Using S-Curves in Project Management

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  • 0:03 Definition of an…
  • 1:02 Example of an S-Curve
  • 1:28 Example of a…
  • 1:52 Interpreting the S-Curve
  • 3:19 Misinterpretation of S-Curves
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mike Miller
In this lesson, you'll learn what an S-curve is, what inputs go into it, and how it is used in project management. You'll also learn how to interpret the data in the S-curve.

Definition of an S-Curve

Have you ever wanted to quickly look at a project report and see the project's history, current status, and projected status? Well, with S-curves you can. You can see any project's planned performance and actual performance, and you can determine the desired targeted performance at a quick glance.

An S-curve is a project management tool that tracks progress over time and allows for a quick visual to determine project status. As the project continues and the S-curve grows, the graph will turn into a historical representation and allow for quick comparison to actual data.

Inputs Into S-Curves

S-curves are generated using 'something' versus 'time.' I say 'something,' because it could be costs, planned labor, actual labor, number of documents delivered - the list can go on and on. The only item that all S-curves have in common (or at least in project management) is time.

Example of an S-Curve

s curve

For the example you are looking at now, I decided to use project costs because costs are cumulative over time. As you can see, in the beginning of the project, costs are low. As resources are added and the project is in execution, there is a rise in the cumulative costs. Towards the end of the project, costs tend to level off as spending decreases and resources are released.

Example of a Comparison S-Curve

labor

In this example, actual labor costs are being compared to planned labor costs. For this example, the project is spending less on actual labor costs than what was planned. If the project is completed on the end date of the S-curve, then the project spent considerably less on labor than was planned. This can be good for the project, especially if there were no cost overruns on materials.

Interpreting the S-Curve

When the project manager, or a reviewer, looks at a comparison S-curve, they interpret the data presented. This data can be interpreted to determine if the project is over or under budget, costs, or targets.

Project Costs - Under Budget

under

Let's look at project costs that are under budget. In the example you are looking at, the project is complete, and as you can see, the actual project costs are less than the budget during the entire project. This is shown on the S-curve by seeing that the actual cost S-curve is below the planned cost S-curve.

Project Costs - Over Budget

over

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