Project Controlling: How to Effectively Monitor Projects
Many project managers and organizations, despite their best efforts, struggle to successfully manage multiple projects and large-scale projects.
Projects fail for several reasons such as unclear project goals and objectives, weak resource planning, low project visibility, unclear project accountability, scope creep, and unrealistic expectations, and low team morale.
Large-scale capital-intensive projects tend to overrun the initial cost estimations and experience deadlined timelines. The difference between a project that experiences increased cost and delayed delivery and one that is delivered on time and within the project’s estimated cost is good project controls.
In this article, you will learn how to effectively monitor projects using project controlling techniques to ensure projects of all sizes are delivered on time and within budget.
Let’s get started.
What is Project Controlling?
Project controlling is a very important tool in project management that ensures that projects reach their goals, deadlines, and costs that are associated with them.
This core task in project management covers all the necessary activities that help the project manager and team implement the project according to the laid-down project plan.
According to The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), project control involves comparing the planned performance of the project with its actual performance and making necessary adjustments when significant differences exist, to achieve the desired outcome.
Controlling a project is a continuous process of managing and monitoring a project through different stages. The goal of project control is to ensure the project is on track and its goals are achieved while sticking to the scheduled deadlines and costs estimated for the project.
Goals of Project Controlling
The role of the project manager includes controlling projects. In the case of large projects, a specific project controller will carry out the task in place of a project manager. Projects of different sizes, not only large projects, will have significant benefits when properly executed.
1. Achieve the Objectives of the Project
The main goal of project control is to ensure that you achieve the objectives of a project in a way that the expected quality is met while following the planned end dates and costs.
2. Keep Track of Current Project Progress
In a bid to ensure that the project achieves the desired outcome, project controlling keeps track of current project progress. The dedicated project controller compares the current progress to the project plan to ensure that the project is moving according to plan.
In a situation where the project progress is overrunning the project timeline and estimated cost, project controlling makes adjustments to remedy the situation.
3. Monitor and Analyze the Causes and Evaluation of Consequences for the Project
Project controlling seeks to determine the causes of project delays, increased project costs, and other variables that threaten the actualization of the initial project plan. It also aims to determine critical path deviations, which means to compare the project target with the current project process.
4. Plan and Implement Project Management Measures
The aim of project controlling is to plan and implement core controlling processes such as schedule control, integration change control, cost control, quality control, risk monitoring and control, project scope change control, and performance reporting into the project management process.
5. Outline the Project Control Result in the Project Status Report
Project control is not complete if there is no documentation of its results in a project status report. This process is crucial as it allows the project stakeholders and everyone involved in the project to know the extent of project control problems they are facing and possible solutions.
A project status report is a project management document that describes the progress of the project within a given timeframe in comparison to the project plan.
6. Project Cost Reduction By Making Timely Decisions Using KPIs
Project managers aim to reduce the project cost to the barest minimum to avoid overspending on the project’s budget. In situations where the project costs are climbing higher than what it is initially budgeted for, that project lacks proper controlling mechanisms.
Another goal of project control is to reduce project costs. Project managers and project controllers have to make timely decisions using key performance indicators (KPIs) relating to the project.
Failure to make decisions on time and to track the right project KPIs can prove costly both in the short term and long term.
Project Control Techniques
There are some techniques used to manage and control tasks of a project from the starting point to the finishing point.
1. Small Tasks
You need to break down large projects into smaller tasks to make it easier to approach and track the progress of each task. This process is called work breakdown structure (WBS).
From a project control perspective, if you schedule your work packages for completion within a short period, it will be easier for you to check for delayed or problematic tasks. With this, you will be able to resolve this issue on time in order not to affect the smooth process of the project.
In controlling a project, the first thing you need to do is create a baseline. You chiefly apply a baseline to the core success aspects of a project such as scheduling and budgeting. However, you can also use it for other details of the project.
You just have to measure and check the current project performance against the baseline you created and maintain the baseline at all costs.
3. Status Meetings
Holding regular meetings among team members can help keep the members accountable and dedicated to work especially if the tasks are small and can be completed easily.
Status meetings are really important for the progress of the project. You can use these meetings to improve communication among members involved in the project.
Before you call for a status meeting, you need to write out an effective team meeting agenda to help to improve productivity. Without such a guide in place, the status meeting risks getting long, full of redundancies, and can easily fall off the meeting’s agenda.
4. Completion Criteria
This project control technique starts during the project definition stage where the criteria for the project are created and accepted. The completion criteria will continuously be used throughout the project management life cycle for every project deliverable and task.
Defining a project and understanding the criteria upfront will increase productivity and several issues will be avoided when working on the project.
Reviews are important in monitoring and ensuring that you achieve the expectations on project deliverables. You need to apply the principle of the review-feedback-correction cycle on your deliverables if you want to improve them.
Project reviews can take many forms. Some examples of reviews are design review, walkthrough and testing, audits, and process review.
6. Milestones and Checkpoints
The use of milestones and checkpoints is common among successful projects. You can use these stop points in a project to evaluate the progress of the project, review problems on the project, and ensure that everyone is still on track with the project.
Milestones and checkpoints are important because it allows key project stakeholders and senior management to assess and evaluate their investment in the project and also know how the project is faring in comparison to the project plan.
You can use these predefined points to note which particular task is affecting the smooth work of the project and as a reference in the course of the project.
7. Requirements Traceability Matrix
Requirements traceability matrix is a project control technique that assists to control both scope and expectations. This project control technique links the original set of confirmed requirements, any changeover deliverables, and the final product.
The reason why this technique is important is because of the role it plays in making the original requirement visible. Requirements traceability matrix serves as a stumbling block against the introduction of new features during the course of the project.
8. Formal Sign-offs
Formal sign-offs are a key component of change control management. The formal record of a particular deliverable will help to keep expectations on track and also reduce disputes.
Project managers use formal sign-offs to ensure that key project stakeholders are actively in line and satisfied with the project.
9. Independent QA Audit
An independent quality assurance audit is a key component of project quality assurance plans. Independent QA audit involves attracting a panel of external experts to examine project activities to determine if they adhere to the defined quality assurance processes for the project.
These external experts will recommend corrective actions for any discrepancies they discover in the process. Independent QA audit is a great tool for ensuring the project follows best practices and procedures.
10. V Method
The V method validates and verifies the steps for deliverables and interim deliverables established. On the left side of the “V” is where you include specific deliverables while on the right side of “V” is where you show the verification procedure for every deliverable mentioned on the left side.
Importance of Project Controls
1. Helps Anticipate and Resolve Project Issues, Costs, and Delays
Project control is essential for the success of a project. Experts in project management know that whether it is a large-scale project or a very small-scale project for a small business, there will surely be delays, issues, and additional costs.
With the help of project controls, all these issues, costs, and delays can be anticipated and resolved before they affect the smooth process of the project. Project controls help resolve these issues before they result in huge expenses which can completely lead to the shut down of the business.
2. Keeps You on Track with the Project Plan
Large projects might be difficult to stay on track with the initial plan from the project initiation stage. However, continuous monitoring and analysis can keep the project on track. Not just large projects but projects of any size will surely see the benefit when it is properly controlled.
How to Monitor a Project from Start to Finish
You can apply project controlling measures and monitor the project from the initial stage throughout the project execution stage till the completion of the project.
Project Control in the Planning Phase
The first stage of the project is all about defining the project plan or project scope. This is where all the project management principles for a particular project are listed out.
List and define the main objectives of the projects, the problems that need to be attended to, the team members of the project, and what tasks they need to perform.
Preparing cost and time estimates in this phase will assist in having a successful planning phase. Both are necessary for project management. Many projects fail because of poor planning and inaccurate project cost estimates.
The cost must be predicted accurately. You can use previous similar projects as a reference to estimate the cost of a current project. To do this, you need to consider the following:
- Various tasks connected with the project
- Estimated time for each project stage
- Estimated budgets for each of the tasks
- The plan for sharing tasks among the project team
Project Control in the Development Phase
The development phase of a project is mainly about kick-starting the project. At this stage, the project team members and stakeholders meet for the first time to plan and discuss activities and assignments.
Project control is integral in the development phase to achieve a successful project. Timetables and cost estimates are turned into realistic planning. You can establish project control at this phase through the following instruments.
Planning is a key procedure of project control that should reflect in all stages of project management. This stage focuses on accurate planning of cost and schedule, perfectly monitoring and making reports of the planned work, and identifying and correcting errors to get the work back on track.
Cost management in project management involves managing and controlling the expenses of a project. It also involves monitoring the expenses of the project and also trying to minimize the cost to meet the budget of the project without affecting the smooth running of the project.
With the data generated when you analyze the cost of the project, you can make cost forecasts on the future of the project. Cost forecasts involve predicting project costs and prices of resources.
Project Risk Management
Project risk management involves analyzing risk on planning and costs. The risk analysis covers the estimated delivery date, identification of risks for the costs of a particular task, and the estimated date for deadlines.
Risks involve everything that can affect the project's performance and budget. In a project management context, risks are opportunities or problems that need to be tackled.
Project risk management is all about identifying, prioritizing, and mitigating risks before they blossom into serious problems that can affect the project process and outcome. Managing risks is a key part of project control.
The way you manage risks for large and small projects differs. For large and complex projects, you need to establish detailed planning for each risk. Risk management measures for small projects often involve listing the risks and classifying them into three (low, high, or medium priority risks).
Project Control in the Implementation Phase
The implementation phase is where you deliver the first real results of the project. Although this phase is a productive and satisfying one, a lot can go sideways at this phase and can lead to frustration which might affect the efficiency of the team.
The project team should remain focused on the project goals. To make this possible, you need to closely monitor the project progress. You can use a team management software tool to identify time wasters, project quality issues, and other problems.
Project Control in the Closing Phase
The closing phase is where you put the finishing touches and conclude the project. At this phase, the project manager informs the project sponsor of the project outcome. The final deliverable (product or service) reaches the customer in the closing phase.
Although you have concluded the project, this does not stop you from carrying out more project checks. For better project management, you need to assess the performance of the project team.
- Did the project team achieve the project goals?
- Did they deliver the project within the limits of quality and costs?
- What did the project team do that led to the success of the project?
- What did they not do right?
Reports That Every Project Controls Team Should Have
Project controls help in achieving a successful project, but too often there is no clear explanation on how it relates to the performance of the project or how it can generate a good ROI. This makes it hard for the project team to attract the management’s attention.
By backing your project control recommendations with clear facts and workable data, you get the project team and management to embrace them easily. You need to create automated and regular reports in the project control process.
There are several reports you can use to introduce project control concepts to your project team.
1. Cost Report
This includes costs associated with the project. A project status report contains all the metrics relating to the project costs. Examples of cost reports include committed expenditures such as contracts with people for work that has not been completed and the budget used on the project so far.
Cost reports can take different formats and frequencies. Some prefer it daily like the scrum style while some prefer it every week. Reporting of cost improves the performance of the project. All stakeholders should have access to the report and understand the given information.
2. Change Management Register
Scope creep is a challenge faced by many projects. This is a situation where new tasks, features, and deliverables get added to a project after the project initiation phase, which results in frustrations and losses.
A change management register notes down all changes in the project scope from the initial statement of work. This report shows how much extra cost you have to allocate to the project and the additional delay due to the changes in the project scope.
The information contained in a change management register helps the project team to prepare for the impact of changes to the project scope and communicate it with internal or external customers.
A change management register may sometimes cause the customer to cut back on requested changes to the project scope when the clear implication of the changes is clear. This report provides you with a formal way to review and sign off on project changes.
3. Risk Register
A risk register is a document that maintains and controls risk and also tasks connected with known risk. This report works like a RAID which stands for risk, action, issues, and decision log. You create the risk register at the initial stage of the project to document risks and dependencies.
During the course of the project, the project risk can change. You can use a risk register as a reference for future changes. This type of report clearly reveals the top concern areas to the project team and the key project stakeholders.
The risk register makes projects more predictable. Project teams can review past happenings of these risks to forecast how they can negatively impact their projects.
Challenges with Project Controls
Despite how common project controls are in project management, many organizations still struggle to implement them.
When projects fail, organizations tend to blame their project controls for not being effective. Instead of rushing to a definite conclusion, organizations need to first assess how well-implemented their project control processes are.
While implementing project controls, the project team may face a few challenges.
1. Lack of Commitment and Support from Executive Management
In many organizations, there is a notable lack of commitment and support from senior management. Project control is not just about passive monitoring. It is about actively making decisions based on project reports and analysis.
If there is no support from senior management, project controllers will struggle to achieve their goals. A lot of project control teams do not have enough staff to implement their goals.
With the lack of commitment and support from executive management, project control teams tend not to be properly funded to invest in the right methods.
2. Classification of Project Costs as Another Cost Function
Many organizations view project costs as an overhead expense since the effect is not noticeable except the project goes awry. However, this view is untrue.
Project controls tend to take up a tiny fraction of the overall project costs. According to IPA Global, that cost ranges from 0.5% – 3%. While project costs require some investments, they can improve project costs in the range of 6% – 20%.
You can tackle this issue of the wrong perception of the project controls by training your project team and executives on the large return on investment (ROI) that can be realized from the project controls function.
3. Confrontational Dynamic
One of the challenges with project controls is that they can foster a me-versus-you approach within your organization. The project team focused on delivery and timelines is often suspicious of corrective functions such as project controls and audits.
You can overcome this obstacle by building a partnership between the project controller and his or her team and other members of the project team.
Integrating project controls with other project management areas is crucial. Blend the role of the project controller role into the project management lifecycle in a harmonious way to break that perception that he or she is a barrier of bad news.
4. Manual and Outmoded Processes
Even with support from executive management and the awareness of the project teams in the ROI and other benefits that project controls bring, there may still be the problem of manual and outdated processes.
The actual implementation of project controls in the project may struggle to keep up with many of the project challenges especially if manual processes are in place. Many organizations still use manual and outdated tools such as spreadsheets to track and manage costs, project risks, and change requests.
What makes manual systems unsuitable for project controls especially in large projects is that they tend to generate disparate data rather than provide the required visibility (holistic insights) into the project.