Project Controls: Explained in 2 Minutes


6 min read

Project Controls

Yes, you got that right – we can explain what project controls are in just 2 minutes! We know how short of time you are and how every minute counts.

Still, if you are new to project management and you’d like to get some more basic ideas behind project controls – we’ve included these in this short article too.

But first and foremost, let’s try and define.

1. What are project controls

Simply put, project controls are different processes for collecting, managing, and analyzing project data, with the main goal of maintaining project costs and schedule, throughout the whole project’s lifecycle.

Project controls can vary according to industry, businesses, and organizations, but their aim is to provide insights on how to deliver benefits to a project’s cost, time, and performance.

And here is what project controls can do for you:

  • Informs us about cost overruns and their root causes
  • Analyzes scenarios and gives suggestions for fixing problems
  • Reports on costs and schedules and point raising issues
  • Gives a data-grounded view of how the project resources and objectives are trending over time
  • Increases project predictability for cost and deadlines
  • Enables you to mitigate project scope creep
  • Helps establish benchmark data for future projects
  • Improves reputation for successfully managing projects

The longer, more technical definition of project controls you can find in PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) book, the bible of all project managers is:

“Project Controls are the data gathering, data 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.”

2. Role of project controls

Many people are confused about how project controls are different from overall project management.

Well, while project management deals also with quality, scope, managing people, deliverables, and other parameters, project controls focus only on the cost and schedule factors and avoiding risks and issues connected to them.

Hierarchically, project controls are under project management. A project manager can exercise this function, but if not, there will be a person (a project controller) who will be reporting to the project manager.

The objective of project management is to successfully complete a project with the resources available, whereas the main objective of project controls is to minimize the variance in costs and schedule from what was originally planned.

3. Which are the different project control methods?

There are 3 different project controls methods – cybernetic, go/no go, and post-performance. The difference between them is WHEN the project control happens.

Let’s have a look in more detail:

3.1. Cybernetic

Cybernetic controls focus on the project’s outputs (could be milestones).

If the milestones or output doesn’t meet the set standards, then you analyze the situation to find a way and put things to standard again.

The focus here is to reduce deviations from a set standard.

Example: Let’s say you are opening a bakery. For the open day, you need to purchase ingredients for your baked products, buy packaging and finally prepare the food. If the delivery of ingredients is not on time (does not meet your set standard) you need to make changes to the schedule, replace other activities, or else, so that you can make the food on time for the open day.

>This is the most common kind of control method.

3.2. Go/no-go

The Go/no-go control method makes sure that certain preconditions are met before you start a task.

Example: If your ingredients don’t arrive on time, you will have delays in all the subsequent tasks.

Go and no-go controls examine the possible problems that may appear and try to help with the planning for avoiding them.

They are not sitting independently on a calendar, they are linked between the individual activities.

3.3. Post-performance project controls method

As the name suggests, post-performance project controls take place after task completion.

Example: If the new oven for your bakery malfunctions and delays the baking for the open day, you can write that down and take measures next time, so you prepare for such incidents.

The focus is on analyzing what happened, recording it, and using it for future reference and improvements.

4. Set your project controls in 10 easy steps

Controlling a project start much earlier than the execution stage. That’s why it’s important to have effective and smart project controls and to be prepared well for each stage of your project.

We will list some easy steps you can take to set your project controls:

  1. Determine the project’s scope, inform everyone involved
  2. Determine the team structure – who is the best match for each task, how many members are in the team, plan how you will monitor progress
  3. Consider risk factors – create a risk management plan to mitigate risks
  4. Adaptability – a project might need to change course;  plan for unexpected events and how you will adapt
  5. Monitoring of project status – choose a method for monitoring how well or poorly a project is progressing
  6. Evaluate communication – how effective and transparent are your lines of communication
  7. Note deadlines – Ensuring you meet deadlines; if not, make a plan for avoiding future failure; evaluate where to make adjustments
  8. Corrective measure – based on the previous step, plan for a corrective measure that can be taken in future
  9. Final project presentation – determine the people that will present the final product and what they need in order to make a powerful impression

Don’t forget to have a way to monitor all these steps, otherwise, you don’t know how well you do.

5. Project controls’ importance

A report from 2018 finds a correlation between project controls and project’s success: where control was taken seriously, businesses were twice as likely to meet project objectives. Those, who didn’t pay any attention to project controls, were more than 3 times likely to fail.

Another study, conducted by IPA Global indicates that the cost for project control function (ranging from 0.5% to 3% of the project) is far less than the results from using the practice – ranging from 6% to 20%.

Both examples illustrate the importance of project controls in project management.

Not in last place, it’s a common practice for project managers to focus almost solely on delivery, which leaves them without a proper examination of costs, deviation from the project plan, and other variables involved.

That is why, project controls are an invaluable tool, which deserves the attention of every project professional.

We hope this article shed some light on the topic and that it will inspire you to learn more about:

Project Management Best Practices and How To Implement Them Right Now

23 Clever Tips on How to Manage Multiple Projects

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