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Predicting the Future – Where Will My Project Land?

As a project manager, you’re routinely asked the question of “Will it be on time?” or “Are we going to complete the work within the budget?” So many factors go into being able to accurately determine where a project will land in terms of budget and schedule. What is your current risk rating on the project? How happy are your team members? What other environmental factors beyond your control are causing issues for your project? What is your current (and projected) burn rate?


When trying to predict where your project is going to land in comparison to the baseline plan (schedule and budget), it’s important to factor in every detail you can think of that may impact these plans. The first, and most mechanical place to start is to look at your calculated indicators. Yes, I’m talking about the CPI (Cost Performance Indicator) and the SPI (Schedule Performance Indicator). I’ve seen mixed reviews on how much to depend on these factors for predicting the outcome of your project however I’m of the mind that the more information you have at your disposal to make an accurate prediction, the better off (and often more accurate) you will be.

A quick refresher – CPI is calculated by basically taking the budget that you have used up to-date and comparing it against the actual work performed to-date (typically measured by a % complete or hours remaining). A quick cheat-sheet is here. From there you can see if your budget burn is keeping up with your work performed burn. Any CPI with a value of 1 or greater indicates a positive trend that you’re achieving more work per dollar spent than originally forecast. SPI is calculated in much the same theoretical manner. Your schedule burn is measured against the work completed (again typically measured by % complete) to get an accurate reflection of how fast your work is being completed. Typically problems shown in CPI will often show in SPI (if a project is running into budget issues, schedule issues are not typically far behind, and vice-versa).

Risks, Team and Environmental Factors

CPI and SPI are two of the ‘mechanical’ ways to check on the health of your project. Unfortunately that’s just scratching of the surface on being able to accurately predict the outcome of your project. As a project manager, you need to be in tune with every aspect of your project to accurately report on its health. Constant risk evaluation will allow you to assess potential project impacts that could affect your budget and/or schedule. Team member check-ins are vital – ensuring that roadblocks they are hitting are being actioned and not causing unnecessary delays (daily stand-up meetings are a great tool for this as it may not just be you as the PM who needs to clear roadblocks). Other environmental factors, either within our outside of the project’s control can impact your project landing points. Are there other projects or initiatives in progress that could impact your project? How dependent is your project on other factors not within your direct control?

Every factor that affects your project needs to be accounted for and ‘calculated’ in terms of budget and schedule impact. There’s no single magic button that drives where a project will land as a lot of the factors that come into place are not wholly quantitative and subject to opinion. As a project manager, you are responsible for ensuring that these are educated opinions and that the information being reported is as accurate and truthful as possible so that your project sponsor(s) can make proper business decisions.

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