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The importance of project control in project management
Project control is an essential part of project management, crucial to every stage of a project’s lifecycle. We break down what it is.
The importance of project control in project management
November 18, 2022 4 min read
Know your project onions: “project management” and “project control” are not the same thing, and without knowing the difference you can’t improve the effectiveness of your work. At its simplest, project control is an essential component of project management and it needs to be implemented at every stage—from initiation to closeout. We walk through how project control fits into each stage of project management, as well as the tools you can use to repeatedly deliver successful, valuable projects.
What is project control?
There are subtle but important differences between project control and project management. The Association for Project Management explains these as follows:
Project—“The process by which projects are defined, planned, monitored, controlled and delivered so that agreed benefits are realised.”
Project management—“The management of a combination of numerous individual processes, many of which relate to the subsidiary discipline of project control.”
Project control—“The application of processes to measure project performance against the project plan, to enable variances to be identified and corrected, so that project objectives are achieved.”
Simply put, project management ensures the successful completion of a number of different processes, while project control makes sure those processes actually head in the right direction (to be classed as “successful”). It ensures projects are done correctly and the “right” projects are chosen in the first place. Project control exists to answer these three vital questions:
1. how much the project will cost?
2. how long the project will take?
3. what value or quality the project will deliver?
In practical terms, project control is about managing project scope, meeting quality requirements, keeping projects to schedule and budget, managing risks, identifying issues, and ensuring projects benefit the company. A lot of that comes down to collecting and managing data, finding trends, forecasting outcomes, reporting on progress and actually actively putting learnings into practice. Without controlling for these, projects quickly become wildly ineffective and expensive.
How project control fits into project management
Now we know what we’re dealing with, let’s see how to practically apply project control throughout the project management cycle.
The planning phase
The first stage of project management is planning and outlining your fundamentals: the issues you need to solve, the people who need to be involved, the actual work you’ll do. You need to identify stakeholders and define project objectives that set the boundaries for project success.
Part of that success depends on providing realistic cost and time estimations, both of which form part of project control. So many projects fail simply because they underestimate time or money constraints, so you need to forecast these variables as tightly as possible. The best way to do that is by analyzing performance data from similar past projects. In particular, take note of:
All the tasks involved in the project
How long each project phase took
Budget spend per individual task
How project activity was spread across your team
The billable to non-billable ratio of project work
📈 How to track project activity and profitability
The development phase
The build-up or development phase of project management is all about getting the ball rolling. This is where the team assembles, stakeholders meet and assignments are planned. And once again, project control is key to success. Your cost estimates become budgets and time estimates become schedules, and project control is responsible for four important aspects:
Planning and scheduling: the beginning of a project plan and schedule, the accurate monitoring and reporting of scheduled work, and the rapid detection and correction of any “deviations” to bring your schedule back on-course.
Cost Control: monitoring expenses and performance, monitoring budget spend, and taking action to hit minimum costs
Cost Estimation: the foundation of cost control and cost management, predicting the quantities and prices for the resources required.
Cost and schedule risk analysis: an assessment of risk on the project’s schedule and cost. Analysis takes into account the predicted delivery date, the likelihood of meeting deadlines, and the recognition of risks to the project’s cost.
The implementation phase
On to putting your plan into action! While super rewarding, this stage comes with a lot of frustrations. You need to keep your team focused with clear agendas to make sure no one gets sidetracked. A lot of that depends on being able to accurately diagnose your team’s progress and activity.
Project Controls: Key Elements, Benefits and Challenges
Project controls are designed to keep projects on track, on time, and within budget. With the right project data, you can improve your chances of success.
Project Controls: Key Elements, Benefits and Challenges
Despite best efforts and intentions, many organizations find that large-scale projects miss their targets for a number of reasons: optimism bias, manual estimation errors, insufficient historical data, scope creep and many other factors.
When it comes to large-scale capital projects, 98% of projects experience cost overruns or delays. On average, cost increases are estimated at 80% of the original value, and timelines are often delayed by 20 months or more.
So what is the difference between a costly, long-overdue project and one that is delivered on time and within budget? In many cases, the answer is good project controls.
What Are Project Controls?
Project controls are processes for gathering and analyzing project data to keep costs and schedules on track. The functions of project controls include initiating, planning, monitoring and controlling, communicating, and closing out project costs and schedule. Ultimately, project controls are repeatable processes for measuring project status, forecasting likely outcomes based on those measurements and then improving project performance if those projected outcomes are unacceptable.
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Activities under the umbrella of project controls may include:
Aligning projects with portfolio/organization goals and objectives
Developing a work-breakdown structure (WBS)
Collaborating on initial project schedules
Developing a risk management plan
Project budgeting and forecasting
Monitoring project costs
Feedback and reporting
Optimizing project strategies to enable better outcomes in the future
While a project may deal with many parameters, such as quality, scope, etc., the discipline of project controls puts a spotlight on the cost and schedule factors, continuously monitoring for any risk to them.
Hierarchically, project controls nest under project management. A project controller could be reporting to a project manager on a specific project or an entire portfolio of projects. Project controls are vital to successful project management, as it alerts project stakeholders to potential trouble areas and allows them to course correct, if needed.
For project controls to succeed, they cannot be applied in spurts or in a vacuum. Rather, project controls activities must run through the complete project life cycle — from cradle to grave — to monitor and control the various factors that impact cost and schedule.
Interweaving project controls with the rest of project management provides timely insights that empower project stakeholders to make the right decisions at the right time.
Processes That Define Project Controls
The strengths of project controls lie in their data-focused approach and attention to detail. A project manager does not simply want to know that there is a cost overrun, but rather wants to know the root causes, the precise numbers, and how it can be resolved. This is where a fully integrated project controls solution can help with efficiency in obtaining answers quickly, and provide visibility into performance that can reduce project costs.
Let’s dive into the processes that define project controls.
Planning is one of the important steps in which controllers and project managers work together. Whether it’s creating project plans, schedules, work-breakdown structures or cost estimates, planning gives your team a baseline to work with throughout the project.
Integrating the budgeting process into project activities is essential to calculate costs accurately and to understand when and why variances occur. By time-phasing budgets and refining the numbers, a transparent model is available for senior managers and team members alike. This model serves as a benchmark throughout the project to understand vitally important cash flows.
Project controls provide a meticulous approach to managing risk. By preemptively identifying risks, monitoring risk continuously, and developing contingency plans to address and mitigate issues, it becomes possible to reduce impact on budget and schedule. It also helps prevent some risks from happening in the future.
When a project deviates from its original estimates, it’s often not due to a single factor, but due to the cumulative effect of several factors that tend to go unnoticed. This is why change management is critical. By tracking changes and understanding their impact, while following a clear process for evaluation, approval, and accountability, projects can stay on their charted trajectory.
By increasing the accuracy of estimates-at-complete, project controllers and managers can gain more insight into the current drivers of cost and schedule overruns. Good progress measurement is a vital input to the forecasting process. It serves as the comparison against actual and committed costs that enable project controllers to extrapolate a forecast using a combination of standard forecasting methods and formulas. Regular, timely updates aid the project controller by enabling faster response and corrective action to when a project starts to get off track.
Defining and using key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor project health and forecast trends is crucial to take corrective actions. Organizations that use performance information to manage projects, like the calculations used in Earned Value Management, achieve a 68% success rate, compared to a 7% success rate for projects that don’t leverage this data.
Discover the benefits of Project Planning and Control
Discover the benefits of Project Planning and Control training for your organisation and the difference is can make to your team and projects.
The benefits of Project Planning and Control
The benefits of Project Planning and Control What are the benefits of Project, Planning and Control training within your organisation?
Individuals can achieve a credible, industry recognised accreditation which in turn boosts confidence and status.
Helps the delegates to achieve mutual understanding of terminology, that will be shared across the industry with colleagues, customers and suppliers.
The course gives them the time, space and context to work openly together in a training environment and enables them have the common understanding and vocabulary so that they can work together to adapt the current practices. e.g. Use of total / free float, addition of buffers and SVT’s (rather than using lag or slack).
It helps with the appropriate use of management contingency, change and risk budgets etc
Helps the team to understand and be able to develop their own scheduling guidelines and the various types (Gantts, Line of Balance and Time Chainage).
PPC is accepted best practice aligned with the APM PMC Special Interest Group (PMC SIG)
The course provides attendees with the added value of acting as informal or informal project assurance
Gives confidence in many existing processes (as many are already aligned with best practice)
This best practice has been reviewed (the APM guide) by Rolls-Royce representative(s)
Promotes the idea that planning and scheduling need to be considered as separate but highly interdependent disciplines
Formally suggests that schedule reviews(s) should be undertaken before a schedule is baselined initially and later in the project so that it acts as a reliable measurement baseline for decision making
Links the various planning and scheduling tools into a coherent set
Links project controls into the wider project management context (trainers are experienced project managers as well as knowledgeable in the project controls area)
Has been accepted as a standard by respected defence organisation(s)
Is currently under review ready to produce the second edition based on positive feedback
One of our public courses was attended by one of the guide’s authors and has received very good feedback from her.
Delegates were able to consider how to best use hammocks, schedule visibility tasks, buffers and different type of dependencies within their schedules.
It increased learners understanding of how estimation variances and risks impact, can affect the chances of completion on time and budget.
Why Project Planning and Control?
Project Planning and Control protects your project from risk and will ensure it stays on track for delivery, even when things change during the project’s life-cycle. Without the right tools and processes in place, it can be challenging to maintain momentum on a project, minimise risk, keep stakeholders informed and stick to tight timescales and budgets. Learning how to implement effective Project Planning and Control best practice can have a significant impact on you as a Project Manager or on your business. Planning is vital – but so is the ability to be able to manage and mitigate risk within your projects. This is where Project Planning and Control makes all the difference!
What’s included in Project Planning and Control?
We’d all like to imagine that once the project plan has been approved, nothing will change until the project is complete and the result has been delivered. But this isn’t how projects tend to progress in reality. New insight, market changes, unanticipated risks, customer feedback or changing company objectives can all impact a project. It’s important to be able to react to any changes in a positive and pragmatic way – but this takes planning. Learning skills that enable effective Project Planning and Control will keep a project on track even if plans change or unanticipated risks appear.
How can Project Planning and Control accreditation help?
Having an APMG Project Planning and Control Certificate is a sure fire way to show that you are the best candidate to maintain the security of any project, mitigate risks and attain success. As a business, by upskilling your Project Managers to keep a handle on time, cost and risk is paramount to your success as a business. Projects don’t run themselves! They rely on the right people applying the right processes at the right time in order to be successful. Project Planning and Control can be applied to any project within any company across all industries. So, accreditation is a great step whether you’re an individual trying to improve your skills or develop your career path, or a business looking to develop your people and aid retention of staff.
How does the Project Planning and Control training course work?
At Training ByteSize, we offer three Project Planning and Control courses; a Foundation Course, Practitioners Course and a combination course that incorporates both. We offer individual and group courses, so you can choose the best Project Planning and Control training course to suit your needs.