The top 10 ways to game the C/SCSC system
LAST MONTH, we presented the first five of the top 10 ways of gaming the C/SCSC. Now, I know that a lot of you are thinking “C/SCSC is going away Why do we have to game it any longer—that is, I mean—why should we start now?” The answer, my devious fellow contractors, is that C/SCSC will never really go away. Oh, they may file-13 the checklists, or issue superseding guidance, but the basic process for measuring project performance is pretty much set, and isn't about to be elbowed aside by trendy management psycho-babble such as “Life-Cycle Asset Management,” or “Activity-Based Costing.” So, for your ease of fraudulent business practice and reading enjoyment, here are the last five entries on the list.
6. Place Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS) elements into the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). All project manager types know what a WBS is, but few really know how to construct one correctly Specifically, a WBS element is invalid if it does not have: (1) a start and end date, (2) a defined output, (3) a budget, and (4) a specific group of resources (or people) performing the work. Number 4 of this list also happens to be a characteristic of an OBS element. OBS elements basically divide workers into groups, and these groups have a general mission associated with their work. “Engineering Support” is an OBS element, while “Construct the Fuselage” is a WBS element. If you can slip some OBS elements into your WBS, then the performance measures that “flow up” through the WBS become skewed and meaningless. Remember, OBS elements have no specific output or budget. You can basically make the performance measurement numbers be whatever you want them to be.
7. If you are required to use earned value techniques, claim as much earned value as possible as “level of effort.” Use this technique for your riskiest tasks. For the remainder, use the “milestone estimate” method. This is where the task manager basically wets her finger, sticks it in the air, and then proclaims “I‘m about XX percent done”; where XX is a figure that is fairly close to her percent spent. If the customer insists that some tasks be measured with the “fixed milestone” method, use this for tasks that have a monthly deliverable, and fix the milestone's percentage at one-twelfth the task's yearly budget.
8. If you find that you actually have to write a Variance Analysis Report, check to see if the current period and fiscal year-to-date variances are on opposite sides of zero. If they are, you are in luck, since these “cross-zero” variances can be used to explain each other. Here's how it works: Say you have an out-of-threshold negative FY-to-date variance, with an out-of-threshold positive current period variance. Simply explain that the advancements in the current period were to make up for the slips in the year-to-date variance. This way, the customer will be at a loss to take exception with your overperforming or your underperforming.
“C/SCSC is going away. Why do we have to game it any longer—that is, I mean—why should we start now?" The answer, my devious fellow contractors, is that C/SCSC will never really go away.
9. Always use bottom-up estimates for your estimates at completion (EACs)—never calculate them. A calculated EAC, and its accompanying variance at completion (VAC), is the best indicator of contractor performance. Even the most basic calculated EAC (dividing the total budget by the cost performance index) is highly accurate and easy to use, making it Devious Manager Enemy #1. Use the bottom-up method instead. This allows so much room for maneuvering that, again, the EAC and VAC figures can be pretty much whatever you want them to be.
10. OK, so you have tried tactics 1 through 9, and either the customer has caught on and stopped you, or your project is in such bad shape that not even these can fix it. Try this: Anytime a task shows an underrun, immediately transfer the underrun amount out of the task and into “management reserve.” Don't take amounts that are too big, or else you will raise suspicions should anybody look at your MR log. After waiting an appropriate length of time (at least two months) transfer the amount into the tasks that are overrunning. This tactic has two downsides: (1) customers with any project control acumen whatsoever will be looking for this, and (2) task managers will soon catch on that they are being punished for good performance and rewarded for poor…but desperate projects call for desperate measures.
WE HAVE CONFIDENCE that these tactics will work for your disaster of a project. If they do not, it may be because you did not implement them correctly. Throw out your copy of the PMBOK Guide, burn a copy of the PMI ethics statement in your office as a sacrifice, and try again. ■
Michael Hatfield, PMP, is a senior project controls engineer for Los Alamos Technical Associates. He welcomes all project horror stories for this feature. Please e-mail yours to email@example.com for possible inclusion in future editions.
Alice Skehan is a project controls analyst for the Environmental Restoration Program at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in N.M.. She has over 12 years experience managing DoD and DoE contracts, and is an active member of PMI. In her defense, she will not define which of the 10 ways were her contributions.
PM Network • December 1997