Program Framework

Project Controls: What is it and why is it important?

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Project Management (PM) is a crucial role in any organisation that carries out large scale and complex projects. With often huge sums of money, extensive resources and complicated processes, the professionals who run these undertakings take on enormous pressures and responsibilities. Nonetheless, there are few things as rewarding as watching a major construction finalised, a merger or expansion achieved or a campaign completed successfully. Not many careers offer the satisfaction of seeing something you’ve steered from initial idea, to the planning stages, the actual carrying out of the project and finally, its completion. The sense that a concrete thing has been done – and that it’s thanks to your planning – is second to none.

Whether you manage projects for a small enterprise or a global corporation, most projects involve a number of common steps and procedures. They also face similar risks related to unexpected obstacles, human resource problems or cash flow, for instance. As already stated, PM can involve terrific risks, so getting a project right and avoiding potential dangers is absolutely essential for success.

In this context, Project Controls provides an important safeguard against failure. However, despite the security it can offer a projects’ successful completion, many companies fail to completely understand what Project Controls is and how it can be employed in their businesses. Given this state of affairs, it’s worth getting to grips with what exactly Project Controls encompasses, why it’s important and where you can find out more.

Control: a word with negative connotations

We tend to associate the word “control” with authority or worse – the attempt by some party or another to dictate our thoughts, actions and behaviour against our own will. However, at least in the world of PM, this would be something of a misinterpretation. Thinking about it more as a form of quality checking might help; when we speak about Project Controls we’re really speaking about measuring a project’s progress against the project’s blueprint and reporting on that.

Large organisations may hire full time project controllers to aid Project Managers (although in other cases the manager also has the role of doing the controls) and their job is essentially to gather information on the project’s progress from day one all the way up to completion. It of course depends on the kind of project your business runs, but the controls might include auditing spending, checking that builds are in line with plans and then comparing how close (or far) the reality is in relation to the original project plan.

Project controlling therefore entails reporting on what’s going on with a project and then estimating how near to targets it will be. Good project management is all about keeping an eye on the present as well as looking forward, preparing for obstacles. Project Controls provides real time reporting to help managers make crucial decisions. The information provided by project controllers can help predict where extra workers might be needed, if the project can shed resources or if, conversely, it requires more.

It’s also worth making the definition clear – Project Controls isn’t the same as Project Management. Think of controls as advice and guidance while management is far larger; it involves wider oversight and, crucially, taking those big decisions.

How would your work benefit from Project Controls?

With Project Controls in place, organisations know they have themselves covered on a number of bases. This leaves managers free to take care of the many other aspects of a project – safety, quality, and behavioural and communications management.

Project Controls provide managers with:

  • Business intelligence so they can make the best decisions about project strategy and direction.
  • Constant overview of progress so they have an up to date measure of the project’s development in relation to the original plan.
  • Reports and data so they can visualise and really understand where weak points and strengths in their projects exist and what can be done about these.
  • Projections and estimates so they can picture what issues may arise and whether the project will finish within budget and time limits.

Implementing Project Controls principles to PM work is not necessarily a complex procedure and it offers many benefits.

Tell me more

The excellent blog offers in-depth information on every aspect of Project Controls and is a great source of information for anyone working in PM. For those wanting to dive in further and maybe find out about the many handy PM tools out there, make sure you get down to the Project Controls Expo this November at Arsenal’s stadium in London. It’s the world’s primary Project Controls exhibition and we’re excited to be on the line up exhibiting at the event. It really is a must for anyone working in the PM field.

Project Controls can sometimes be overlooked in the excitement, pressure and stress of PM. However, they really can help ensure your projects stay on course and within budgets and reduce the risks of failure – and what Project Manager wouldn’t want to ensure that?