This article provides a practical explanation of project control. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful project management tool.
What is Project Control?
According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), project control consists of data collection management and analysis processes used to predict and constructively influence the time and cost results of a project or programme by communicating information in formats that support effective management and decision-making.
It goes without saying that Project Control looks different depending on the project. Project Control is a professional function that is not generally recognised as part of the whole of a specialised skill. Above all, it is a function that is essential for realising and delivering project results and benefits in terms of cost, performance, and time.
Project Control is therefore about understanding and monitoring a project to subsequently base decision-making thereon. Project Control is applied in all stages of the project lifecycle – from the initiation phase through to completion.
Although Project Control can be applied to many more elements of project management, the following list represents the main areas of Project Control:
- Risk management
- Cost management
- Scope and change management
- Earned Value Management
- Performance management
- Stakeholder management
- Reporting control
Why is Project Control important?
Project management and Project Control have both existed since the mid-twentieth century. Throughout the years, it has been demonstrated time and again how poor project planning and poor project monitoring almost inevitably results in project failure. Project Control, if applied properly, saves both time and money (project success). Project Control should therefore be a leading function of every project.
Before this article goes deeper into Project Control, we will first explain the general terms regarding project management and Project Control.
A project is a process with which project results are defined, planned, checked, and delivered. The goal of a project is to deliver the agreed results or benefits.
Project management is the management of a combination of individual processes that together form the complete project.
Project Control is the application of processes to measure performance compared to the initial project plan. This is done so that deviations are identified and corrected in time, so that the project objectives can still be realised.
Project Control in the planning phase
The initial stage of a project is mainly about project planning / project scope. Here, the basic project management principles of a project are outlined, what problems need to be solved, the people (team members) who need to be involved in the project, and what tasks will actually be performed. The management of all stakeholders and their interests is also part of this (stakeholder management). Perhaps the most important part of this phase is defining project objectives and the scope of the project.
Part of the success of this phase depends on the realistic preparation of cost and time estimates. Both are part of project management. Many projects fail because they are not properly planned, or because the costs are not realistically budgeted in advance. It is therefore important that these variables are predicted as accurately as possible. The best way to do this is to analyse performance data from similar, previous projects. In doing so, always consider:
- The different tasks associated with a project
- The duration of each project phase
- The budgets for all individual tasks
- How the activities are distributed among the team members
Project Control in the development phase
The development phase of project management is mainly about getting the ball rolling. During this phase, the project team meets for the first time, together with stakeholders, and the assignments and activities are planned. In this phase too, Project Control is key to success. Cost estimates and timetables are converted into realistic planning, and the most important project controls are established here. These are:
Planning is a Project Control that is reflected in every phase of project management. The development phase is mainly about making accurate planning (cost and schedule), accurately monitoring and reporting planned work, and detecting and correcting any deviations to get the planning back on track.
Cost management in project management revolves around monitoring and managing expenses and performance, monitoring budget expenditures and taking action to minimise costs.
Based on the data released when analysing the costs, forecasts are made about the future of the project. This mainly revolves around predicting costs and prices of the required resources.
Project Risk Management
Another Project Control in the development phase of a project is risk management. This mainly concerns a risk analysis on costs and planning. The analysis takes into account the project’s projected delivery date, the probability that deadlines are met, and the identification of expected risks for the costs of the project.
Risks include everything that may affect a project’s timeline, performance, or budget. Although risks may also be considered opportunities, in the context of project management they are often classified as problems to be addressed. Project Risk Management is therefore the process of identifying risks, but also categorising, prioritising, and mitigating risks before they turn into real problems.
Risk management or managing risk is an important part of Project Control and is applied in all types of projects. For larger projects, detailed planning for each risk is often established to ensure that adequate mitigation strategies are in place should problems arise. For smaller projects, risk management often consists of a simple list containing various potential risks. These are classified as high, medium, or low priority risks.
Project Control in the implementation phase
In this phase of the project, the first real results are delivered. Even though this is a rewarding phase, a lot can go wrong. This also creates frustrations that can negatively affect the productivity of the project team members. It is therefore important that the project team remains focused. To ensure this, the progress of the project must be closely monitored.
Many projects use a team management tool to quickly identify time drains, quality issues, and other problems. In any case, make sure that the following matters are analysed:
- Individual and total employee capacity
- Distribution of activities per employee / project stakeholders
- How much time employees spend on each task
- Number of hours worked per employee / project stakeholders
- Expenses per employee / project stakeholders
Project Control in the closing phase
In the closing phase of a project, the project is formally concluded, and the sponsor is informed of the overall level of success. Moreover, in this phase the products or services to be supplied are transferred to the customer.
The fact that the project is complete does not mean that no more project checks have to be performed. To execute projects more effectively in the future, the final performance of the project team must be assessed. Which trends and processes have led to success? What should have been different? What could have been more efficient? Has the team achieved the goals? Have they kept the expected pace? Is the end result within the limits of quality and costs?
Earned Value Management
Earned Value Management (EVM) is a technique that allows project managers to track the performance of their project relative to the basic planning of a project. Often, the progress of a project is considered to be either ahead of or behind schedule. Earned Value Management goes a littler further than this, however. For example, what if a project is ahead of schedule, but has incurred higher costs? Or what if a project is behind schedule, but the costs are much lower than predicted?
Earned Value Management helps in dealing with this. It provides valuable information about a project, and includes some basic concepts:
Earned Value Analysis (EVA)
This is a quantitative project management technique. EVA evaluates project performance by predicting the likely results of a project. This is done by comparing the progress of a project with the budget and comparing the planned work with the actual costs.
Earned Value Management
Earned Value Management (EVM) measures project performance based on schedules and budgets. This is done by means of project Work Breakdown Structures (WBS).
Earned Value Management Systems (EVMS)
The Earned Valued Management System (EVMS) includes the collection of project control system tools, processes, and procedures used to conduct Earned Value Management.
Advantages of Project Control
Because large projects consist of many parts that are interconnected, it can be difficult to stay aligned with the original schedule. Closely monitoring, analysing and adhering to laws and regulations can make a project difficult to monitor. Regardless, every project benefits from the correct checks. The following benefits of project control make it an indispensable part of project management:
- The total costs of a project can be kept low by effective decision-making based, for example, on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- Project Control provides increased predictability for costs and deadlines
- Project Control provides more and better insights into the financial health of a project in all of its phases
- Project Control allows one to more easily prevent postponement of results
- Project Control ensures higher margins
- Project Control ensures an improved reputation when it comes to project management and result guarantees
- Project Control provides an increased sense of employee satisfaction
- Effective project management provides a competitive advantage over project teams with less mature project management capabilities
Now It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of project control? Which project controls do you believe are important to management before, during and after a project? Does your direct working environment value project control? Do you have any other tips or additional comments?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Flores, V. A., & Chase, G. E. (2005). Project controls from the front end. Cost Engineering, 47(4), 22.
- Floyd, L. A. (2004). Application of appropriate project controls tools for contract type. Cost Engineering, 46(2), 25.
- Howell, G., & Ballard, G. (1996, August). Can project controls do its job?. In Proceedings of the 4th annual conference of the International Group for Lean Construction.
- Wysocki, R. K. (2011). Effective project management: traditional, agile, extreme. John Wiley & Sons.
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