Earned value management systems storyboards – their application, uses, and benefit

 

Gary C. Humphreys, CEO, Humphreys & Associates, Inc.

Storyboards have increased in their use and efficiency at production and have improved communications since native Indians etched stories with petroglyphs into rocks, canyon wall, and caves over 6,000 years ago. Over 5,000 years ago Egyptians told very colorful stories in a precisely detailed manner on walls, ceilings, pillars of temples, tombs and other structures. Example, Exhibit 1, is one of the hieroglyphic stories using a process of an historical flow of events told in a formatted manner. This story on one of the walls of the portico at the main portal of the temple of Abu Simbel, celebrates Ramses II, who is shown in the act of sacrificing a number of prisoners he is holding by the hair to the sun god Amon-Ra, who is handing Ramses the Egyptian sword symbolizing victory. The hieroglyphs recount the great battle of Qadesh and Ramses’ bravery against the Syrian fortress. Director George Bloom recently said, “Storyboards saved my life more than once in meetings with [engineers] … cuts through all the talk.” The search engine GOOGLE lists over 76,000 references to storyboards.

The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines storyboard, a noun first used in 1942, as “a panel or series of panels on which a set of sketches is arranged depicting consecutively the important changes of scene and action in a series of shots (as for a film, television show, or commercial).” In his paperback book Rapid Application Prototyping (Oct 1991), Stephen J. Andriole extols “… a new method for systems requirements validation called storyboarding…use these displays to validate user requirements as well as to size the subsequent system development process.“Why then did the earned value community begin to shy away from the use of storyboards in the 90s?

An Earned Value Management System (EVMS) storyboard is basically the nine process groupings that comprise the entire management system displayed as a stratified flow diagram on panels or on the conference room wall. The nine process groupings are Organizing, Scheduling, Work/Budget Authorization, Accounting, Indirect Management, Managerial Analysis, Change Incorporation, Material Management, and Subcontract Management. Each process grouping displayed contains hard copy reports, forms, and exhibits; such as work breakdown structure (WBS) dictionary example, responsibility assignment matrix (RAM), material price/usage example, logs, customer reports, etc. Process grouping is a part of the entire management system, and thus has a consistent stratification from the initial process grouping to the last to indicate the respective organizations involved with the program/project, the flow of this involvement, including customer interfaces, and most importantly, the integration of the process groups to comprise a fully integrated EVMS.

Exhibit 1

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Exhibit 2. Scheduling Process Group

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Ideally the storyboard uses one single thread control account from the program/project to clearly illustrate interactivity, flow, responsibilities for the various organizations in the stratification and the respective process groupings. In short, it significantly supports the understanding of an abstract concept to clearly illustrate how the entire system functions, the responsibilities of the system operators and system users for both the contractor's administrators, managers, and executives AND the customer's program/project team.

Storyboard Stratification:The Features

The keys to successfully illustrating the integration of any management system's process groupings are twofold:

1. Clearly show the specific process group's flow of functions, decisions, products/reports, and actions in an understandable standard manner, using actual project products. In so doing, an abstract concept becomes vividly tangible.

2. Clearly identify key project organizations’ responsibilities regarding the flow of the process or, simply stated, who does what. This aspect of the process is indicated in the process grouping by stratifying the flow with organizational identity.

Exhibit 2 is an example of one of the process groupings. Its “story” is to develop the schedule baseline in a logical sequence of events involving the company's and the project's line managers, team members, functional managers, system users and operators, while clearly illustrating the respective responsibility and/or action of each organization in the stratification. This particular electronic storyboard would then be transferred to a formal media afterwards, such as on a wall or panel or similar display using actual schedules, dictionary, and CWBS products that trace the schedules vertically and horizontally on the board. Note that this particular process group depicts only the internal organizations in the stratification, inasmuch as the development of the project's schedules and the scheduling process grouping is a company/project responsibility. Other process groupings could also include the customer's responsibilities and actions in the stratification where required.

Exhibit 3. Managerial Analysis

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Often the management system's process groups will involve company staff and support organizations to fulfill the myriad corporate obligations, regulations, accounting codes, contract stipulations, etc. Consequently, these support roles and responsibilities would be clearly shown in the stratified flow to obtain understanding and commitment from the respective support organization to the project team.

Such an example is illustrated in Exhibit 3. Note that this process group includes the company's finance department's involvement in generating the financial reports and the analysis required for the inclusion of indirect costs, if applicable, in the customer's data item submission, the Cost Performance Report (CPR), or the Cost/Schedule Status Report (C/SSR).

Another example of support organizations’ involvement is shown in Exhibit 4. In this process grouping the contract's administrative responsibilities and actions are shown in the stratification.

Storyboard Development:The Goals

As in the design of any process, one of the goals is the development of a logical sequence of events, their precedence, and involvement and actions of participants and decision-makers, to result in a complete process. This goal is not only paramount but also absolutely essential if the process is to result in productive results. Depicting that process so that there are no misunderstandings, uncertainties, or potential conflicts of authority when the system operators and managers use the process group is another of the goals. Consequently, storyboard development involves multiple iterations and internal tests:

Exhibit 4. Work/Budget Authorization

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1. Does the flow of products, forms, and reports truly reflect the way the company/project team actually conducts the day-today operations involving the organizations noted in the stratification? Or, is it out of date, the project manager's daydream, or worse yet, pure window dressing? If any of these conditions exist, partially or completely, the project's management processes are doomed; as eventually management energy and vitality will be sapped by unclear authorities, responsibilities, and actions.

2. Have the levels of management depicted in the stratification reached consensus in their respective responsibilities? In short, will they respond as indicated in a timely manner? Or, are they merely damning the process with faint praise? None of the nine process groups manage the project. People manage projects. One of the major goals of the storyboard is to obtain the understanding and commitment of those managers clearly shown on the storyboard.

Often during the actual construction of the complete storyboard, all nine process groupings, the company representatives and project team's system implementers uncover archaic, bypassed processes that are believed to be functioning by senior management. These nonviable processes are also often sacred cows. Senior management implemented them years back, or they were mandated by an acquiring firm simply because it “sort of worked” in its management culture. Unfortunately, these broken systems or processes are not to be challenged, even when no one is using them. Thus, the storyboard's development becomes the enemy. It is now formally depicting a process that few will use, take ownership of, or support. This support is a major goal of the storyboard: To clearly show in a logical sequence how the respective participants on the project are currently supporting the planning and controlling of the resources on the project.

If any of the nine process groupings are not accurately illustrating that process, the system or the process must be fixed. To that extent, storyboard development during the past 30 years has been credited with improved systems and internal/external communications, important benefits which will be discussed further. To stratify or not to stratify, that is the question asked often during storyboard development. An example of an actual storyboard's process grouping that is not stratified is shown in Exhibit 5.

Exhibit 5.Variance Analysis Reports (VAR)/Estimate Cost at Completion (ECAC)

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While the process grouping being shown does depict a general flow and actions required of different managers, the clarity of actions and responsibilities at different levels of project management is blurred, chasing the flow throughout the storyboard. Stratification keeps it clear and simple. In addition to the lack of organizational clarity when the process group is not stratified, the organizational consensus in storyboard development is seldom achieved. All levels of the company are participants in the managing of the project; stratifying to clearly show respective involvement helps to charter the system as a company system, not just a project's.

Storyboard Benefits

Storyboarding management systems has been an ongoing process since the late 60s, when contractors were asked to demonstrate their management systems. Construction of the nine process groupings in the stratified format often uncovered serious disconnects in the integration of the processes, missing features and/or requirements and occasionally misunderstandings of contractor personnel's roles and responsibilities. Contractors and customers alike soon recognized the benefits to these process groupings being storyboarded. Examples of some of the benefits include the following:

1. The entire system actually exists, the process groups are integrated, and the roles/responsibilities by Control Account Managers, Functional Managers, Project Managers, Earned Value Administrators, Contracts, etc. are clearly depicted.

2. The individual processes can be traced from process grouping to process grouping quickly, easily in both directions, and include examples of live data.

3. The contractor can easily present to its management team (training, verification, etc.) as well as to its customers how the entire system functions: training, briefing, and customer-satisfaction items.

4. During pre-award surveys, proposal development, and other source selection activities, the storyboard is a very valuable exhibit, thus enhancing award rates.

5. The storyboard reduces the specter of doubt, including the syndrome of “the system is somewhere out there in cyberspace; we charge and then it prints out a performance report.”

6. Consensus reached by various levels of management during development often streamlines archaic systems, thus encouraging wider use and acceptance of the system.

Current Thinking

With the advent of the suite of software tools for scheduling, costs, and reporting, there appeared to be an increasing trend away from developing an EVMS Storyboard. This attitude seemed to be somewhat fostered by those who believed that a paperless system was what it was. So, why storyboard? It must also be noted that those companies that chose not to storyboard were consistently less successful in eventual manager use/understanding, complete system integration, and customer understanding and acceptance.

Because of the resultant negative impact of no longer storyboarding, the system training costs increased, major process groups’ roles/responsibilities were not clearly understood, process groups lacked integration, and customer understanding and mistrust (more so than normal) increased substantially. Fortunately, that trend has now reversed.

Management System storyboards have proven to be very cost effective. They greatly facilitate internal and customer understanding of how, who, when, and what the entire system does. In fact, software exists today, which enables an organization to display a storyboard and subsequently streamline the process in a cost-effective manner. It is simple: storyboards support the management process. People manage programs and projects, and the system is there to support that process. The storyboard is an exhibit to show everyone how all the processes function. Not everyone has a cave to scratch or a temple wall to paint the story on, and most customers are afraid of the dark.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville,Tenn.,USA

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