Fail to plan and you plan to fail. It’s one of the mantras of project controls and for good reason. The best project controls ensure efficiencies in time, cost and performance, and help to maximise return on investment for all stakeholders on a project. It’s no wonder that projects managed in this way are recognised each year by the APM Awards.
Going into a project without a robust framework of project controls is like going to the supermarket without a list: you’ll forget some of the key things you needed; you’ll get distracted by the special deals or the end-of-the-aisle attention-grabbers; you’ll end up with a lot of great food but when you put it all together, it won’t make a week of coherent meals; and you’ll have spent so long in the shop, you’ve got a parking ticket when you get out.
So why are project controls so important in projects?
1. Without them, you’ll be in hot water
Good project controls won’t be able to prevent unexpected delays or budget overspend, and without them these issues can go unresolved, even undetected for a while, and spiral into far greater problems that affect the wider project or other areas of the business. With great project controls processes in place, issues come to light in a timely manner and they can be addressed, likely consequences assessed, risks and mitigations considered, and appropriate course corrections put in place so the issues and their resulting effects are minimised and managed confidently.
2. 20:20 vision for your projects
Formalising the concept of project controls ensures that nothing gets forgotten, that budgets and schedules are maintained, and that all stakeholders on a project have access to accurate data for evidence-based forecasting and reporting. At any one time, anyone involved should be able to see:
- Where we are
- How much we have spent?
- What’s next?
- Are we on track?
- How we can correct to get back on course?
Making sure that everyone has the right information at the right time to make the right, informed decisions is vital. At RPC, we call this ‘the single source of the truth’ and it’s why project controls must be at the heart of any successful project team. At-a-glance dashboard reporting helps keep everyone on top of project performance, supporting confident forecasting and agile planning. We use Oracle’s Primavera Unifier, integrated with P6 planning data, but whichever system is used, the holy grail for the project controls professional is an integrated solution.
Cost, schedule, contracts, resources, earned value, risk and reporting all draw from a centralised data set that is continuously updated. Everyone has visibility, rather than each department working in independent silos and manually transferring data to and fro, with all the time lags and potential for human error that entails.
3. Effectively manage the full life cycle
When you’re working with new technology or ground-breaking, untested processes and equipment, being agile and changing course when required is critical, and it was a strong and adaptable project controls process that underpinned the successful NATS London City Airport Digital Tower Project, winner of Transformation Project of the Year, 2021. This was a leap into the unknown, as the first major airport in the UK to transfer Air Traffic operations from the traditional, on-site function to a purpose-built, digital facility 80 miles away from the airport.
The early development and later staff engagement over a four-year period demonstrate the importance of project controls across the entire life cycle of a project, from the earliest scoping and planning tasks to handover and ongoing management or maintenance:
- At the initiation stage of a project, project controls are critical to align deliverables and to underpin the planning, which is so essential before any work can begin.
- During the execution of a project, project controls enable effective reporting to allow everyone involved to see the big picture of how the project is progressing, and not just their own small part in it.
- And at project completion, your project controls data enables you to: conduct a fully-informed handover; feed into ongoing asset management requirements or staff training and development; support information gathering in the event of any contract disputes or compliance notifications; and – crucially – allow for a project review and lessons to be learned that will inform future projects and help your business to grow and improve in efficiency and process.
4. You may end up on an award-winning team
On large or megaprojects, like the £124 million Boston Barrier Project – winner of the Engineering, Construction and Infrastructure Project of the Year Award, 2021 – project controls are essential for success. Engineering in unpredictable marine environments is fraught with potential for the unexpected and the confidence that such ‘curve balls’ could be dealt with promptly and effectively was instrumental in the Boston Barrier Project’s success and award win. This major, environmentally significant, eight-year project managed by Turner and Townsend is the largest UK flood defence scheme currently in construction. The project controls included planning and risk management alongside cost and project management. Companies that encourage a culture of strong project controls conduct successful projects, support successful project controls professionals and perform great things – and deserve recognition within the project management community.
With a good project controls system in place, there shouldn’t ever be any surprises – until you hear your project name read out at the Awards ceremony, that is. RPC is delighted to be Headline Sponsor of the APM Awards again this year and we congratulate all the awards entrants for their inspiring and innovative work, particularly the successful finalists. We’re looking forward to celebrating the very best of the profession and the ultimate award winners later in the year.