All You Need to Know About Project Controls

There’s a common misconception among business leaders and project teams about project control and project management being the same. This is mainly because both concepts seem to indicate taking charge of and having a project “under control.”   

But project management is not the same as project control, even though they may sound similar. They're closely related, yes, but not the same.

Think of project control as an essential part of a whole—project management. Without it, the whole project may not progress according to plan. The stipulated timeline for the closure of the project lifecycle may also not be met.

The idea behind project control is not complicated. Project controls ensure the project's success after project managers have provided the necessary resources and outlined a schedule for the project team to follow.

This article will show you how to leverage and implement project controls for consistent project success, improving your next project performance.

What Are Project Controls?

Project controls are processes that a project manager or stakeholders use to gather and analyze project data to ensure the project cost and schedule remain on track. 

Project control processes often begin from project initiation to project planning, monitoring, controlling, communication, and then project closure.

When it comes to delivering projects, many project managers consistently miss their targets, even after putting all the necessities for carrying out the project in place. The reasons are not far-fetched; optimism bias, estimation errors, lack of accurate data history, and so much more put projects at risk of delays or even failure. 

The distinguishing factor that separates projects that don't do well, and projects that do, is usually project controls.  

The project control process typically assesses the ongoing project's progress and whether it aligns with the aforementioned project objectives and key performance indicators. The main purpose behind the project control process is to drastically reduce the variance in cost and schedule that was outlined in the initial statement of work before the project launch.

Here's a detailed description of the process involved in project controls:

A diagram that illustrates the control process flow

The project controller, who is in charge of these processes, predicts the likely eventuality of the project using certain project metrics. If the likely project outcomes appear to be deviating from the project schedule and objectives, then the controller will call for restructuring of the ongoing project to mitigate risk.

Project controls help you steer the project in the right direction, reducing any project risks or potential failures after project execution has begun.

If your business is looking to eliminate wasted resources and time in future projects, working with a project controls team that's adequately run by a project controller is the way forward. 

Should these control processes seem too challenging to handle, there are business management companies that take on such responsibilities for other companies. Venture Smarter, for instance (see their homepage), has project professionals that ensure startups can launch their business from the ground up, according to the project plan.

Why Do You Need Controls in Project Management?

What makes project controls important? Why is it among the most important project management best practices?

Project controls support effective management leading to project success. Project controllers equip project managers with the necessary information to make informed decisions for precise risk and time management. 

Here are a few mishaps that could occur during project development in the absence of project controls and project controllers in project management.

  1. Zero Quality Control

Project controllers constructively influence the quality of deliverables that teams put out. They actively monitor the adherence of the project team to the project scope and its requirements. 

They define the rules and systems that guarantee that every work the project team puts out meets the standard of quality stipulated in those systems throughout the project’s lifecycle.

Project managers may have to deal with poor quality deliverables at every project phase if project controllers are not available to ensure project quality control.

  1. Inaccurate Cost Estimates

The absence of project controls in a project can lead to unforeseen costs. Mainly due to changes along the way or miscalculations that occurred during project planning. 

A project analysis carried out by PwC observed that up to 157% of average cost overruns result from a lack of project control.

It would be unfortunate to secure one of the grants for your small business only for the project costs to overrun. This may also damage your brand reputation. However, running projects with project controls for costs can help your business avoid overshooting a project budget.

  1. Unmet Project Schedule

Time is of the essence in project management, and without project controls, it's unlikely that the team will complete the project in time. Project controllers track the project schedule, predict possible delays, rank project priorities, and help team members navigate project timelines seamlessly.

With their top communications skills, they encourage seamless business collaboration between team members so that the project aligns with the budget guidelines and meets the intended completion date.

With that out of the way, let’s now look at some things that can impact project controls.

4 Things That Impact Project Controls

Project control mainly entails data gathering and lots of planning. This is the only way risk management can be effective, and project performance can be improved for future projects.

Understanding the factors that impact project controls can be instrumental in developing a solid project management plan for the future. Here are four of the major ones.

  1. Scope of the Project

Project scope is a documented statement that details the activities, resources, and other factors that team members need to carry out to ensure that the project plan is achieved accordingly. It highlights how extensive the project should be, what tasks the team members need to work on, and how these tasks will be approved and verified.

The project’s scope helps you monitor the project's status to determine if it'll meet the allotted schedule, cost estimates, and delivery quality. Project control documents and project templates are useful for keeping records of a project's scope so that every team member stays updated with what exactly is required of them. 

See a sample project template below.

A screenshot of a project documentation template

Project controllers can follow task management practices to keep a project’s progress aligned with the scope. If tasks fail to meet stipulated project requirements, they can impede progress and delay successful project completion. 

  1. Cost of the Project

Setting a project budget is another vital aspect of project controls. Project controllers consider the cost of project activities during the project planning stage to ensure it's in line with the budget earmarked by senior project stakeholders.

As you implement project controls, set time-phase budgets and consistently refine the numbers based on the developments that occur along the way. This provides a clear project status and update report on the costs of the project for those involved, as shown in the image below. 

portfolio cost dashboard

Update reports ensure transparency and accountability. They allow for the quick approval of resources and keep everyone on the same page. Unified Communications as a Service (UCaas) tools can be helpful in quickly disseminating such important info to senior managers, stakeholders, and other relevant team members.

  1. Risks and Challenges

Managing risks and challenges is a huge part of project control because unforeseen outcomes can completely change the project's trajectory and result in unmet targets. Proactively identifying, monitoring, and managing risks as a part of project control processes helps to reduce loss of time, resources, and avoidable project mishaps.

Controlling risks and possible business challenges also helps ensure project stability because, if not controlled, they could lead to a major project crisis. Early detection of project risks helps avert such. Some of the key causes of risks in a project may be a lack of resources, poor collaboration among team members, changes in the market, governmental or legal laws, etc. 

Common risks that project controllers often have to control may include data or security breaches, untracked bugs in project software, unpredictable weather conditions, stolen materials, or the abrupt resignation of key team members.

  1. Project Deadlines

The ability to meet the agreed project deadlines is essential for successful projects. So, the project controller needs to set up project controls that track activities and tasks to ensure the team completes them on schedule. They also manage any project changes or developments that may occur, which could result in a delay in delivery.

To achieve this, the controller sets rules detailing what project tasks should be considered a priority and how they will be delivered, approved, and modified if necessary.

A kanban board in DoneDone
Product board in DoneDone

Working with a project management tool can help manage deadlines in project controls. The image above is a typical example of project control in progress using DoneDone. The project controllers assign and track the project teams’ tasks to ensure delivery within the project schedule.  

DoneDone has timeline management features, such as Ticket Assignments that help project teams assess and manage resources at their disposal. With the Ticket History feature, project controllers and project managers know who has worked on what task, ensuring accountability across the board.

In Closing

To manage a project smoothly and ensure its successful completion, certain project controls processes need to be in place. Without these processes, the project stands at risk of derailing from the schedule, facing cost overruns, and having low-quality results. 

To implement project controls, project managers need to work with project controllers to track the project scope, accurately estimate project costs, mitigate risk and challenges, and meet project deadlines.

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