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What is an S-Curve in Project Management & Planning?

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

In project management and planning, an s-curve is a mathematical graph or illustration that illustrates appropriate cumulative data for a project or task.

typical s-curve in project management

For example, this data could be cost, or man-hours plotted against time.

Why an"S"?

Because of the S-shape that the graph makes!

The shape of the graph comes from the type of project you are working on, so many formations may occur, but still with the S-Shape.

But Why Does This Matter to Us?

Let's take a deeper look:


Any business is needed to account for different calculations and factors that change over time.

It has always required this things but now, we have created various tools and parameters that help us calculate our progress.

These tools and parameters may prove very valuable to your business, as they help you find out details about your work and go in-depth to find out where we might be leaving money on the table!

One of these valuable elements is the S-Curve graph that helps us find out some of the most important details about your business.

S-Curve in Project Management

Basically, the s-curve in project management terms is a graph to effectively track the progress of the project you are working on.

This comes in very handy, helping to see that the appointed budget is being spent according to schedule and fulfilling all the needs and requirements of the project.

Well, the ‘S’ shape is nothing forced or developed, it’s just the shape that the graph makes during the early stages of the project when the growth of the project is very slow.

During early stages, the project is starting to unravel, and the team members are perhaps just doing the research about the industry or they are just starting to engage in the first phase of project execution.

This process may take longer at first but when teams get the hang of it, they quickly work out the kinks and the process becomes seamless as the processes move forward.

As more and more progress is made, the growth suddenly starts to speedup. If you want to find this rapid growth in the graph, it is the middle part of the ‘s’.

The point which exhibits the maximum growth is called the point of inflection.

These are the most important parts of the curve because this is the place where the growth stagnates.

At this time in the process, the team members are generally working quite heavily on the project tasks and as they ramp up this process, more and more tasks surface and so do their costs.

After passing the point of inflection, the growth plateaus and forms the upper part of the s-curve.

This part is called the upper asymptotic. Basically, this is the mature phase of the project.

This maturity is down to the fact that most projects are finished at this point and are in the process of winding down. Generally, when the process reaches this point, only the tasks such as finishing touches and the last stage approvals are unfinished.

Types of S-curves

There are a wide variety of S-Curves that can be used in the project management application.

These are as follows:

  • Baseline S-curve

  • Target S-curve

  • Costs versus Time S-curve

  • Value and Percentage S-curves

  • Man-Hours versus Time S-curve

  • Actual S-curve

What are some common uses of an S-Curve in project management?

S-Curves are useful for many different purposes throughout the project life cycle. Some of the most important uses of s-curves are:

1. Performance and Progress Evaluation

First and foremost, S-curves are used in evaluating the progress of the project and its performance.

This is achieved through the use of Earned Value Management.

S-Curve graphs are traditionally generated as a part of the EVM process and are the basic building block of the evaluation of the project’s progress and performance.

There are a lot of things that need to be evaluated in the process of determining the current status of the project and future planning.

All of these factors need to be compared with the planned S-curve to generate results.

This comparison is very powerful, because, if you want to know if the project is running over budget or if some other task is behind schedule, you may take a glance at the graph and find an immediate answer to your query.

2. Cash-Flow Planning

The next use of S-curves is in the development of Cash flow and planning for the changes that may come by the cash flow.

What is that? CashFlow is the timing and the movement of the cash with respect to the tasks and events that occur during the project.

This cash flow curve is very useful for the stakeholders.

One of the biggest benefits of drawing a cash flow curve is that you may evaluate the need for cash and the actual timing when the payment is due.

3. Quantity Output Comparison

Another important use of s-curves is to evaluate the quantity output that your project may yield. This is used more prominently in the construction and manufacturing industries.

4.Schedule Range of Possibilities a.k.a.Banana Curves

This is maybe the most important use of s-curves.

As we know, most scheduling software are made to easily drum up S-curves from schedules using parameters like Quality, Man-hours and Cost Activities according to defined early and late dates.

The Banana curve is a combination of the following types of s-curves.

1.One s-curve is generated according to the early dates

2.The second s-curve is generated according to the late dates

These two types of s-curves generally overlap at the very start and end of the project.

The shape they form is like a banana, hence the name.

What is an S-Curve in Project Management and Planning?

Project management is an interesting business nowadays and there are lots of factors to monitor if you want your business to be successful.

These factors need proper tools and parameters to be explored and the S-curve is just that.

It is a great tool at our disposal that may help us monitor our cost in relation to man-hours and many other factors.

So, if you want your business or project management activities successful, use S-curves to dive-in and drive all of the issues out, and profits up!

These days, I don't know that it has ever been easier to generate and use these sorts of tools to benefit you and your business.

If you want to learn more about software that might *do this for you* make sure to Click Here and check out an article we wrote about that!

Thanks a lot for reading and take care,


The Project Cracker Team



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