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Schedule variance: a guide for project managers 7 min read
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Keeping track of the progress of a long project isn’t always easy. During the early parts of the project, delays may not seem significant, as you’ve got some float to play with and your team members may feel they have ample opportunity to make up for lost time. It’s important to keep track of the schedule, however, so your team isn’t faced with tight deadlines and excessive overtime in the final stages of the project.

Schedule variance is a useful metric that helps project managers monitor the bigger picture. Learning what this metric means and how to calculate it to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to make better decisions in your project management.

“Schedule variance” is a part of our Project Management Glossary — check out the full list of terms and definitions!

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What is schedule variance?

Schedule variance is a metric that helps you determine whether you’re ahead of or behind schedule.  If your project is running behind schedule, knowing this early can help you take action to get back on track. Being ahead of schedule is often a good thing, but if you’re regularly running ahead of schedule, this could be a warning that a deliverable is being missed or the quality of work being done by the team might have suffered.

By monitoring schedule variance, you’ll always know where your project stands in terms of deadlines, and you’ll be alerted to potential issues.

The schedule variance formula considers three factors, known as SV, EV and PV:

  • Schedule Variance (SV): This shows the percentage of work completed at a given point in time, versus the percentage of work that was expected to have been completed by that point.
  • Earned Value (EV): Earned value is the percentage of the budget that has been used so far, based on the percentage of the work completed.
  • Planned Value (PV): The planned value is the amount of the budget you expect to have used based on the progress you expect to have made by that date.

The desired value for schedule variance is zero, meaning your project is running on time.

The relationship between schedule variance and earned value management

It’s possible to express the variance in a schedule in days, weeks, or other units of time, but schedule variance (SV) is usually expressed in monetary units, so it can be used in tandem with earned value management (EVM). Earned value management is a project performance management methodology that takes into account the scope, schedule, and budget of the project. This is charted over time on a performance measurement baseline graph.

Earned value management uses the concepts of the undistributed budget and the management reserve. The project manager can alter the scope or schedule of the project, or allocate resources from one of the budget areas, in order to keep the project on track. Having an awareness of schedule variance helps project managers keep track of the status of their projects and gives them a chance to intervene if things aren’t running on schedule.

The secret to on-time projects is schedule variance

Schedule variance helps project managers get an accurate idea of the project’s progress. It serves as an early warning system, helping project managers take action if a project is running behind schedule or better manage resources and identify potential quality issues if a project is ahead of schedule.

Because schedule variance can be calculated so quickly and is easy to understand, it serves as a simple litmus test for the health of a project. The schedule variance metric is something project managers can use to inform their own understanding of the project, and they can also share it with stakeholders during progress meetings as a way of managing stakeholder expectations or providing reassurance that things are running on schedule.

How to calculate schedule variance

Schedule Variance (SV) is calculated by subtracting the Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS) from the Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP) in your chosen currency. The formula is simple:


BCWP and BCWS are also referred to as EV and PV, and the schedule variance formula is sometimes expressed in the following way:

SV = EV – PV

An example of schedule variance

Schedule variance is something you may have seen on the PMP exam, but how would you use it in the real world? Let’s consider a small construction project that is expected to take four months, with a midpoint of two months. The total cost of the project, or Budget at Completion (BAC), is $100,000. If you expect to have 50% of the work done by the midpoint, you would have a PV of $50,000.

Your EV is the amount of work you have actually completed, multiplied by the BAC. If you’re on track and have done 50% of the work, the variance analysis would look like this:

EV = 0.5 * 100,000

SV = 50,000 – 50,000

This means your project is on track.

On the other hand, if extreme weather interrupted your work and delayed the project by two weeks, you may have only done 37.5% of the work:

EV = 0.375 * 100,000

SV = 37,500 – 50,000

In this case, you have a negative SV, because your project is behind schedule.

As you can see, the formula is quite simple, and this metric gives you an at-a-glance overview of the project’s progress based on the work that has been completed.

Some project managers still find the idea of variance analysis a little intimidating, but fortunately, there are tools available to simplify the data collection and planning side of the process. Finding the right project management framework for your team can help you implement schedule variance calculations more effectively.

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Monitor schedule variance with ease on

To calculate schedule variance, you’ll need access to information about your projected and actual expenditure at a given point in time. Depending on the scope of your project, and how you’re tracking tasks, calculating this may be a challenge. Using the right Work OS and tools can simplify this job.

Tracking schedule variance becomes a simpler process if you make use of’s tools. From simple Single Project Templates to integrations for popular analytics, collaboration and communication tools, and automation systems, Work OS helps you work smarter and faster. Take advantage of the custom dashboards to see information about completed tasks and resource usage. The platform can be customized to fit your needs and integrates with the tools you already use, augmenting your project management workflow.

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Frequently asked questions

What is schedule variance in project management?

Schedule Variance (or SV) is a metric that shows whether a project is ahead or behind schedule. It is used in conjunction with Earned Value Management (EVM) to help project managers monitor the schedule and cost of the project.

How to calculate schedule variance?

Schedule Variance can be calculated using the following formula:

SV = EV – PV

Where EV = Earned Value and PV = Planned Value.

What does it mean if schedule variance is negative?

Negative schedule variance means a project is behind schedule. Positive schedule variance means the project is ahead of schedule. Ideally, your schedule variance would be zero, meaning you’re running on time.

Schedule variance assists your project risk management strategy

Schedule variance can be a useful addition to your project risk management strategy. It provides a simple measure that gives you an instant insight into whether your project is on schedule or not. Tracking schedule variance is easy to do thanks to’s project and risk management templates and project management tools that simplify the process of tracking progress over time and generating reports for earned value management.

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