found on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Plaxo and LinkedIn. He can also be found with a simple e-mail to

Copyright 2009, Pritchard Management Associates - Right to reproduce in full with attribution is granted freely to Washington, DC Chapter members for personal and professional use. All other rights (including resale or republication) are reserved.

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