What is Schedule Variance?

Calculating schedule variance (SV) is a useful method in project management that aids project managers in determining how close a project or the schedule is to being complete. With it, project managers can quickly calculate a project’s true status with accuracy, so the team can more easily foresee and define launch details.

What is Schedule Variance?

Schedule variance is defined as an indicator of whether a project is on track, ahead of, or behind schedule. It is a calculation of data representing the deviation of actual time against estimated time.

Schedule variance is not to be confused with cost variance, which is the difference between the project’s earned value and actual cost. SV is a subset and crucial component of earned value management (EVM), a tool for measuring project progress across the scope, cost, and schedule categories.

Why SV is Important in Project Management

Project managers need a real-time, accurate picture of a project’s progress through time. Failure to keep on top of timing details can set off a sequence of events that could cause chaos to a project plan.

It is inevitable that at some point a project will fall off schedule, which means consequences and project delays. Some of these consequences might include risks of lawsuits if the project is contractually bound by a timeline that cannot be met or a loss of trust and reliability as a business/partner.

A few ways to potentially remedy some of the negative impacts of schedule variance might include:

  • Increase budget to hire more personnel and to account for overtime.
  • Decrease project scope.
  • Deliver with less features than planned.
  • Phase the remaining deliverables over a longer period of time based on priority.
  • Evaluate impact on business revenue and ability to pay debts and cost of operating.
  • Identify when true scope creep has begun.

How SV is Calculated

The formula

Schedule variance is quickly and easily calculated by finding the difference between earned value (EV) and planned value (PV).

The formula for SV looks like this:

Schedule Variance (SV) = Earned Value (EV) − Planned Value (PV)

There are three possible outcomes to the variance in the schedule indicated by one of the following:

  1. Positive Variance: More work has been completed than scheduled; the project is ahead of schedule.
  2. Negative Variance: Less work has been completed than planned; the project is behind schedule.
  3. Zero Variance: All planned work has been completed; the project is right on schedule.

To calculate a project’s schedule variance, simply subtract the PV, or budgeted cost of work scheduled (BCWS), from the EV, or budgeted cost of work performed (BCWP).

As an example, let’s consider a project with a cost of $200,000 that needs to be completed in nine months. After three months, 25% of the work is completed, and $45,000 has been spent. Per the schedule, 30% of the work should be completed.

Project duration = 9 months
Time elapsed = 3 months
Project Cost (BAC) = $200,000
Actual Cost = $45,000
Percent (should be) complete = 30%
Percent (actually) complete = 25%

PV = 30% × $200,000 = $60,000
EV = 25% × $200,000 = $50,000

Using the PV of $60,000 and a EV of $50,000, the schedule variance formula would look like this:

$50,000 (EV) − $60,000 (PV) = -$10,000 (SV)

The schedule variance here is -$10,000, meaning that the project is behind schedule.

The acronyms and definitions

    • PV: Planned value is the budgeted cost of work scheduled (BCWS).
    • EV: Earned value is the budgeted cost of work performed (BCWP).
    • BCWS: Budgeted cost of work scheduled, also known as planned value, is the budget for the entire project. This is the total budgeted amount for work scheduled for completion and is calculated before any work is done to serve as a baseline.
    • BCWP: Budgeted cost of work performed, also known as earned value, is the cost of the word done.
    • AC: Actual cost.

Ways to Communicate SV

Keeping on top of and communicating schedule variance to stakeholders is a key project task to plan to deliver periodically throughout the project. SV can be shared in real time with a project dashboard created and programmed to pull data from the project plan and budget. A simpler approach could be to provide and update in a weekly status meeting or report.

There are several tools that build in the ability to easily and instantly calculate the critical SV number, so this information can be monitored and relayed ongoing. There are many tools to help project managers get set up to analyze SV throughout the project’s duration.

Smartsheet

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on key metrics with real-time visibility into work as it happens. Dynamic reports, dashboards, and automated workflows keep all teams connected and informed.

ClickUp

Get quick visual summaries of the entire project to ensure things are running smoothly, including schedule variance, using ClickUp dashboards.

monday.com WorkOS

monday work management has dozens of fully customizable templates for every industry. Calculate SV easily using templates to gain actuals on cost management, expense, and budget tracking.

Wrike

Online Gantt chart software from Wrike allows project managers to oversee, adjust, and communicate project details and progress with their teams. Keep on top of SV using a drag-and-drop interface, visualizations, and project detail analysis.

Kintone

For the developer-minded, this cloud service allows project managers to easily create systems for their business including business apps that can be shared with team members. Manage various forms of data and establish flexible business processes around that data.

Mitigate Schedule Variance With Project Management Tools

The schedule variance is a key success measure used by project managers to keep projects on track. A project can easily slide off schedule due to the tiniest change in work time. While there are situations that can cause schedule variance to occur that are outside of anyone’s control, these changes are most often unnecessary and preventable.

All schedule variances impact the project’s budget and can balloon into many other undesirable outcomes. A project manager can and should conduct regular performance and variance analyses using a reliable tool to ensure every project stays on track with schedule variances kept to a minimum.

Anne Meick

Anne Meick is an author, copywriter, and digital project management consultant, leading digital teams and projects in highly regulated industries. She is the founder of Writers' Connection and blogs on writing, editing, and book publishing.