What is the DCMA 14 Point Assessment and its Use?
The DCMA 14 Point Assessment is a metric-evaluative tool intended to test the overall quality of a schedule. Developed in 2005 by the U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency, the tool was designed for the Department of Defense as way to quantitatively evaluate project schedules.
While the DCMA 14 Point Assessment cannot on its own, evaluate whether a schedule accurately reflects the project being built, and the idea behind a “well-built” schedule can be subjective, the DCMA 14 Point Assessment breaks down the evaluation into 14 quantifiable metrics generally regarded to be appropriate criteria for the measuring the adequacy of a schedule. Ultimately, while satisfying these requirements may not mean that the schedule is in fact feasible, failure to meet these requirements may mean that it is not.
The 14 Quantifiable Metrics for Measuring Schedule Adequacy
Logic is one of the fundamental concepts of Critical Path Method (CPM) scheduling and is the relationship describing the interdependencies between activities. As every activity in a schedule (except for an initial or ending activity or event) should have predecessor and successor logic, this metric involves checking for missing links between activities. If activities are not logically linked in the schedule, the float calculations performed will be inaccurate and could result in a misrepresentation of the critical path in the schedule. The DCMA threshold for the logic metric is that no more than 5% of incomplete activities have a missing predecessor and/or successor. As such, the formula used for the metric is [Missing Logic % = (# of tasks missing logic / # of incomplete tasks) x 100]. However, a best practice is to ensure that no activities outside of start and finish milestones lack a predecessor and/or successor, as the implication of a missing logic link can mean a false representation of the completion date of the project. Even if an activity does not have a “true” predecessor or successor, it can be logically linked with the start of finish activity in the schedule to demonstrate that relationships have been evaluated and that no logic is truly missing. The graphic below shows the impact missing logic can have on how a completion date is represented in a schedule:
“Lead” is the time that an activity precedes the start of its successor. Lead is the opposite of lag and is sometimes referred to as “negative lag.” For a Finish-Start activity relationship, a lead represents the amount of time where a predecessor activity and successor activity can occur simultaneously, or parallel with one another. When viewed in a Gantt chart, a Finish-Start relationship with a lead appears as shown below:
Practically, leads may make sense from a sequencing standpoint – a contractor is often not waiting until all framing is complete until they begin their electrical rough-in and commences the electrical rough-in work while the framing work is completing. However, these types of considerations are better addressed by breaking down areas of work and increasing the overall level of detail in this schedule. Doing so allows the work to be assigned a representative Finish-Start relationship and the lead becomes unnecessary.
As lag is the opposite of lead, it represents a duration where a successor activity is delayed in relation to the predecessor. In a Finish-Start relationship, this would appear as a gap between the completion of one activity and the start of the next, as shown in the Gantt chart example below:
Why is having leads or lags “problematic”?
Most importantly, with leads, they can distort float values and can lead to a misrepresentation of the critical path. As such, the DCMA assessment considers zero (0) leads to be the threshold for passing the metric. The DCMA 14 Point Assessment is more forgiving when it comes to lags – making the threshold no more than 5% of relationships. The formula used is [Lags % = (# of logic links with lags / # of logic links) x 100]. Lags can unintentionally mask the intent behind these logic adjusters and result in confusion. By way of examples, if concrete has a 7-day cure requirement before framing work can begin, if security screening of a delivery is expected to take 5-days on a secure project, or if the contract requires a 30-day notice period between one activity or another, using a lag fails to convey intent behind the lag or that the assigned lag may be mandatory. This could result in unintentional errors when updating the schedule if the scheduler is not aware of the basis of the lag and decides to eliminate or reduce it. In these examples, the activity lag could be replaced with another activity that defines the basis for the duration between the activities (in the examples, a “Concrete Cure,” “Security Screening,” or “Notice Period” activity of the requisite duration would be appropriate).
4. Relationship types
There are four relationship types used in schedules, which detail the type of logic being applied by defining the interdependency between one activity and another, i.e., how an activity starts or finishes in relation to another. As such, the four relationships available are Start-to-Start, Start-to-Finish, Finish-to-Start, and Finish-to-Finish. The most common relationship is Finish-to-Start, wherein once one activity completes, the successor activity can begin, and this is the preferred relationship. Using Finish-to-Start relationships throughout a schedule maintains consistency and allows for a clear representation of the critical path. As certain relationships are truly defined by logic that cannot be Finish-Start, the DCMA Assessment looks to have at least 90% of all activities be Finish-to-Start. The formula for evaluating the metric is [% of FS Relationship Types = (# of logic links with FS Relationships / # of logic links) x 100]. Unnecessary Start-to-Start activities can be simply eliminated by modifying the parallel activities to have the same Finish-to-Start predecessor.
5. Hard constraints
A constraint is a restriction imposed on the start, finish, or duration of an activity. P6 allows for the application of nine types of constraints: “As Late As Possible,” “Finish On,” “Finish On or After,” “Finish On or Before,” “Mandatory Finish,” “Mandatory Start,” “Start On,” “Start On or After,” and “Start On or Before.” Of these constraints, “Start On”, “Start On or Before”, “Finish On”, and “Finish On or Before” represent hard constraints – constraints that fix a start or finish date by preventing the schedule from shifting later than that constraint. The other constraints available, known as soft constraints, are preferable, as they allow the schedule to continue to be logic driven. Since hard constraints can distort float values and misrepresent the critical path (including allowing for discontinuities), it is preferable to have no hard constraints. However, the DCMA Assessment evaluates the threshold for constraints as 5% of all incomplete activities in the schedule. The formula for evaluating hard constraints is [Hard Constraint % = (Total # of incomplete tasks with hard constraints / Total # of incomplete tasks) x 100].
6. High Float
DCMA considers activities with float greater than 44 working days to be “high float.” For a 5-day workweek, 44 working days is approximately 62 calendar days, or 2 months. The presence of high float activities can be an indicator of missing dependencies (missing predecessor / successor relationships). As such, the DCMA assessment provides a threshold of 5% or less activities with total float values over 44 days. The formula for evaluating this is [High Float % = (Total # of incomplete tasks with high float / Total # of incomplete tasks) x 100].
7. Negative float
The DCMA Assessment evaluates incomplete activities with float values less than 0. Negative float values occur when an activity is forecasting a missed deadline or being held by a hard constraint. The formula for evaluation is [Negative Float % = (Total # of incomplete tasks with negative float / Total # of incomplete tasks) x 100]. DCMA prefers that there be no negative float; however, negative float can be an accurate reflection that a required date is going to be missed. Oftentimes when a schedule update is depicting negative float values, or a negative float value over a certain threshold, the contract may require the contractor to prepare a recovery schedule or corrective action plan to remediate the condition.
8. High Duration
DCMA considers incomplete activities with a duration greater than 44 working days to be “high duration” activities. Activities with long durations are inherently more difficult to monitor and manage. In some instances, long durations are necessary – for example, long-lead material and equipment fabrication and delivery. However, when possible, activities should be broken down into multiple activities to provide additional detail and allow for more accurate planning and management. The DCMA Assessment considers 5% the threshold for high duration activities. The formula for evaluating this is [High Duration % = (Total # of incomplete tasks with high duration / Total # of incomplete tasks) x 100].
9. Invalid Dates
An invalid date occurs when an incomplete activity has an actual date after the status date of the schedule (thus, in the future) or a forecast date prior to the status date (in the past). These occurrences should not be possible – at least in the current understanding of our space/time continuum – and as such, no invalid dates should be observed in the schedule, and the threshold for this metric is zero. The existence of invalid dates is an indicator that there are fundamental issues with the schedule and that the schedule may not be functional, or that actual dates were recorded incorrectly or to manipulate the schedule.
Activities in a schedule can be “loaded” to reflect additional considerations – such as cost-loading or resource-loading. Many Federal projects utilize cost-loading, assigning dollar values to activities, to automate the invoicing process, wherein the amount billed reflects the completion or of percentage completion of the cost-loaded activities. Since most schedules do not require cost or resource loading, the use of these techniques is not “mainstream,” and these considerations adds another layer of challenge and complexity, many contractors do not generate loaded-schedules. Even when resource-loading is used, not all activities require resources (such as administrative and procurement tasks). The DCMA Assessment evaluates all tasks that have a duration greater than zero and have either currency (cost) or resources (hours) assigned, with the formula of [Missing Resource % = (Total # of incomplete tasks with missing resource / Total # of incomplete tasks) x 100]. When cost or resource-loading is utilized, this metric helps detect activities where application of a quantity may have been missed. For resource-loaded schedules, missing resources would misrepresent labor curves (S-curves) that depict the necessary staffing levels on the project.
11. Missed Tasks
Missed tasks reflect how many activities were expected to be completed prior to the schedule status date that have later actual or forecast finish dates. Thus, the metric evaluation only looks at activities with baseline finish dates to the left of the status date – and does not consider incomplete activities with a forecast finish date later than the baseline finish date if the baseline finish date has not been exceeded. This is because of the potential to still recover or meet the baseline date. The formula for missed tasks is [Missed % = (# of tasks with actual/forecast finish date past baseline date / # of tasks with baseline finish dates on or before status date) x 100]. The DCMA Assessment threshold for missed tasks is 5% of the projected completed tasks. Evaluation of missed tasks allows for consideration as to how well the schedule is meeting the originally forecast plan and whether timely completion is likely to be achieved.
12. Critical Path Test
This assessment checks the fundamental assumption underlying the concept of the critical path: whether a delay to the critical path results in the same delay to the completion date. The evaluation is performed by identifying the critical path and impacting it (introducing a delay or slippage). If the introduction of the delay results in a commensurate delay to the project completion date, the test passes. If it does not, then issues with the schedule logic must be investigated.
13. Critical Path Length Index (CPLI)
CPLI is a metric that attempts to judges whether a project can realistically be completed on time, by measuring the ratio of the project critical path length (number of working days of/on the critical path) plus total project float to the project critical path length. A ratio of 1.00 is the minimum target, which informs that execution must meet the plan to achieve the milestone. A ratio greater than 1.00 means that there is contingency available in the schedule. DCMA considers a ratio less than 0.95 to be indicative of a potential issue to be evaluated.
14. Baseline Execution Index (BEI)
The BEI is designed to help determine how effectively the schedule performs against its baseline by summing up how many activities are ahead or behind of schedule against the baseline. There are two calculations: cumulative and hit task. Cumulative is calculated by dividing the total number of activities that have completed regardless of baseline by the sum of the total number of activities without a baseline date and activities with a baseline finish date on or before the schedule status date. A BEI of 1.00 means the project is performing per plan, while a BEI greater than 1.00 means that the project is ahead of schedule and less than 1.00 indicates the project is behind schedule. DCMA considers a ratio less than 0.95 to be indicative of a potential issue to be evaluated. The hit task ratio is the total number of tasks that were planned in the baseline to be completed before the status date of the schedule that have been completed. As such, the maximum value is 1.00, and a value lower than 1.00 indicates baseline performance is not being met.
Preparing Schedules for Enhancing Feasibility, Accuracy, and Efficiency
The DCMA 14 Point Assessment is not mandatory for schedulers to use, but can help identify a schedule’s strengths, weaknesses and feasibility of finishing on time by breaking down key metrics into measurable qualities that are associated with stable outcomes. If this exercise was done manually, it would be a very time-consuming task. Fortunately, numerous resources exist which automate this integrity check, and many software platforms allow for customization of metrics and evaluation of other assessments, such as those identified in the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Schedule Assessment Guide, the NAVAIR Integrated Master Schedule (IMS) guidebook, and more. Having schedules which are competently assembled increases the likelihood of success in managing projects to the schedule. And when forensic analysis is required, well-assembled schedules allow for faster, more accurate and more reliable results in identifying causes of delay.
If you have any questions regarding preparing or evaluating schedules, or need a delay expert, please contact Jeff Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org.