Schedule Assessment - What is it, Who are the DCMA and How are they done?

Updated: Aug 24


DCMA 14-point Schedule Assessment is a project management guideline based on 14 metrics to make a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of a schedule. It is a handbook developed by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) for the Defense Industry.


Making an assessment of the schedule is essential for the planning, monitoring, and controlling of a project. Therefore, these points are crucial for the health of the project schedule to identify and analyze areas that are critical and may cause issues and obstruct the schedule.



Who are the DCMA?


The Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) is a Division of the Department of Defense (DoD) that is responsible for ensuring that DoD suppliers deliver supplies and services on time and at the agreed cost. The DCMA has duties before and after the contract is awarded. After the contract is awarded, DCMA monitors the contractors’ deliverables to make sure that the expenditures, project execution, and schedules are in compliance with the contract.



What are the DCMA’s 14 Schedule Assessment Metrics?


These metrics may be a starting point of discussion between the agency and the contractor regarding the project that may lead to a better understanding of the contractor’s approach to the project.

DCMA has implemented a set of Tripwire metrics that are used by OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) as part of its assessment.

DCMA provides its contractors with a spreadsheet to perform the calculations necessary to derive metrics.


Being involved in a project that will be reviewed using these tripwires, requires either submittal of a schedule that does not violate the metrics’ thresholds as a contractor - or - for it to be reviewed with a construction manager.


In both cases, the schedule must be ready for the 14-point schedule assessment.


The following are the 14-point schedule assessment checks:


1. Logic Check

2. Leads Check

3. Lags Check

4. Relationship Types Check

5. Hard Constraints Check

6. High Float Check

7. Negative Float Check

8. High Duration Check

9. Invalid Dates Check

10. Resources Check

11. Missed Tasks Check

12. Critical Path Test Check

13. Critical Path Length Index (CPLI)

14. Baseline Execution Index (BEI)


Let’s have a look in more detail:



Logic


The metric ‘Logic’ is a means to open the possibility for measurement of the ‘%’ of incomplete tasks with no predecessors and/or successors, also called ‘dangling’ activities.

For this metric, it is preferable that the number of unfinished activities missing predecessors and/or successors don’t exceed 5%.


The best practice for avoiding incompleteness of tasks is ensuring that every task has at least one finish-to-start or start-to-start relation as its predecessor and at least one finish-to-start or finish-to-finish as its successor.

This metric is important in investigating how project tasks are connected to each other and in looking to assure that no incomplete tasks affect the project schedule negatively.



Leads


‘Leads’ is the control criteria that helps measure the ‘%’ of tasks that have a negative lag between each other.

In particular, the term designates the overlapping time between two activities in the project schedule. In other words, it indicates the exact time (days) that would be overlapped if a task starts a certain time before the finish date of its predecessor.


The leads in the schedule should equal zero, therefore there shouldn’t be tasks with a negative lag between each other. If there is a part of the schedule, which could prove itself as a potential problem, the tasks in question should be decomposed into separate tasks. This metric can impede the critical path analysis, therefore it is preferable that it is used within the limits.



Lags


The metric ‘Lags’ is the opposite of ‘Leads’. Specifically, it allows an evaluation of the ‘%’ of project activities that have a positive lag between each other. The metric actually indicates the time (hours/days) calculated when a certain activity starts after the finish date of its predecessor.


The DCMA threshold for this metric is more flexible than the one for the Leads and it advises that the lags in the project schedule shouldn’t be greater than 5%. However, the excessive use of lags as well may cause an obstruction to the critical path analysis.

Therefore it is recommended that they are avoided altogether.

A good practice for this metric is to present activities with specific names rather than with an ‘X-days lag’.



Relationship Types


It is recommended that 90% of the project schedule activities are of a finish-to-start type (FS). The finish-to-start type of relationship stands for ‘Activity A must be completed before activity B can begin’. This type of relationship between particular tasks is the foundation of the Waterfall method used in project management.


Finish-to-start relationship provides the most explicit presentation of the project schedule activities. The other types of relationships, which can be identified in a schedule, are finish-to-finish (FF), start-to-start (SS), and start-to-finish (SF). However, it is not recommendable for these to be used since they are harder to monitor and control.



Hard Constraints


Under ‘Constraints’ in a project schedule are identified Hard Constraints (Mandatory Start and Mandatory Finish) and Soft Constraints (As Late As Possible, Start On, Start On or Before, Start On or After, Finish On, Finish On or Before and Finish On or After).


DCMA recommends 5% of the constraints used to be Hard Constraints - because they may provoke problems in the schedule.


Hard Constraints may prevent the schedule from being logic-driven and create negative lags.


In other words, Hard Constraints should be avoided since they can obstruct the logic of flowing naturally.

Soft Constraints, on the other hand, allow the schedule to be logic-driven and they are not critical to the schedule.



High Float


This metric measures the ‘%’ of unfinished tasks with total float greater than 44 working days. DCMA requires that the High Float activity doesn’t exceed 44 working days, i.e. the percentage of total incomplete tasks doesn’t exceed 5%.


This metric represents the time (hours/days) that an activity can be delayed without negatively affecting project milestones and/or the estimated time for project completion.

A certain task with a total float that exceeds 44 working days could be a consequence of incomplete activities (predecessor/successor).



Negative Float


This metric is interconnected with Hard Constraints since it may indicate that Hard Constraints have been assigned to the schedule. When this happens, it is very much feasible that the project's or milestones' completion is delayed.


DCMA threshold for this metric is zero, therefore it is required that regular checks and reviews of the project schedule are executed. The Negative Float, or Slack, should be avoided, and, if tasks with a large amount of negative float are noticed, they should be mitigated or otherwise, the risk for a missing project or milestones deadlines could arise.



High Duration


This metric may help open the possibility to monitor and control the duration of tasks and it requires that no task should last longer than 44 working days. If it is detected that the percentage of incomplete tasks with a duration beyond 44 days is above 5% it is preferable to examine if it is possible to decompose them in distinct tasks.


Breaking down activities helps them to be measurable and controllable.

Tasks with high duration could create obstacles in the project schedule and progress and deform the critical path.



Invalid Dates


The metric for Invalid Dates analyses both forecast and actual dates of project activities.

An activity is considered to have invalid dates if it has forecast start/finish dates in the past or actual start/finish dates in the future. More specifically, this metric refers to tasks with actual start/finish date after project status date and with start/finish date before project status date without an actual start/finish.


‘Invalid dates’ is a very critical metric, therefore the goal is not to surpass 0%, i.e. tasks with invalid dates should not be present in the schedule.



Resources


The metric for ‘Resources’ is the most open-ended on the list. DCMA recommends that all project schedules are resource-loaded, but additionally, it allows some schedules to not include resources at all.


However, for those who are using this metric DCMA asks to not exceed the limit of 0%, i.e. to assign at least one resource (labor, cost, and equipment) to all activities included in the schedule so that a misbalance might be avoided.



Missed Tasks


The metric for ‘Missed Tasks’ may be a means of the project falling far behind.

It assists in measuring the schedule performance in parallel to the baseline plan.

Particularly, the number of missing tasks can indicate how well or badly the project schedule meets the baseline schedule.


Bad performance, i.e. a large amount of missed tasks, may be a result of inadequate resourcing, poor planning, or else.

Consequently, DCMA holds that the number in question shouldn’t exceed 5% and if it becomes critical, proper plans for correction are needed.



Critical Path Test


This test focuses on assessing the integrity of the schedule’s network logic.

Firstly, a task is identified whether it is a critical activity and its remaining duration.

The next step is intentionally extending the duration of this activity for 600 days.

The last step is recalculating the schedule dates and identifying if the date for completion of the project is extended for the same number of days applied to the critical activity.


The Critical Path Test is performed in order to inspect if these two numbers are proportional. In other words, if the project completion date is not delayed for the same amount of days (600 days) it means that there is broken logic somewhere in the schedule.

This may be a result of missing predecessor and/or successor activities.


If this happens it is imperative to execute an in-depth analysis of the project schedule.



Critical Path Length Index (CPLI)


The Critical Path Length Index (CPLI) presents the measure of the efficiency needed to complete a milestone on assigned time. CPLI evaluates the integrity of the overall network logic and measures the plausibility of completing a project successfully.


It is preferable that the CPLI equals 1.00, which means that the project must be completed within the planned time. A CPLI that is below 1.00 indicates that the project is inefficient, while a CPLI that is above 1.00 shows that there is a schedule margin which means that the project may be finished earlier than planned.



Baseline Execution Index (BEI)


The Baseline Execution Index (BEI) test is a metric for evaluating schedule performance in parallel with the baseline plan but focusing on the project’s team productivity in executing activities.


Similar to the Critical Path Length Index (CPLI), for the Baseline Execution Index (BEI) test, the DCMA’s acceptable limit is 1.00.

Indicating that the project team is performing well and according to plan.

When BEI surpasses 1.00 it suggests that the team is performing ahead of schedule, while when it falls behind 1.00 it means that it is behind schedule.



What are the benefits of DCMA 14-Point Assessment


Although it is not considered an industry standard, DCMA 14 is a comprehensive set of guidelines for planning, managing, and controlling project plans.


DCMA 14 check-points look to ensure many benefits for the project schedule, and from them:


- Provide the possibility for constant in-depth analysis of the schedule;

- Help to identify weak points in the schedule;

- Assist in designating potential problems around the project activities and in creating appropriate corrective plans;

- Assure that the project is managed and executed with success and on time.



How to Perform a Schedule Assessment


Really - and regular readers may already know this - the best is to hire someone already proficient in this.


This might not be as costly as you think as they may be hired on a contract basis - and also they are FAR and away worth it in terms of the money you might save on your projects.


Delays, claims, and inefficiency might add up to millions whereas hiring an experienced professional should only cost you a few thousand. The maths is simple!


That said, if you are an employee or doing this task for others and can’t afford to outsource this then you should use whatever you can from the good software tools available on the market to do this for you.


The best of them is Claim Cracker, which offers the schedule assessment metrics (and over 80 more! - to give you an in-depth look into the quality of your schedule (or those given to you by contractors/subcontractors) and create reports based on that in just two clicks!


Click here to check it out!



Thanks a lot for reading, everyone, and take care,


Niall

The Project Cracker Team

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