Ask the Teacher: Earned Value Doesn’t Want to Calculate

Barbara from Denver, CO asks: I want to used earned value calculations to help manage my projects. However, when I look at the BCWS and BCWP fields, the data doesn’t seem to be calculated. What’s going on?

Answer: Earned value can be a very helpful indicator of the health of your project. It’s the equalizer between duration and work in evaluating project performance. For instance, did you do the work you planned to perform in the timeframe you planned to perform it? Did the work cost you more (more time) than you planned and how does that relate to the schedule?. Earned Value is complicated and can’t be addressed fully in this article. However, I would like to address the question above.

Earned value calculations need several values to be able to calculate. If something’s missing or awry, the earned value function won’t work.

  • If you’re not using costs (a value in the standard cost field on the Resource Sheet), earned value won’t calculate. Most of the Microsoft Project earned value calcuations are using the cost values calculated per task.
  • The accuracy of assignments on tasks will influence the accuracy of calculations (correct number of hours = correct costs).
  • If resource calculators aren’t up to date, resource assigments won’t be accurate because resources are scheduled based on availability.
  • Most of the earned value calculations also are looking for initial schedule values. This means if you don’t have a baseline set, you won’t see earned value.
  • Earned value will also be calculated based on a specific status in time. Therefore, the status date must be set or earned value won’t calculate.
  • Track the project — actuals must be entered.
  • Uncompleted work has to be rescheduled in order to keep the schedule accurate for the future calculations.

In the earned value table below I set the baseline for this short project. Go to View | Table | More Tables | Earned Value.

Figure 1. A sample project to demonstrate earned value.

Ask the Teacher: Earned Value Doesn’t Want to Calculate

For this example, the project started on September. 1, 2008. Note that there are only values in EAC (Estimate at Completion) and BAC (Budget at Completion), which is actually the baseline cost. Also note that the values are matching at this time. When I pointed to the EV (earned value) field, the option popped up to get help for a field. This is a wonderful place to see in detail how a field is actually being calculated. I also encourage you to see the calculations for each of the fields so you understand how they work before you start to depend on them for project forecasting.

Now I’ll enter some actual values as work performed on tasks. Tasks 3 and 4 are marked completed later than scheduled. Task 5 is 50% complete. The remaining work was increased by three days also. After the tracking information was entered, there was no change to the EV table. I then entered a status date of September 14, 2008 at Project | Project Information | Status Date | OK. Figure 2 shows the result.

Figure 2. The sample project showing updated values after modifying the status date.

Ask the Teacher: Earned Value Doesn’t Want to Calculate

As you can see, values have been updated in all of the fields.

There are also two other standard EV tables called Earned Value Schedule Indicators and Earned Value Cost Indicators. There’s an option to use physical percent complete (Tools | Options | Calculations | Earned Value) for these calculations instead of the default of duration percent complete. In this same dialog for options you can also select an alternate baseline to be used for the EV calculation. The physical percent complete would allow you to post a percentage instead of using the pre-calculated percentage. Physical Percent complete is available on the Tracking table or may be inserted into any table as needed.

Written by Ellen Lehnert
Ellen Lehnert, PMP, Microsoft Project MVP, MCP, is a independent consultant and trainer on Microsoft Project and Project Server. She has taught Microsoft Project over 400 times and is the author of  MS Project 2010 and 2013 published courseware. Ellen is also a contributor and tech editor for many reference books, a developer for the Microsoft Project certification tests and is a frequent meeting speaker for Microsoft, MPUG and PMI. Contact Ellen at
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  1. If you could tell me what version of MSP you are using I could test this for you.

    Keep in mind that Cost resources are not included in the EV calculations. If you have cost resource values on the tasks, they are not included which could be why you are seeing a difference in the cost values. Fixed costs are included.

    The actual EV calculation is done at the time of re-scheduling uncompleted work based on the status date. Trying to copy other fields into the baseline cost field to trick MSP is not a good idea.

  2. Sandy – to answer your first question – yes, MS Project will calculate EV and it does not have to be programmed to do it. You must set up the project correctly, however, to make it work. You will need hours and cost estimates for each task as well as per hour costs for each resource. Then you set a baseline. You must then collect actual hours worked, enter the values to update the project, set a status date and reschedule uncompleted work. EV is calculated as of a status date. Do these actions and you will see EV calculated on the EV tables.

    To answer your 2nd question – first you must decide how many hours of production do you expect from a resource in a day. this might be different for each resource. So if I assign 40 hours of work to a resource should I expect them to complete the task in 5 days (production of 8 hours per day) or should it take closer to 7 days (production of 6 hours. per day). For consistency I leave the calendars at 8 hours (default) and use the assignment percentage to vary how much of the resource is assigned. Most users will assign resources at 75% of total availability. If you expect 8 hours of production in a day from your resources, you might be planning an unrealistic schedule.

    I hope this helps.

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