What are Project controls? Why are they so important in project management and how to deal with them!
Saving time and money during project planning and execution is akin to eating when you are hungry; it’s something you plainly need to do to grow and survive. If you are unfamiliar with how project controls are vital concerning the use of cloud-based project management software (PM software), fear not: we are here to help you wrap your head around it. According to the omniscient Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), project controls are defined as the following:
“Project controls are the data gathering, management and analytical processes used to predict, understand and constructively influence the time and cost outcomes of a project or program; through the communication of information in formats that assist effective management and decision making.”
But, what does that mean in simple terms beyond the vagueness of words like “management” and “analytical processes”? Thanks, PMBOK, we appreciate everything you do for us, but we need a little bit more clarification and maybe a couple examples…
To begin with a simple explanation (we will get into the details soon), project controls are the tools that help you save time and stay on schedule during your project planning and execution, cutting costs. They vary in terms of specific project requirements, but these tools are the essentials of cloud project management software, which is widely understood as a necessity for boosting the following performance factors for many companies, like yours:
So, let us now go into the details concerning the value of project controls, and how they can save you time and money.
Overview of project controls
Project controls are all-encompassing for project definition, planning, execution, and completion; assisting in the entire lifecycle of your project. As we said before, the use of controls will vary according to individual project demands, but project controls address, organize, and of course control the following aspects of your project management system:
1. Developing your project strategy; defining methods that will enhance the future PM software use and project outcomes
2. Development, updates, and maintenance scheduling for the PM software
3. Estimating project costs; engineering and controlling costs and assessing project value
4. Managing risks; assessing and analyzing project risks, and cataloging past risks and how to avoid future risks
5. Earned schedule and earned value management, including both work and organizational breakdown structures
6. Controlling project documentation
7. Diagnosing project scheduling and costs with forensic assessment procedures
8. Oversight and quality assessment of supplied materials
9. Comprehensive integration of the elements of control and other domains of project management
The importance of project controls
Now that you know the scope of what project controls provide for your PM software, let us go over why these controls are important. The opposite of control is chaos, disorganization, bedlam, which are plain anathema to successful project management.
Successful project execution first begins with planning the process of execution. So how do project controls fit in?
To craft a well thought-out plan for executing your projects can only happen if you have a sufficient set of controls in place for your project scheduling methods. A project control system that will work for your company goals is essential to take full advantage of your PM software, and guarantee smooth sailing.
The concept of project management has been in place going back to the mid 20th century. Over the course of the past several decades, it has been demonstrated time and time again how a lack of adequate planning and thoroughly attentive monitor can almost certainly result in project failure. Hence, the development of PM software in conjunction with project control tools are aimed at fixing scheduling missteps.
Remember how we mentioned that project controls save you time and money?
An IBC 2000 Project Control Best Practice Study carried out by Independent Project Analysis identified that good project control practices reduce execution schedule slip by 15%. NPV (net project value) is also increased when project controls are utilized and provide schedule improvements. When put into proper practice, project controls can improve project costs by 10%.
Think of PM software as your right-hand man. Project controls are what and how you tell him to assist and support you in your endeavors.
We also had mentioned that project controls will be contingent up the scope and breadth of your project’s requirements. So, how do you set your controls in place?
How to set your project controls in 10 simple steps
Setting smart, effective project controls begins well before the execution stage of your project. Monitoring and control go hand in hand with each other for every stage of your project. Controls and monitoring should be solidified by using each of the following steps:
1. Determining the scope of the project; explaining and communicating every aspect of the project to all members of the team.
2. Team structure and assigning tasks; determining who is best suited for each required task, how many members are assigned to each team, and planning on how to monitor progress.
3. Predetermined risk factors; knowing which risks are worth taking, and which are guaranteed to sabotage project success. Setting a risk management plan to mitigate risks before they can become real project threats will save you a boundless amount of pain when risks are managed,
4. Adaptability contingencies; both internal and external factors can demand that a project must change its course. Plan for the unexpected, but possible factors that would demand change to your project process, and set contingencies to adapt to change.
5. Monitoring of project status; set a schedule and determine a method (i.e. whether in person regular meetings, or the submission of written reports) for monitoring how well or poorly your project is progressing. Also, if the project is moving along ahead of schedule, investigate and find what is facilitating the rapid progress. Apply the factors to future projects. The same rings true in the opposite scenario, when your status is behind schedule. You will then know what to monitor for and avoid in future projects, saving valued time and money.
6. Plans for effective communication; obviously your lines of communication should be efficient and transparent, but pay equal care to your plans for communicating with both customers and project stakeholders alike.
7. Deadlines and budgeting; set in place a plan for establishing the initial project costs, keeping track of changes to the budget by regular communication with the accounting department, and ensuring that deadlines are met. Also, develop a contingency plan for if and when a deadline is not met, how to avoid future deadline failures.
8. Analysis/evaluation; set a system for evaluating and analyzing how well each element of the project planning and execution is contributing to the overall project success within the scope of the project. Is anything missing? Do you need to allocate more resources or reassign personnel? A system should be in place to solve questions (and all others) like these during both execution and planning.
9. Corrective contingencies; following step 8, if there are indicators that corrections should be made to the project or, that you discovered that some of your bases are not covered, plan not only for a system to implement changes, but also for contingencies in case the corrections also include their own set of complications. You cannot predict the future, but you can imagine it and set plans to do your best to control the future.
10. Planning for project presentation; determine the people that will be responsible for presenting the final product, the required supplies if any, and whom to present to. Also, plan for how to address handling status.
To remind you, each of the preceding controls needs to have a dedicated monitor every step of the way. Without sufficient monitoring you really do not have much control at all. In the contemporary competitive project management marketplace, the necessity for project control in every facet of a project, from conception to delivery, is important now more than ever before.
So, now that you know how to set your project controls when performing project management, what should you expect to gain from implementing the controls? Next, we will go over the features of proper project control.
The awesome features of project control for project management
Maybe not “awesome” (let’s face it, this is crucial information, but maybe not the sexiest topic out there) but the proper implementation of project controls will vastly enhance the way you manage your projects.
Project controls, in order to be effective, rely on high-quality, reliable data, an affixed schedule for reviewing progress, and a baseline that is realistic and pragmatic. Given the opportunity, project controls will function with the following features:
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
WBS, the cost and schedule information coding system for your project management, is essential for managing adaptability/change and cost/schedule reporting. WBS links the reporting of both time and costs for your project. With consistent WBS coding, it defines the entire scope of the project and will be used for estimating and accurate project reporting.
Integrated baseline review
This joint customer-delivery team tool is a key feature of project controls. It allows both parties to review the risk estimations, planned reporting processes, schedule, and cost estimates. Both parties are kept on the same page while discussing project planning and execution, all the way up to delivery. Customers understand just as coherently the project scope, including resources, schedule and budget.
Capital works project integration with project operations made easy
No matter what the industry, whether from construction and development to pharmaceutical and biotech research, capital works projects can be integrated into the project operations. Now, interfacing between capital works projects can lead to increased program complexity, which can increase project risks and costs, and muddle the project estimation abilities.
However, effective integration is easily facilitated with using project controls that interface scheduling from each different integrated source. Using the WBS and other project controls standards will effectively manage the interfaces, saving costs and reducing potential risks.
Project controls allowing for contractor input
Commercial incentives and procurement strategies are often delivered to a project sponsor by the client. Contractor input allows for both parties to form an alliance. When priorities are aligned between client and project management, assuring mutual agreement as to how a project should be carried out, and if the sponsor ever gets off-track they can be corrected.
Enhanced risk analysis
Once risk analysis is incorporated into the project controls, it can provide greater, comprehensive, organized analysis of project risks. Following program-wide risk analysis, contingencies will be put into place, securing greater project progress. Risk analysis is your greatest time-saver and money-maker, when risks can be seen for what they are: acceptable and manageable or highly threatening.
Better progress monitoring capabilities
A well planned, executed set of project controls allows for earned value analysis (EVA) to be used for progress monitoring, assessing the time and cost estimations, and overall scope of the project, aiding in reducing cost overruns. EVA has an advantage over traditional monitoring in that it uses resource costs of the project and scope to predict time and cost futures.
Planned values, the values of tasks that are in line with the project objectives, when compared with actual, recent past task values, allow for customer and company alike to have a coherent vision of what to expect from the tasks at hand.
For EVA to be successfully completed, it is based upon and a baseline scheduled agreed upon by both parties, and estimates that are representative of the current project scope. Progress measurement is aligned between customer and sponsor alike using regular reporting and WBS.
Top-notch management at the program and project levels
Teams can forget far too easily about the broader resources and program needs and whether or not the supply chain will meet the needs of the program. Especially if the program is working on dozens of projects at once, things can go haywire. When the dimensions of the greater company program are built into the project controls, project delivery will be met with greater predictability and meet deadlines.
Project controls drive project value down the line
As long as not too much emphasis is placed on reporting and data collection and project controls include sufficient measures for management, project value will be at the forefront of each team member’s minds. Ideally, the project controls process should have a balance of upward and downward reporting.
We hope that you take full advantage of PM software by thoroughly incorporating project controls into your project management. While proper control is cost dependent and time intensive, the ROI you reap from detailed, and adhered to controls, the better you will perform, and customers will take notice.
Pavel is a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and a strong passion for writing. "I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if it’s everything at once."