How to Control Costs on the Project?

Control CostsTo control costs on the project the PM has to monitor expenditures, prepare cost forecasts, compare realized costs against the cost baseline and manage changes to it using Change control process.

Control costs is a project management activity where actual cost of work performed is measured. It is then compared against the allocated budget for the work to understand whether team has spent more, or less than the budget.

In case team has spent more than the budget, then the project manager calculates forecasts to understand how much more budget would be required to complete the work within schedule.

In case the budget needs to be increased, project manager goes to the sponsor making a case for additional budget.

Any resultant changes to cost baseline are managed using Perform Integrated Change Control process.

Controlling project costs involves a two-step process –

  1. Calculate variance against baseline
  2. Plan corrective or preventive actions

Earned Value Management (EVM) calculation method helps you with #1 above.

One of the jobs of the project manager to control costs is to influence factors that lead to cost increase. This may involve negotiating with stakeholders to omit certain irrelevant work, for instance. Or negotiating with suppliers to reduce quotes. This may even involve working with procurement specialist to create contractual terms that de-risk cost escalation.

Apart from these the project manager has to monitor closely the expenditure with respect to cost baseline, against work progress. In other words, if work is being done within defined schedule then the risk of cost escalation is reduced.

If quality of the deliverables are maintained then external cost of quality can be avoided.

All this will naturally mean that control costs is not a one-time process to execute. Neither it is an activity done in isolation. This is a regular, almost day-to-day activity for the project manager to keep an eye on preventive measures that keeps the costs under control.


It would be useful at this stage to just understand important acronyms used in order to see how project cost is controlled.

  • EV – Earned Value. Also referred to as Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP).
  • ES – Earned Schedule
  • AC – Actual Cost. Also referred to as Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP).
  • PV – Planned Value
  • PMB – Total PV is sometime referred to as Performance Measurement Baseline.
  • SV – Schedule Variance
  • CV – Cost Variance
  • SPI – Schedule Performance Index
  • CPI – Cost Performance Index
  • BAC – Budget At Completion
  • EAC – Estimate At Completion
  • ETC – Estimate To Complete
  • TCPI – To-Complete Performance Index
  • TAB – Total Allocated Budget

Exam tip: Understand the alternate acronyms used in the list above. Exam questions may refer to any of them. For instance, instead of Actual Cost, the question may refer to Actual Cost of Work Performed or just ACWP.

What do you need to control project costs?

You need to refer to Cost management plan, and the Cost baseline – which is the yardstick to compare actual cost measurements against, so we know the variance and do something to fix it.

Project funding requirements is about figuring out amount and frequency of time at which budgeted money should be released. This would depend on projected expenditure plan, which is made based on when certain resources come into play during project execution.

For instance, for a new e-commerce product you may need an exhaustive security audit when version 1.0 of the product is released. You will need a funding release around this time.

Then you will need to know the state of project. Information such as which activities (or WBS components) have been taken up, how many are completed, how many are delayed, what is the cost incurred on the work performed, so on.

If your organization has certain cost control related policies, procedures, tools, reporting methods so on, you need to know them as well.

How do you control costs?

The project manager sort of works as a gate keeper – keep unwanted changes, unapproved changes from getting into deliverables. Avoid scope creep and gold plating.

She also needs to work as a ticket checker – to make sure only required work is done, processes are followed, and quality of deliverables is maintained.

She also needs to work as tour conductor – to ensure all the stakeholders are happy with the project, and the project achieves its stated objectives within given constraints.

Here are few tools, techniques, and practices that will help her do just that.

Get help from experts. Just because the project manager is in charge of the project, it does not mean that she needs to know the subject matter and do all the work herself. What are experts for, right? They can help with one or more of the following.

Analyzing data.

Well, only then we know how things are going and what to do to fix those things that are broken, right?

Some of the data analysis techniques are Earned value analysis, Alternatives analysis, Variance analysis, Trend analysis, Reserve analysis and so on.

Earned Value Management (EVM)

This is the most common methodology used to check project progress. It integrates project schedule, cost and scope and gives pretty good indication of project’s state against integrated baseline.

EVM is applicable to any industry and domain. You may refer to the EVM guide used by the US Department of Defense here.

We will cover entire EVM calculations in the next lesson. It will be useful for you to complete next lesson and come back and continue from here.


Forecasting is a means of identifying efforts required to meet project objectives based on the trend shown by project progress so far.

Estimate at Completion (EAC)

Ideally this should be same as Budget at Completion (BAC), which is calculated first during initial planning exercise. However, practically EAC will be different from BAC.

Since this assumes cost figures, EAC is also called Cost Estimate at Completion (CEAC).

How do you decide whether Budget at Completion is still valid for the project?

A good indication is if the value of CPIs you calculate for successive periods of time start getting farther below 1.0. It is better to calculate EAC the moment you get a CPI < 1.0, to know what it takes to complete the project work. In simpler words, if the project is over budget you need to calculate EAC.

EAC can be calculated manually based on project management team’s knowledge of how project has progressed, using bottom-up ETC.

Estimate at Completion = Actual Cost + Bottom-up Estimate To Complete

EAC = AC + Bottom-up ETC

The downside of bottom-up ETC calculation is that it is best done by people who are actually doing the project work. Which means that team should stop their work and involve in this calculation exercise. This upsets momentum of their work and if they are already working under hard-pressed schedule this will further aggravate the situation.

There are few ways to calculate Estimate at Completion based on the data you already know.

Case 1: You know that remaining work will be performed at the planned rate (or ‘budgeted rate’)

This means that your project has carried out the work as per the schedule and cost planned for activities, and will continue at the same rate.

EAC = AC + (BAC – EV)

Case 2: You feel that future work will continue at the present Cost Performance Index (CPI)


Case 3: You are reasonably confident that future work can be conducted at the present cost and schedule indicators 

EAC = AC + { [BAC – EV] / [CPI x SPI] }

Let us understand these with few examples:

Example 1:

John’s house construction project entered fourth quarter, his actual money spent is at $150,000, and earned value is $153,000. For this much work he had planned approximately $155,000. During initial planning period his total project budget was $300,000. What will be his Estimate at Completion?

Answer: $297,000

This is how it is calculated –

John’s SPI = EV/PV; 153,000/155,000 = 0.9871

CPI = EV/AC; 153,000/150,000 = 1.02

Both indicators are hovering around 1.0, which means John is ahead of schedule and good on budget. He is reasonably confident of maintaining same rate going forward.

EAC = AC + (BAC – EV);

150,000 + (300,000 – 153,000) = $297,000

Note: you just need the last formula to calculate the answer. SPI and CPI are calculated just for cost and schedule health check.

SPI, CPI and other EVM formulae are explained in the next lesson, you may want to go through them before proceeding here.

Example 2:

John’s house construction project now entered fifth quarter, and he found his CPI that was consistently around 1.0, this time at a much better 1.03. During initial planning period his total project budget was found to be at $300,000. What will be his Estimate at Completion?

Answer: $291,262

John is quite happy to discover that his project is scheduled to complete within the initial Budget at Completion!

This is how it is calculated –


EAC = 300,000/1.03 = $291,262

Example 3:

John’s house project entered sixth quarter now and his earned value has come to $225,000, while his actual spending is at $220,588. During initial planning period his total project budget was at $300,000. Now his CPI is working out to 1.02 and SPI at 0.95, what will be his Estimate at Completion?

Answer: $297,987

John is proving to be a competent project manager. He is close to completing the project and his EAC is still within initial BAC! He sure is happy to get his bonus once project is over!

This is how it is calculated –

EAC = AC + { [BAC – EV] / [CPI x SPI] };

EAC = 220,588 + { [300,000 – 225,000] / [1.02 x 0.95] } = $297,987

Estimate to Complete (ETC)

ETC is the estimate of work required to complete remaining activities on the project.

When EAC is known ETC is calculated as,


This is because estimate to complete work is the difference between estimate at completion and actual cost of work performed.

Now, if we are confident that future performance will go as per original plan, then ETC is calculated as,


Variance at Completion (VAC)

Based on the above, if you want to calculate variance at completion, you simply deduce EAC from BAC!


If this variance is negative it means that at the end of project expenditure will overshoot initial budget.

To-Complete Performance Index

The Budget at Completion (BAC) is planned initially and then the Estimate at Completion (EAC) is calculated during execution phase (when it is clear that BAC cannot be achieved). These are two cost-related goals a project must hit (remember that EAC replaces BAC). And to achieve this goal there is To-Complete Performance Index (TCPI). TCPI is the CPI you need to achieve in order to complete remaining work within the remaining authorized budget.

Put simply, To-Completer Performance Index is calculated by dividing Remaining Work by Remaining Budget.

TCPI = Remaining Work / Remaining Budget


Unlike the CPI, higher the value for TCPI more budget control mechanisms are to be applied. These are two opposites.

Remaining Work is calculated by deducting project value earned so far from calculated Budget at completion. This would be (BAC – EV).

Remaining Budget is calculated by deducting actual cost spent so far on the product from the Budget at completion. This would be (BAC – AC) or (EAC – AC) – as the case may be. This makes two distinct cases to calculate TCPI.

Case 1: If you find that project is under budget then you will use Budget at Completion –

 TCPI = (BAC – EV) / (BAC – AC)

 Case 2: If the project is over budget, you need to calculate Estimate at Completion (remember that EAC should be approved through change control process) and use the following formula for TCPI –

 TCPI = (BAC – EV) / (EAC – AC)

Consider an example –

John’s house construction project enters final phase and his CPI is < 1 (project is over budget). Project has spent thus far $260,000 and earned value achieved is about $255,000. Total project budget was planned to be $300,000. What is the TCPI to ensure that project completes within the Budget At Completion?

Answer: 1.1

TCPI = remaining work/remaining budget;

TCPI = (BAC – EV) / (BAC – AC);

(300,000 – 255,000) / (300,000 – 260,000) = 1.1

PMIS (Project Management Information System) helps a great deal in automating many of these calculations. This is useful especially in large scale projects.

What do you produce when you control costs?

You will calculate values and metrics such as PV, EV, AC, SI, SPI, CI, CPI, TCPI, EAC, ETC – these are documented and shared with appropriate stakeholders.

Cost Forecasts – EAC (Estimate At Completion) calculated either manually (using bottom-up approach) or using formulas is the forecast. These are shared with the stakeholders.

EAC becomes a formal figure only when change control board authorizes it. Authorization is given after project manager or project management team takes EAC as a change request through Integrated Change Control process and formalizes it.

Change requests – whenever some work is monitored it is bound to produce change requests as deviations are discovered. EAC, among others, can be the single most prominent change request in this process.

As we refer the plans and documents to control costs we may discover few issues with them, or the change requests that we raise may necessitate changes to those plans and project documents. And hence updating them would be a natural outcome of this process.


Control costs is one of those few project management activities that must be executed throughout the project execution phase. If you are doing it for the first time, you may find it a bit tedious. However, the advantage you get is the early warnings of whether the project is slipping. This may help you save cost, effort, customer escalation, or may even save the day. You may find it almost a necessity to run EVM calculations and TCPI every Monday (or whatever frequency you decide on) for your peace of mind.

If you haven’t studied EVM calculations as part of this process, I’d recommend doing that now (it’s quite interesting!). If you are already done with it, congratulations!, you have covered about half of number of processes for the exam.

In the next post we’ll start with quality management process group lessons.

Ref Anbari, F. T. (2011). Advances in earned schedule and earned value management. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2011—North America, Dallas, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • massimo zannoni September 26, 2018, 8:33 pm

    Please fix this :
    Consider an example –
    John’s house construction project enters final phase and his CPI is > 1 (project is within budget). Project has spent thus far $260,000 and earned value achieved is about $255,000.
    CPI=255.000/260.000 < 1

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