No matter how well you plan for a project, you will not meet your goals without proper monitoring and managing of project execution. Implementing project controls helps maintain control over the flow of the project and, as a result, minimizes the performance gap between what was planned and what was executed.
Project controls are a critical sub-function of project management that focus on managing cost and schedule through data-driven processes. These processes are used throughout the entire life cycle of a project and provide project managers with the necessary information to anticipate obstacles, mitigate risks, and if used effectively, ensure the project meets its targets at every stage.
Project controls are essential to:
- Enabling project managers to better monitor the project’s status at all times
- Reducing cost overruns and delays by allowing for timely and informed decisions
- Preventing inaccurate forecasting and timeline optimism
- Mitigating project scope creep
- Improving resource allocation
- Creating valuable benchmarking data for future projects
- Providing a competitive advantage through ensuring well-run projects
The seven critical elements of project controls
Project controls consist of seven critical elements, each with their own function. It is vital to keep refining and revisiting these elements as the project progresses in order to maximize their benefits.
1. Project Planning
The project plan determines the baselines for your project’s performance and progress. The plan should define the scope and objectives, outline the project tasks or milestones, set the schedule for completion, describe how they will be achieved, and identify what resources will be required.
Without the above metrics, it is hard to monitor how well the project is moving along or if any tasks are falling through the cracks on an ongoing basis.
- 2. Cost Management
Once the scope and schedule are set, introducing a cost management framework helps assign the costs associated with each milestone or task. This will allow senior managers to better understand how the budget is allocated and where modifications might need to be made if a project activity exceeds the budget.
Using past project data to refine budgets can help set realistic benchmarks and enable project managers to analyze new estimates to find opportunities for cost optimization.
- 3. Risk Management
Risk management is one of the core elements of project controls. Project managers should first identify the risks, and then record an evaluation of the likelihood of occurrence and likely impact of occurrence within an Impact-Probability Matrix. It is then possible to create a plan for risk control based on the scores within that matrix, with the eventual aim of either eliminating risks or lessening their impact through targeted actions.
Predicting obstacles specific to your project while in the early stages of planning helps to develop contingency plans with better outcomes.
- 4. Change Management
Retaining oversight of project changes is critical to understanding the progress within a project. When things do not go according to plan, project managers need to assess where adjustments can be made to steer the project back on track.
A change management log can be as simple as identifying the change, a summary outlining why it is needed, and its cost. It will also be valuable for future projects for cross-referencing.
- 5. Forecasting and Estimating
As a project progresses, it’s common for the original cost and forecasting estimates to prove inaccurate or need revision.
Where costs are adjusted or forecasts changed, keeping a history of revisions allows project managers to better understand the causes of those changes. It’s vital to continuously revisit costs and forecasts to adjust for changing circumstances, and an understanding of how costs can change can help give insight into the future. Analyzing past data helps to forecast and compare actual costs on new projects.
- 6. Communication
Proper communication allows project teams to manage workflows better, achieve on-time and on-budget completions, and optimize the use of team members’ time.
Good communication ensures that relevant stakeholders are informed about the project’s status and keeps team members sighted on their responsibilities for delivery. Using varied communication channels such as in-person meetings, emails, schedules, reports, and infographics can help to make sure that the message is received by all relevant partners in a project, with good communication being a core part of effective project management.
- 7. Reporting
Reporting is one of the most vital pillars of project controls. Reports help inform the project team of progress, act as a communication tool with stakeholders, and provide a trigger for action if progress has gone off course. Good reporting facilitates good performance and provides visibility of project success.
Consider using both retrospective reports, which look back at past performance, and predictive reports, which look forward at what is yet to come. Consider your reporting requirements when deciding on your data configuration, as it’s imperative to be able to report on your data effectively and make sure that your report type fits the audience. Senior managers need summary reports and infographics, whereas those working on the ground need more granularity and detail.
We have decades of experience in project controls, helping companies of all sizes in a range of industries to achieve project success through careful planning, rigorous research, and strong leadership.
Our in-house experts can help you effectively manage all phases of your project and can help guide you through the critical elements of project controls. Reach out to us today for an organization-specific project controls solution which can help ensure that your projects are delivered on time and within budget.