A big part of project success is having the right people and tools in place – and ensuring you have set aside enough time for project planning before jumping into the hands on work of developing a solution. And a big part of that planning is making sure you kick off the project with a good – and reasonable – project schedule and that you have the proper project controls in place.
There are many definitions of project controls used across industries and across companies within industries. Project controls is a function that is critical to achieving successful project and programme outcomes. Delivering required benefits to cost, time and performance is part of project controls.
Effectively setting up a project control process will enable you to keep an eye on cost and schedule as things shift and evolve throughout the project. It’s the key to navigating your project through rough waters - and it will save your project from going off the rails.
Some examples of project controls:
Budget forecast. Budget management is a critical task of the project manager and one that can weigh heavily on the success or failure of any engagement. One cannot simply create a project budget and leave it alone, hoping that everything will end well. It requires close attention to detail throughout the life of the project and at least some involvement of everyone who charges to and affects the project budget. The budget and ongoing forecast updates are items that should be in front of the customer throughout the engagement. If it’s good news, they’ll see that you’re managing the project well. If it’s not such good news, they can help you and your project team make adjustments to try to get the project budget back on track. Using a proper budget forecast and reviewing it weekly means it will be very difficult to ever go more than 10 per cent off track with the project budget without noticing – a very recoverable and often acceptable number. Keep the budget status in front of your delivery team and in front of the customer from the outset through deployment and you’re far more likely to remain within that acceptable +/- 10 per cent range.
Project schedule. Your project schedule is only as good as it is usable. If it is just something you created at the beginning of the project to show the client, team and management that the delivery organisation is capable of pulling this thing off, then it's really of little value. You need a project schedule that works and lives and breathes throughout the project, revised regularly, up to date as much as possible every day, and something you can use to make decisions from and manage against. If it's never revised or seldom up to date, you'll have a very difficult time making assignments and informed decisions on the project. You need a project plan or schedule that really means something – one that is really working for you on the project.
Project scope. Scope management. Yes, two dirty words, right? Scope management, change management, change orders, change requests, requirements management. Some of the hardest things to do and some of the biggest areas of conflict between project manager and customer. Good project managers watch scope, manage it well and put changer orders together when work is requested that falls outside of the agreed upon scope of the project. Great project managers do all that, but make some calls on what battles to fight, what change requests to use as leverage to make certain things happen and to negotiate favourable outcomes, and they know what to give away without going back to senior management over and over and over again.
Risk management. Properly identifying potential project risks during planning and then managing to that plan throughout the project. All project start with assumptions and uncertainties. And risks. Most definitely risks. If we fail to sit down as a team and consider what those uncertainties and risks are and fail to plan for how we might handle those should they become an issue, then when we do hit those bumps in the road and are far more likely to fall off schedule and over budget reacting to them. They will likely always damage the project to some degree when realised, but we can certainly soften the blow with some early planning.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is that project success is all about customer satisfaction. And having the proper controls in place to actively and adequately manage the project, the resource and the schedule in place will help ensure that customer satisfaction is ongoing through closeout. Without the right controls you're managing on luck and that is no foundation for ongoing project successes for your organisation.
Readers – what are your thoughts on project controls? Do you agree with this list – what would you add to it? Please share your thoughts.