(As is often the case, one of the learners in a course I taught this week provided the inspiration for this article, so thanks Maca!).
The PMBOK® Guide, Sixth Edition defines Earned Value as "The measure of work performed expressed in terms of the budget authorized for that work." Notice that the word "value" does not show up anywhere in that definition.
On projects which are following an agile or adaptive life cycle, the expectation is that work items such as requirements or features will be completed end-to-end. This includes meeting the quality requirements of all key stakeholders so that we can be confident that we can ship the work items to a client. If a framework such as Scrum is followed, these work items are batched into Potentially Shippable Product Increments whereas on those projects which are following a continuous flow based delivery approach, we can hand them over as we go.
On these projects, while final business benefits might not have been realized yet by our customers as those will normally lag delivery by days or even months, we might claim that what we've earned is valuable.
However, when we consider projects which are following a waterfall or predictive life cycle, because of the batch, phased manner of those approaches, the time for the first customer handover of capabilities and the time between subsequent handovers is usually prolonged. As such, until we have delivered a project output which will directly enable our customers to realize business benefits from it, have we actually earned any value?
Writing a Business Requirements Document or creating a design might be necessary by-products of the delivery process but if a project is terminated with just those having been produced, its unlikely that a customer would consider they had received anything of real value.
Please don't misunderstand my point.
I believe that Earned Value Management is a valuable, objective tool for both determining a project's performance and for forecasting where we will end up when it is used appropriately. Appropriate usage includes such elements as using an objective, verifiable method for determining how much progress has been made for each work package and that prerequisites such as work package-level budgeting and financial actuals reporting are easily available.
I'm just questioning why we would use the word "value" when referring to what we have earned in the name. Perhaps, for waterfall projects, we should rename the measure to "Earned Delivery Value".