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S-Curve: Effective Project Management Tool

S-Curve: Effective Project Management Tool
Yana Zatsarnaya
December 16, 2021
Last updated: December 16, 2021

Business and Maths have always gone hand in hand. From counting the money to drawing the prediction charts, a company director will always rely heavily on computations of all sorts. With time, geometry began to complement algebra. People have noticed that virtually all our daily activities are subject to consistent patterns that can guide us towards success if we follow the geometric patterns on the board.

These graphs can facilitate your productive activities because they let you see what is going on in your life and where your potential pitfalls are. The so-called S-curve is one example of a graph that can tell you a lot about your business operation. The purpose of this article is to highlight the significance of the S-Curve in project management so that you can use it to navigate your company around your potential pitfalls towards success and prosperity.

We shall first introduce the concept to you and explain why they call it the S-Curve. We shall then describe different types of that curve and highlight its most common uses in the practice of business project management so that you can benefit in your global enterprise from the ancient wisdom of our Roman ancestors.

 

S-Curve in Project Management

In simple terms, the S-Curve is a graphic expression of the accumulation of information about a project for a particular period. The data could be anything you choose to plot against the time vector, such as your investments or work hours. Effectively, you can use the S-Curve to plot and track the numerical development of the data in question by assessing it in terms of how far it deviates from the curve. Apparently, it should not.

However, before we proceed with the significance of the S-Curve in project management, we would like to address an issue that has been one of the most frequently asked questions about the curve so far. Namely, why 'S'?

 

Why 'S'?

The standard answer to the question still remains: the curve has acquired its name from its shape, which resembles the Latin letter S. Numerous articles and treatises have attempted to address the issue more thoroughly, to no avail so far. Therefore, we feel compelled to accept that the standard answer is, most probably, correct and assume that the person giving the S-Curve its name might have not been Greek.

The business projects, however, do seem to follow the progression best represented by that letter. The progress is surprisingly slow at the early stages of the project, with the most effort exerted to build a team, draw plan charts and graphs, and convince the sponsors and potential shareholders to invest in the promising project.

Next, the S-Curve suddenly springs up, and the project is underway. Whatever data you choose to plot against the time vector at that stage, their numerical indices will be high. However, as time goes by, the inflection begins to decrease, and the S-Curve levels out. The business project loses the intensity, and all the numerical expressions of prosperity and success become less and less impressive.

Eventually, the S-Curve performs the frustrating downfall, and it begins to feel like it is time for another project, which it probably is. In other words, that Roman letter serves as an excellent and reliable visual representation of a life cycle of whatever you choose to plot against the time vector, be it your workload, project development, or your average income.

The shape of the S-Curve represents four consecutive phases of any endeavor: birth, development, output, and time for a new project. Each stage possesses its distinct qualities, and the trick is to catch the right moment of transition so that you can stay in harmony with the S-Curve.

 

Types of the S-Curves

However, there are several types of the S-Curve applications in the context of project management, the most commonly used being:

  • Costs against Time S-Curve

  • Actual S-Curve

  • Work Hours against Time S-Curve

  • Target S-Curve

  • Value and Percentage S-Curve

  • Baseline S-Curve

The difference between them rests mainly with your purpose of using the curve for your particular predictions. The main idea is that you can apply the principle in virtually any context.

 

S-Curve and Business Projects

There are several significant reasons for applying the principle of the S-Curve in project management as it has proven relatively effective in making correct predictions for the ultimate success of one's enterprise:

  1. The S-Curve makes it possible to track the progress of your project. Furthermore, it throws some light on how constructively you use your resources, both financial and human.

  2. It shows you which particular resources you will need and when.

  3. It enables you to do more reasonable scheduling as measured by the quality, financial investment, and work hours of your input.

  4. You can calculate the most appropriate number of work hours you should spend on the project, depending on where you are on the S-Curve at the moment.

  5. It helps you predict the required financial investments in the project to avoid unnecessary expenses.

  6. The S-Curve also allows you to monitor your production more effectively by showing you the future sales for any point in time.

  7. You can determine how far behind you are with a particular task.

  8. Finally, you can choose to develop a growth strategy that will help you stay in harmony with the curve. That way, you will always know how much time and finances to invest in the optimal development of your business projects.

 

Building Your S-Curve

Fortunately, you are not completely helpless at the mercy of the letter S. On the contrary, you can develop your optimal curve by calculating the significant project markers. For example:

  1. Use the start and the end of the baseline curve and work hours to determine your baseline schedule.

  2. Use the Actual and the Target Curves to calculate an optimal production schedule.

 

How to Draw the S-Curve for Your Project

Alternatively, you can use charts supplied by several business project management software providers to draw the curve quickly and easily. For example, Bitrix24 has excellent charts and templates for the purpose, which will allow you to plot any data against the time vector, depending on your immediate needs and circumstances.

 

Summary and Conclusion

The experience of many company directors has confirmed the validity and practical significance of the S-Curve in project management. However, that should be no reason for us to be afraid of the Roman letter S. On the contrary, we can see it as our friend that can show us where we can fall and what we should do to continue to grow and succeed.

All we need is an easy visual presentation of our project's lifeline and some software tool to do all the necessary calculations much quicker than we can.

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