Earned Value Definitions
Variance at Completion (VAC)

What is Variance at Completion (VAC)? Earned Value Management explained.

Mia Rutherford
Mia Rutherford
February 24, 2024
5 min read

Variance at Completion (VAC) is a pivotal metric within the realm of Earned Value Management (EVM), a methodology widely used in project management to measure project performance and progress in an objective manner. EVM integrates the project scope, cost, and schedule measures to help project managers assess project health and forecast future performance. This article aims to demystify VAC and elucidate its role within the broader context of EVM, offering insights into its calculation, interpretation, and strategic importance for successful project delivery.

Key Takeaways

Understanding Earned Value Management (EVM)

The Fundamentals of EVM

At the heart of project management, Earned Value Management (EVM) stands as a proven methodology for assessing project performance and progress. It is a technique that integrates the project scope, schedule, and cost parameters to provide a comprehensive view of the project's health.

EVM is underpinned by three basic elements:

  1. Planned Value (PV): The authorised budget for work scheduled to be completed.
  2. Actual Cost (AC): The realised cost incurred for the work performed.
  3. Earned Value (EV): The value of work actually completed at a given point in time.

By comparing these elements, EVM enables project managers to gain insights into both the current state of the project and its projected outcome. It helps in identifying variances from the plan and facilitates proactive decision-making. Moreover, EVM promotes transparency among stakeholders and can motivate the project team by providing a clear picture of project status. The methodology, developed by the United States Department of Defence in the 1960s, has evolved to become a cornerstone in the field of project management, offering a structured approach to tracking performance and managing resources effectively.

Key Performance Indicators in EVM

In the realm of Earned Value Management (EVM), Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are vital metrics that provide a quantifiable measure of project performance against the established plan. These indicators are not only pivotal for tracking progress but also for ensuring that projects remain on schedule and within budget.

By regularly monitoring these KPIs, project managers can make informed decisions and implement necessary adjustments. This proactive management is crucial for maintaining control over the project's direction and ultimately contributes to its success.

EVM in Agile Project Management

While traditionally associated with more predictive project management methodologies, Earned Value Management (EVM) has found its place within Agile frameworks as well. Agile's iterative approach, with its focus on flexibility and customer collaboration, might seem at odds with EVM's structured analysis of cost, schedule, and scope. However, when applied correctly, EVM can enhance Agile's adaptability with robust performance monitoring and control.

In Agile project management, EVM can be adapted to focus on the delivery of value in each iteration rather than strictly adhering to baseline metrics. This involves:

The integration of EVM into Agile practises supports project managers in making informed decisions based on comprehensive performance data. It encourages a proactive approach to project management, ensuring that issues with significant cost and schedule impacts are addressed promptly. Moreover, the transparency provided by EVM fosters a motivated and aligned project team, with stakeholders having a clear view of project status.

Decoding Variance at Completion (VAC)

The Concept of VAC

Variance at Completion (VAC) is a pivotal metric within Earned Value Management (EVM), offering a forward-looking glimpse into the financial health of a project. It serves as an early warning system, indicating whether a project is trending towards a budget surplus or deficit by the time of its completion. VAC is calculated by subtracting the Estimate at Completion (EAC) from the Budget at Completion (BAC):

This simple yet powerful formula encapsulates the expected financial outcome, allowing project managers to anticipate and prepare for potential budgetary adjustments. Understanding VAC is crucial for maintaining control over project finances and ensuring that the final expenditure aligns with the initial budgetary constraints. By integrating VAC analysis into regular project reviews, managers can make informed decisions to steer projects back on course, should they begin to deviate from the planned budget.

Calculating VAC in Practise

The calculation of Variance at Completion (VAC) is a critical step in Earned Value Management (EVM) for forecasting the financial health of a project. VAC is the projected budget surplus or deficit at the end of the project, and it is determined by the formula: VAC = BAC \- EAC, where BAC stands for Budget at Completion and EAC is the Estimate at Completion.

To calculate VAC effectively, follow these steps:

  1. Determine the Budget at Completion (BAC), which is the total budget allocated for the project.
  2. Calculate the Estimate at Completion (EAC), which is the forecasted total cost of the project based on current performance and trends.
  3. Subtract the EAC from the BAC to find the VAC value.

A positive VAC indicates that the project is predicted to be under budget, while a negative VAC suggests an over budget scenario. It is essential to interpret VAC in the context of other EVM metrics, such as the Cost Performance Index (CPI) and Schedule Variance (SV), to gain a comprehensive understanding of the project's financial trajectory.

Interpreting VAC Results

Interpreting the Variance at Completion (VAC) is crucial for assessing the financial health of a project. A positive VAC indicates a project is trending under budget, which is a favourable position, suggesting that the project may finish with a surplus. Conversely, a negative VAC signifies an over budget trend, alerting project managers to potential financial risks.

Understanding the implications of VAC is essential for proactive project management. It allows managers to adjust strategies, reallocate resources, and take corrective actions to steer the project back on course. The interpretation of VAC should be done in conjunction with other EVM metrics such as the Cost Performance Index (CPI) and the Schedule Performance Index (SPI) to gain a comprehensive view of the project's performance.

Key steps in interpreting VAC results include:

By integrating these insights, project managers can make informed decisions, ensuring that the project remains aligned with its financial objectives and delivers value to stakeholders.

Analysing Project Performance with EVM Metrics

The Role of Cost Variance (CV) and Schedule Variance (SV)

In the realm of Earned Value Management (EVM), Cost Variance (CV) and Schedule Variance (SV) serve as critical indicators of a project's financial and temporal health. CV, calculated as the difference between the Earned Value (EV) and the Actual Cost (AC), provides a snapshot of the project's budget performance at any given time. A positive CV indicates a budget surplus, while a negative figure suggests a deficit.

Similarly, SV measures the project's progress against its schedule by comparing the Earned Value with the Planned Value (PV). It is a straightforward calculation: SV = EV

The insights gained from CV and SV are invaluable for project managers, as they highlight areas requiring attention and enable the implementation of timely corrective actions. Here are some key steps to effectively utilise these metrics:

By integrating CV and SV into the project management process, professionals can maintain control over both the budget and schedule, ensuring that projects are delivered successfully.

Understanding Cost Performance Index (CPI) and Schedule Performance Index (SPI)

The Cost Performance Index (CPI) and Schedule Performance Index (SPI) are pivotal metrics within Earned Value Management (EVM) that provide a snapshot of a project's financial and scheduling health, respectively. CPI is a measure of cost efficiency, indicating whether a project is under or over budget by comparing the Earned Value (EV) to the Actual Cost (AC). A CPI greater than 1.0 signifies that the project is under budget, while a value less than 1.0 indicates an over budget scenario.

Similarly, SPI assesses the progress against the planned schedule by dividing the EV by the Planned Value (PV). An SPI greater than 1.0 suggests that the project is ahead of schedule, and conversely, an SPI less than 1.0 shows that the project is lagging behind the anticipated timeline. These indices are not only indicators of current performance but also serve as predictors for future project trends.

To effectively utilise CPI and SPI, consider the following steps:

  1. Regularly calculate and review CPI and SPI to monitor project performance.
  2. Analyse trends and investigate any deviations from the baseline.
  3. Utilise a construction reporting platform to streamline data analysis and automate progress tracking.
  4. Implement corrective actions promptly to address any issues highlighted by these metrics.

By integrating these indices into the project management process, professionals can improve cost management and ensure collaborative project delivery. It's essential to remember that while CPI and SPI provide valuable insights, they should be considered alongside other EVM metrics for a comprehensive understanding of project performance.

Implementing Corrective Actions Based on EVM Analysis

Once an EVM analysis has been conducted, it is crucial to act upon the insights gained. Corrective actions are essential to steer a project back on course when deviations from the plan are identified. These actions may include:

It is also important to incorporate authorised changes in a timely manner and to reconcile current budgets with previous ones. Preventing unauthorised budget changes and documenting any alterations to the Performance Measurement Baseline (PMB) are key steps in maintaining control over the project's financial health. By prioritising issues that have significant cost and schedule impacts, project managers can focus their efforts where they are most needed, ensuring that the project remains viable and successful.

The Strategic Importance of EVM in Project Management

Enhancing Decision-Making with EVM Data

The application of Earned Value Management (EVM) transforms raw project data into actionable insights, enabling project managers to steer their projects towards success with greater confidence. By integrating key metrics such as Planned Value (PV), Earned Value (EV), and Actual Cost (AC), EVM provides a comprehensive view of project health.

In essence, EVM acts as a navigational tool, akin to Google Maps for project management, offering real-time updates and directions to keep the project on its intended course. This level of clarity is crucial for making informed decisions, particularly in the dynamic environment of construction and project management.

EVM as a Predictive Tool for Project Success

Earned Value Management (EVM) is not just a retrospective tool; it's a forward-looking mechanism that can predict project success. By comparing the actual progress of a project against the planned progress, EVM provides a clear picture of where a project is headed. This predictive capability is particularly valuable in identifying potential overruns and shortfalls before they become critical issues.

Key benefits of using EVM as a predictive tool include:

By leveraging EVM data, project managers can make informed decisions and take proactive steps to steer their projects towards successful completion. It's the ability to forecast and adjust that makes EVM an indispensable part of modern project management.

Integrating EVM with Other Project Management Processes

Earned Value Management (EVM) is not an isolated framework but a comprehensive approach that integrates seamlessly with other project management processes. It serves as a platform for predictable project delivery, streamlined cost management, and collaborative contract management. By incorporating EVM, project managers can enhance their planning in terms of cost, schedule, and scope, ensuring a realistic and transparent project trajectory.

The integration of EVM with project management tools, such as MS Project and Oracle Primavera, facilitates the automation of data tracking and real-time data analysis. This synergy between EVM and project management software supports a robust support system for improved project performance and productivity. Here are some steps to effectively integrate EVM:

  1. Align EVM metrics with project goals and objectives.
  2. Utilise compliant EVM software to ensure consistency and reliability of data.
  3. Prioritise issues based on their cost and schedule impacts, guided by EVM analysis.
  4. Maintain transparency among stakeholders to foster motivation and informed decision-making.

Incorporating EVM into the broader project management framework not only enhances decision-making but also serves as a predictive tool for project success. It brings a level of clarity and control to project status that is invaluable for project teams.

Addressing Common Misconceptions about EVM

Clarifying the Misunderstood Aspects of EVM

Earned Value Management (EVM) is often hailed as a comprehensive approach to project management, yet it is not without its misconceptions. One common misunderstanding is that EVM is solely focused on cost management, when in fact, it integrates scope, time, and cost dimensions to provide a holistic view of project performance. While EVM excels in these areas, it is crucial to note that it does not directly address quality, which must be managed through complementary processes.

Another area of confusion lies in the application of EVM within Agile methodologies. It is a myth that EVM and Agile are incompatible; rather, EVM can be adapted to fit the iterative and flexible nature of Agile projects, although it may not be the most straightforward fit. To clarify these aspects, consider the following points:

By dispelling these myths, project managers can leverage EVM more effectively, ensuring that all critical components of project performance are adequately monitored and controlled.

Correcting Common EVM Myths

Earned Value Management (EVM) is often surrounded by misconceptions that can deter project managers from utilising its full potential. One prevalent myth is that EVM is too complex and only suitable for large-scale projects. However, EVM's principles are scalable and can bring clarity and control to projects of any size. By demystifying these myths, project managers can harness EVM to drive project success.

Another common misunderstanding is that EVM neglects the quality aspect of project management, focusing solely on scope, time, and cost. In reality, while EVM primarily addresses these three constraints, quality is an inherent part of delivering the project scope satisfactorily. Moreover, EVM is not incompatible with agile methodologies; it can be adapted to provide valuable insights into project performance in an agile context.

To correct these myths and optimise the use of EVM, consider the following points:

Embracing EVM with a clear understanding of its capabilities and limitations will empower project managers to become, as some might say, 'superheroes' in their field.

Best Practises for Effective EVM Implementation

To master Earned Value Management (EVM) and ensure its successful application in project management, certain best practises should be diligently followed. Firstly, it is crucial to define clear project objectives and scope; this foundational step sets the stage for accurate tracking and analysis.

Effective EVM implementation also involves a proactive approach to project issues. Prioritising issues based on their potential impact on cost and schedule is essential for maintaining control and steering the project towards its goals. Regularly updating the Estimate at Completion (EAC) and Variance at Completion (VAC) based on performance data ensures that the project's financial health is closely monitored.

Transparency among stakeholders is another cornerstone of EVM success. By maintaining open communication channels and ensuring that all team members are aligned with the project's status, motivation and collective responsibility are fostered. Additionally, it is important to:

Lastly, while EVM is a powerful tool for managing scope, time, and cost, it is important to remember that it does not directly address quality. For projects with a strong emphasis on quality, complementary management techniques should be integrated alongside EVM.


In summary, Variance at Completion (VAC) is a pivotal component of Earned Value Management (EVM), providing a crucial projection of budget surplus or deficit at the end of a project. Understanding VAC, alongside other EVM metrics such as Cost Variance (CV), Schedule Variance (SV), and performance indices, equips project managers with the foresight to steer projects towards successful completion within the triple constraints of time, cost, and scope. As we have explored, accurate and timely application of these metrics can significantly enhance the management and predictability of project outcomes. It is essential for professionals to not only comprehend these concepts but also to adeptly apply them in both traditional and Agile project environments to ensure comprehensive tracking and control of project performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Earned Value Management (EVM) in project management?

Earned Value Management (EVM) is a project management technique for measuring project performance and progress in an objective manner. It integrates project scope, cost, and schedule measures to help the project management team assess and quantify project performance and progress.

How is Variance at Completion (VAC) calculated?

Variance at Completion (VAC) is calculated using the formula: VAC = BAC – EAC, where BAC is the Budget at Completion and EAC is the Estimate at Completion. It projects whether the project will finish under or over the initial budget.

What does a positive VAC indicate in a project's budget?

A positive VAC indicates that the project is projected to finish under budget, meaning the actual costs will be less than what was originally planned or budgeted.

Can EVM be used in Agile project management?

Yes, EVM can be adapted for use in Agile project management. Although traditional EVM metrics are based on more predictive project approaches, Agile projects can also use modified EVM metrics to track progress and performance.

What role do Cost Variance (CV) and Schedule Variance (SV) play in EVM?

Cost Variance (CV) and Schedule Variance (SV) are key performance indicators in EVM. CV measures the amount of budget deficit or surplus, while SV indicates the degree to which the project is ahead or behind the planned schedule.

How can EVM data enhance decision-making in project management?

EVM data provides an objective basis for assessing project performance, which can help project managers make informed decisions about resource allocation, schedule adjustments, and other corrective actions to ensure project success.

Calculation: VAC = BAC - EAC

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