Control

Definition

Control comprises tracking performance against agreed plans and taking the corrective action required to meet defined objectives.

General

All six fundamental components of delivery need to be controlled. Some techniques, such as change control and quality control, are specific to one of the elements. Others, such as earned value management, bring together multiple elements. Fundamentally, all techniques fall into three broad categories.

Cybernetic control (from the Greek for helmsman) deals with routine progress tracking and corrective action. This is the central role of the P3 manager.

In order to track progress, there must be a baseline against which to compare it. It is the manager’s responsibility to steer the work so that progress remains as close to the baseline as possible. To do this effectively, the manager must have agreed tolerances within which the work can be managed.

Tolerances are acceptable deviations from the baseline plan. If performance is outside, or predicted to be outside, the agreed tolerances, this is classed as an ‘issue’ that must be escalated to the sponsor. The sponsor and manager will then agree on the appropriate corrective action. If the result is a major change to the work, then a new baseline may be agreed against which future performance is tracked.

A common method of illustrating performance is ‘RAG reporting’ (Red, Amber, Green). Green status means performance is within tolerances and predicted to remain there. Amber is within tolerances but predicted to exceed them. Red indicates performance has exceeded tolerances.

Go/no go control deals with the key decision points that are built into the life cycle. These are typically found at the end of a phase, stage or tranche of work and involve a major review of what has been delivered.

At these decision points, the sponsor considers the available information and decides whether to proceed with the remaining work. In extreme cases a project, programme, or even portfolio, may be terminated because it is no longer viable.

Post-control is entirely backward-looking. It is concerned with learning from experience through, for example, post-project or post-programme reviews.

The success of a project, programme or portfolio and the maturity of the organisation are both highly dependent upon the ability to establish and act upon lessons learned.

Another way of looking at control techniques is to see them as either event-driven or time-driven.

Go/no go and post-control techniques are always event-driven. They are triggered, for example, by the end of a stage, or the end of a programme. An important event-driven control is the one triggered by progress that exceeds tolerances.

Time-driven techniques are more applicable to cybernetic control and involve weekly or monthly reports, periodic reviews or regular progress meetings. It is the manager’s job to collect progress data and prepare regular reports showing the performance of the work for all of the elements and highlighting areas that need attention. In some cases this work will be done by a support function, freeing the manager to concentrate on decision-making and implementing corrective action.

Project

For a project, the baselines for control will be the business case and the project management plan, i.e. what the project must deliver and how it should be delivered.

Control methods must then be appropriate to the scale, context and complexity of the project.

On many small projects a simple slip chart, comparing actual progress with the baseline on a Gantt chart, will suffice.

On large or complex projects where there is a well-defined scope, a more sophisticated method such as earned value management (EVM) may be needed.

EVM is a project-control process based on a structured approach to planning, cost collection and performance measurement. It is a process that provides benefits for the control of projects. It facilitates the integration of project scope, time and cost objectives in the establishment of a planned schedule and budget baseline and provides the means for comparing the work completed against this baseline.

Conventional scheduling, budgeting and cost management will inform the project manager what budget has been spent and what activities have been completed or are in progress. However, this does not provide a performance measure.

EVM provides this measure of performance and allows future performance to be predicted based on current variances and trends. The purpose of measuring earned value is to provide information in order to determine:

  • what has been achieved of the planned work;
  • what it has cost to achieve the planned work;
  • whether the work achieved is costing more or less than was planned;
  • whether the project is ahead or behind the planned schedule.

On projects where time is of the essence and scope is flexible, the Agile approach is becoming increasingly popular. In such projects, the control of time is achieved through timeboxing and the main emphasis is on change control of scope. The MoSCoW technique prioritises requirements within each timebox.

No project will ever run strictly according to plan. A good plan will contain elements of contingency and management reserve that will cushion the effect of issues. Some of these reserves will be in the control of the project manager and others within the control of the project sponsor.

The progress of a project will often be affected by external influences over which the project manager has no control. This is where the project sponsor must provide help and support, and the relationship between the project manager and the project sponsor is vital to effective project control.

Programme

The programme management team do not manage individual projects or detailed change management activities. This is delegated to the project and change management teams.

Defining tolerances is an important part of setting up control systems. These will govern whether something is dealt with at project level or programme level.

Programme level control involves:

  • monitoring interdependencies between projects and change management activities;
  • tracking key performance indicators to predict where tolerances may be exceeded;
  • re-allocating resources and funds to accelerate progress where necessary;
  • initiating and closing projects;tracking the realisation of benefits;
  • conducting post-project, tranche and benefits reviews;
  • monitoring the external environment and its effect on the business case.

There will be activity that does not fall within projects or change management. These will include, for example, management of programme-level risks, communication and some procurement. These activities will be monitored against the programme management plan and corrective action taken where necessary.

Although control is the responsibility of the programme manager, it is likely that a support function within the programme will perform the detailed work.

Portfolio

Most of the control in a portfolio is delegated to the projects and programmes. As with any delegated authority, it is important to have clear boundaries and responsibilities.

Portfolio-level control is very similar to programme-level control in that it must:

  • monitor interdependencies between projects, programmes and change management activities;
  • track key performance indicators to predict where tolerances may be exceeded;
  • re-allocate resources and funds to accelerate progress where necessary;
  • prioritise, initiate and close projects and programmes;
  • balance risk and reward across the portfolio;
  • track the realisation of strategic objectives and associated benefits;
  • conduct post-project, post-programme and benefits reviews;
  • monitor the external environment and its effect on the way the strategic objectives can be achieved.

Portfolio planning will identify activities for the management of risk, communication, quality, procurement etc. that should be managed at portfolio level. These will form part of the portfolio management plan and are not delegated. Therefore, they will be directly tracked and controlled by the portfolio management team.

Portfolio management must also ensure that control methods are implemented consistently across the portfolio. If this is not done it can be difficult to aggregate data for the whole portfolio and construct an overall picture of progress.

The scale of portfolios will make a support function, such as a portfolio office, essential. This function will perform the data collection, analysis and reporting that enables the portfolio to be controlled. In many cases, the portfolio office may perform the same function for the component programmes and projects.

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