The baseline S-curve in project management is a type of graph depicting project progress. It is a project management tool focusing on team efficacy. In essence, it represents the person/hour ratio and other relevant cumulative data.

Using such metrics, the project manager can track the project’s ideal progress. At the same time, they can pinpoint the weakest chain in the link. That way, they can easily stick to the production schedule and notice when growth begins.

The planned S-curve is a mathematical graph gauging project cost against results like cash flow. As the project progresses, the project managers can identify various rapid growth openings. Also, they can set and focus on reaching multiple target S-curves even in the early stages.

The S-Curve in Project Management – Definition

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The name of this method originates from the S-shape that most often forms on the graph. However, the curved line may also resemble other letters, depending on the project’s type. Still, experts refer to it as the baseline S-curve due to that shape’s frequency.

The S-curve analysis shows the number of hours each team member put in over a period of time. As a result, the project lead can summarize the pace when aiming for a milestone. Also, they can insert other actual resources in the graph and oversee the total project costs.

At the start, the S-curve formula will resemble a flat line. Yet, as the project’s scope keeps on expanding, a curvature will start to show. In general, a sharper incline signals proper project management overall. Later, an actual S-curve may represent a healthy cash flow curve.

The Usability of the S-Curve in Project Management

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Predict Sales Charts

The S-curve graph is very useful for tracking sales and efficacy. Comparing the reports is often a sure-shot way to make accurate future projections.

Track the Various Project Elements

The schedule performance index method gels well with S-curve graphs. Inspect the project’s progress in light of the starting predictions. In that way, you’ll get a real-time summary of the project lifecycle.

Such comparing is a reliable strategy for making timely adjustments down the line. Hence, the S-curve project management is an ongoing task that sees a project to its end. Aside from the other relevant data, it also informs you of the state of the project budget.

Other practical info revolves around proper risk management. For example, you might have to prioritize certain tasks to reach the target S-curve. Also, the level of project success might fluctuate over time.

Satisfy Expectations

Projecting the upcoming results is helpful during shareholder meetings. With an S-curve graph, you can accurately present data and make sound deductions. This can also be an added incentive for the rest of the team.

Evaluate the Necessary Manpower

Actual progress often depends on the question of proper manpower. If you try to spread resources too thin, you won’t make much headway on any front.

However, an S-curve shows the number of expected team members. Then, you can hire enough new members to ensure maximum growth.

Different Shapes for Different Scenarios

The inputs on the graph will show varying results in the middle part of the project compared to before. So, when working on a tight schedule, you should be attentive to what the S-curve displays. For example, when competing in the marketing space, you can make the right quick decisions to great effect.

As a result, the graph will start to resemble an S-type shape at one end of the project. Next, the shape will morph during the later half. Hence, when both curvatures overlap, they will form a “Banana Curve” shape.

The meeting points at the project’s start and end dates are key focal points. If the results show a tendency toward the later date curve, it signals to pick up the pace.

Gauge the Product Manufacturing Speed

Managers in industries that demand rapid product placement use the S-curve for project execution. In other words, they compare the current results with the baseline schedule. This is also accurate for observing the anticipated resource allocation.

If the output aligns with prior predictions, it means the core project team follows the projected data. On that note, a construction project would also fit into this framework.

Spot Significant Progress Curves on Time

Certain stages of the workflow are more likely to hide pitfalls. So, you should prepare for the more resource-hungry point. This often comes down to asking for another cash injection or hiring more contractors.

Identifying Mishaps and Slowdowns

If a task’s supposed end date misses the initial plan, this slippage shows on the S-curve. You can track it by comparing it with the baseline schedule for that part. So, take note when the target S-curve falls to the right of the baseline S-curve.

For such cases, the best option is to try and predict them beforehand. If that is not possible, ask for a revision and a new, feasible baseline projection.

Motivate the Rest of the Team

Setting mutual goals for all team members signifies your expectations as a whole. At the same time, the team can start devising a proper pace to reach said goals. They can also make detailed plans showing how many hours each person should put in and when.

Build a Stronger Negotiating Position

To get to the project’s conclusion, the cash flow S-curve is essential for real-time cumulative data. In short, it hones in on the exact date of the next necessary cash injection. Therefore, use this to present your findings to the project sponsors and make demands.

Securing new funds is pivotal for staying on the critical path. Otherwise, you might need to alter the project scope later on or look for a band-aid solution. Thus, focus on the actual resource use frequency to avoid such issues.

Play Into Your Strengths

Noticing a sudden uptick in the S-curve tool is often the best time to shift into a higher gear. While the graph might show a flat line in the first months, you should act on any inflations. That means funneling more resources to continue gaining an advantage.

The S-Curve in Project Management – Phases and Shifts

Once results start to roll in, the S-curve will appear on the mathematical graph. This depicts the normal growth of the project and is seldom a cause for alarm. So, it is the shape that you need to preserve by upkeeping the project’s status.

In later stages, the progress racks up more speed, forming the upper curvature of the “S.” In time, the shape will culminate in the point of inflection. This often coincides with the spending of a major part of the funds.

Once you pass this point, the growth continues to form the upper asymptote. Experts deem this the latter, mature phase of the project. Hence, it’s the stadium when the workflow enters a sort of slowdown toward the conclusion. Afterward, project managers decide on the final approvals.

The Types of S-Curves

The Baseline S-Curve

The expected resource allocation comprises the baseline s-curve. In other words, it’s the projected task completion outline. As such, any new development due to external conditions warrants a revision.

The Production Schedule S-Curve

The production schedule translates into the target S-curve. At first, both this and the baseline will fit together on the graph. However, they’re likely to take new directions as work commences.

Thus, if the team stays on budget during production, the two lines will follow a similar path. Otherwise, the target S-curve might move above or below the baseline. Hence, this difference shows when a project goes over budget.

The Project’s Lifecycle S-Curve

The actual S-curve shows the revised production schedule. This encompasses the data from the completed milestones as well. This line spreads to the project’s end date. At that converging point, it meets with the target S-curve.

The Percentage S-Curves

Various S-curves depict resources against a factor of time. Hence, you can track values like working hours, employee rates, and other relevant data. Such measurements focus on possible savings before the end of the project.

The Manpower Management S-Curve

This project timeline shows how many labor hours went into a single task or phase. This is key for figuring out whether that pace is sustainable budget-wise. Also, it shows the optimal number of employees needed for upcoming tasks.

The Total Costs S-Curve

The “costs vs. time S-curve” includes all types of workforce required for a task. This refers to physical labor, supplies, contractors, etc. As such, it shows the total costs at the end of the line.

Conclusion on Using The S-Curve in Project Management

Proper project management demands juggling various metrics and data at once. Aside from knowing how to properly collect info, useful data analysis is the next challenge. Therefore, managers often use the S-curve to track progress on all fronts at once.

The S-shaped curve is an easy way to compare and evaluate multiple aspects of production. With it, you can view the actual cost of the current results and even predict future sales. As such, the S-curve has a use in all phases of the workflow.

If you liked this article talking about using the S-curve in project management, you should check out this one with innovation frameworks.

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I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.