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What is Variance in Project Management and How to Calculate it?

19th Feb, 2024
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    What is Variance in Project Management and How to Calculate it?

    In project management, the pursuit of success relies on effective planning, efficient execution, and vigilant control. As projects unfold, project managers face the inevitable challenge of managing deviations from the original plan. 

    This is where Variance in Project Management plays a crucial role. Variance, in the context of project management, refers to the disparity between expected or planned values and the actual outcomes. It serves as a quantitative measure that enables project managers to evaluate and understand the deviations from the original plan. 

    What is Variance in Project Management?

    In project management, variance takes on a distinct definition compared to its statistical counterpart. Here, Variance in Project Management refers to a measurable deviation from a known standard or baseline, indicating the disparity between expected outcomes and actual achievements. 

    By Project Variance Analysis, project managers can gain valuable insights into project performance, identify potential risks and opportunities, and make informed decisions to steer the project toward its desired objectives. In this article, we will delve into the concept of Variance in Project Management, explore its significance, and examine how it can be effectively utilized to enhance project success.

    It is crucial to differentiate this concept of variance from statistical variance, which calculates the squared deviation from the mean. Understanding the specific type of variance being referred to is essential, as these two concepts diverge significantly. Going for Project Management certification classes will help you understand the concept and get globally recognized accreditations.

    In project management, the establishment of a variance baseline involves identifying key elements such as cost, schedule, and scope. The scope encompasses all the necessary work to be completed, which is often organized using a work breakdown structure (WBS). 

    The WBS provides a hierarchical view of tasks, enabling the determination of cost and schedule based on its breakdown. Cost estimation is typically carried out by assigning average daily, hourly, monthly, or yearly rates to each task, while fixed costs are identified separately. 

    Furthermore, project management teams estimate the duration required to accomplish each task, creating a time-phased budget that quantifies performance cost. Once the scope, schedule, and cost have been identified, project managers develop a plan to effectively manage variances within the triple constraints of scope, schedule, and cost. Positive variance indicates that the project is progressing ahead of schedule or under budget, while negative variance implies delays or exceeding the budget.

    Tracking variances is a fundamental aspect of project management and necessitates a logical approach. Project managers establish variance thresholds and formulate contingency plans to address potential deviations from the baseline.

    What is the Importance of Monitoring and Controlling Variances?

    Monitoring and controlling Variance in Project Management is of utmost importance for several reasons:

    1. Performance Evaluation: Variances provide a quantitative measure to assess project performance. By comparing planned values with actual outcomes, project managers can gauge the effectiveness and efficiency of their project execution. Variances highlight areas where the project is deviating from the original plan, enabling managers to identify strengths and weaknesses and take corrective actions accordingly.

    2. Early Problem Detection: Variances act as early warning signs of potential issues or risks within a project. By continuously monitoring and analyzing variances, project managers can identify deviations in cost, schedule, or scope and promptly address any emerging problems. Early detection allows for proactive measures to mitigate risks, prevent further deviations, and ensure project success. Opting for Project Management professional course will help you understand emerging problems and have early problem detection.

    3. Decision Making: Variances provide valuable insights that aid in making informed decisions throughout the project lifecycle. By understanding the causes of variances, project managers can assess alternative options, adjust resources, reallocate budgets, or revise schedules to bring the project back on track. Monitoring variances equips managers with the necessary data to make strategic decisions that maximize project performance.

    4. Resource Optimization: Time Variance in Project Management highlight inefficiencies and resource imbalances within a project. By analyzing variances, project managers can identify areas where resources are underutilized or overutilized and make necessary adjustments. This enables efficient resource allocation, reducing unnecessary costs and improving overall project productivity.

    5. Client Satisfaction: Monitoring and controlling variances contributes to delivering the project as per client expectations. By ensuring that the project remains within the predefined parameters of scope, schedule, and cost, project managers can meet or exceed client requirements. Addressing variances in a timely manner enhances client satisfaction and strengthens the professional reputation of the project management team.

    6. Continuous Improvement: Variance Analysis PMP provides valuable data for lessons learned and process improvement initiatives. By analyzing historical variances from past projects, project managers can identify patterns, trends, and areas for improvement. This knowledge can be applied to future projects, enabling more accurate planning, better estimation, and proactive management of potential variances.

    Monitoring and controlling variances in project management are vital for evaluating performance, detecting and mitigating risks, making informed decisions, optimizing resources, ensuring client satisfaction, and driving continuous improvement. It empowers project managers with the necessary information to steer projects toward success and achieve desired outcomes.

    Types of Variances in Project Management

    In project management, various types of variances can occur, each representing a different aspect of the project's performance. Here are some common types of Project Variances:

    1. Cost Variance (CV): Cost variance measures the difference between the actual cost incurred and the planned cost for a specific task, activity, or entire project. A positive CV indicates cost savings, while a negative CV signifies cost overruns.

    2. Schedule Variance (SV): Schedule variance assesses the deviation between the planned schedule and the actual progress of the project. It measures whether the project is ahead of or behind schedule. A positive SV indicates that tasks are completed ahead of schedule, while a negative SV implies delays in task completion.

    3. Time Variance (TV): Time variance focuses on the difference between the estimated time to complete a task and the actual time taken. It helps project managers evaluate the efficiency of their time estimates and identify areas where tasks are taking longer than expected.

    4. Scope Variance (SV): Scope variance reflects any changes or deviations in the project's scope. It compares the actual deliverables achieved against the planned deliverables. Positive SV implies additional scope, while negative SV indicates incomplete or reduced scope.

    5. Quality Variance (QV): Quality variance highlights deviations from the expected level of quality or compliance with standards. It measures the difference between the actual quality of work performed and the desired or specified quality level. Positive QV indicates better-than-expected quality, while negative QV reflects subpar quality.

    6. Resource Variance (RV): Resource variance examines discrepancies in resource utilization. It compares the planned allocation of resources (such as labor, equipment, or materials) with the actual utilization. Positive RV indicates underutilization of resources, while negative RV signifies resource over utilization.

    7. Risk Variance (RKV): Risk variance focuses on the variation in the occurrence or impact of identified risks. It measures the effectiveness of risk management strategies and highlights any deviations from the planned risk mitigation measures.

    These are some of the key types of variances in project management. Monitoring and analyzing these variances helps project managers identify areas of concern, make informed decisions, and take corrective actions to keep the project on track.

    How to Best Manage the Project Variance?

    Managing project variances effectively requires a systematic approach and proactive measures. Here are some best practices for managing project variances:

    1. Regular Monitoring and Tracking: Implement a robust monitoring system to track project performance against the planned values. Regularly review and compare actual progress, costs, schedules, and other relevant metrics with the baseline. This allows early detection of variances and timely intervention.

    2. Establish Variances Thresholds: Define acceptable thresholds for different types of variances based on project objectives and constraints. Establishing clear thresholds helps in identifying significant deviations that require immediate attention and distinguishing them from minor fluctuations that may be within acceptable limits.

    3. Root Cause Analysis: When variances occur, conduct a thorough root cause analysis to determine the underlying factors contributing to the variances. Identify the reasons for the deviations, such as inadequate planning, resource constraints, scope changes, or external factors. Understanding the root causes enables targeted corrective actions.

    4. Take Corrective Actions: Develop and implement appropriate corrective actions to address the identified variances. This may involve revising the project plan, reallocating resources, revisiting the scope, or modifying the schedule. Ensure that corrective actions are aligned with the project objectives and are realistic in terms of feasibility and impact.

    5. Communication and Stakeholder Engagement: Maintain open and transparent communication with project stakeholders, including team members, clients, and sponsors. Keep them informed about variances, their implications, and the proposed corrective actions. Engage stakeholders in the decision-making process to gain their support and collaboration in managing variances.

    6. Adjust Project Baseline: In some cases, significant variances may necessitate revising the project baseline. If variances persist and cannot be adequately addressed through corrective actions, reassess and update the project plan, budget, or schedule to reflect the new reality. Document the revised baseline to ensure alignment with the project's current status.

    7. Continuous Improvement: Learn from variances by capturing lessons learned and implementing process improvements. Analyze historical variances from previous projects to identify patterns, common causes, and preventive measures. Incorporate these insights into future planning and execution to enhance project performance. Alongside this, PRINCE2 certification online course will aid in improving project variance management.

    8. Risk Management: Manage risks proactively to reduce their influence on project deviations. Determine prospective risks, evaluate their likelihood and effect, and devise risk-mitigation solutions. As the project continues, evaluate and update the risk management strategy on a regular basis to address new risks and mitigate their potential variation effect. 

    Project managers may successfully manage project deviations, reduce risks, make informed decisions, and keep the project on schedule to completion by following these best practices.

    Examples of Project Variance Report

    A Variance Report in Project Management provides a concise overview of the deviations between planned values and actual outcomes in various aspects of a project. Below are some Variance Report examples:

    1. Cost Variance Report:

    • Planned Cost: $100,000
    • Actual Cost: $110,000
    • Cost Variance: -$10,000 (Negative variance indicates cost overrun)

    Percentage Variance: -10% (Negative percentage indicates a 10% overrun)

    2. Schedule Variance Report:

    • Planned Completion Date: May 31, 2023
    • Actual Completion Date: June 5, 2023
    • Schedule Variance: +5 days (Positive variance indicates project delay)

    3. Time Variance Report:

    • Estimated Time for Task A: 10 days
    • Actual Time for Task A: 12 days
    • Time Variance: +2 days (Positive variance indicates task took longer than expected)

    4. Scope Variance Report:

    • Planned Deliverables: A, B, C
    • Actual Deliverables: A, B
    • Scope Variance: -1 deliverable (Negative variance indicates incomplete scope)

    5. Quality Variance Report:

    • Expected Quality Level: 90% compliance
    • Actual Quality Level: 85% compliance
    • Quality Variance: -5% (Negative variance indicates lower quality than expected)

    6. Resource Variance Report:

    • Planned Labor Hours: 500 hours
    • Actual Labor Hours: 450 hours
    • Resource Variance: -50 hours (Negative variance indicates underutilization of resources)

    These are just a few examples and Project Variance Report Template of the information that can be included in a project variance report. The report should provide a clear comparison between planned and actual values, highlighting the variances in a concise and understandable format. It helps project managers, and stakeholders gain insights into project performance, identify areas of concern, and make informed decisions for corrective actions.


    Variance plays a crucial role in project management as it measures the deviation between planned or expected values and the actual outcomes of a project. By effectively monitoring and controlling variances, project managers can evaluate project performance, detect potential issues early on, and make informed decisions to keep the project on track. 

    Variances provide valuable insights into cost, schedule, scope, quality, resource utilization, and risk management, enabling project managers to take proactive measures to address deviations and optimize project outcomes. Going for KnowledgeHut Project Management training will help you deliver productivity and profitability as well as get globally recognized accreditations.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1What is the Project Cost Variance?

    Project cost variance is the numerical measurement that represents the difference between the planned or budgeted cost for a project and the actual cost incurred. It indicates whether the project is over or under budget.

    2How is Project Variance calculated?

    Project variance is typically calculated by subtracting the planned or expected value from the actual value in a specific aspect of the project. For example, to calculate cost variance (CV), the actual cost (AC) is subtracted from the planned cost (PC). The Variance Formula in Project Management for CV is CV = AC - PC.

    3Why Variance is risk?

    Variance in project management is a risk as it deviates from planned values, causing uncertainty and potential negative consequences. Variances can result in cost overruns, schedule delays, scope creep, quality issues, and resource imbalances.


    Kevin D.Davis

    Blog Author

    Kevin D. Davis is a seasoned and results-driven Program/Project Management Professional with a Master's Certificate in Advanced Project Management. With expertise in leading multi-million dollar projects, strategic planning, and sales operations, Kevin excels in maximizing solutions and building business cases. He possesses a deep understanding of methodologies such as PMBOK, Lean Six Sigma, and TQM to achieve business/technology alignment. With over 100 instructional training sessions and extensive experience as a PMP Exam Prep Instructor at KnowledgeHut, Kevin has a proven track record in project management training and consulting. His expertise has helped in driving successful project outcomes and fostering organizational growth.

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