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Do you know how to utilize Project Controls?

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

I had the opportunity to work in Project Controls when I started my career. I was hired out of college as a cost engineer and subsequently joined a large team of senior planner/schedulers on a megaproject. One of the planners used to tell me that I was learning years’ worth of material in months. It was a fast-paced environment where I was bouncing ideas and learnings from one planner to another. This experience in engineering, procurement, and construction planning was a solid foundation for a career in Project Management. Back in that time, the manager who hired me told me that the company was considering making a stint in Project Controls (PC) mandatory to obtain a Project Management opportunity. The company considered it valuable for future Project Managers to have this hands-on experience in project controls. Unfortunately, that hard requirement never came to pass. Throughout my career, I have noticed that both senior and junior level Project Managers lack general knowledge of the PC function and how to appropriately utilize the staff. The same holds for functional leads and those responsible for managing contractors.

The Project management “triple constraint” introduces the idea that project scope, cost, and schedule are constantly being balanced. Any change in one constraint will most likely impact the other two.

Project controls exists to help the project team oversee the triple constraint of scope, time, and cost. They are directly responsible for the processes and software to properly manage these project components. A large portion of a project manager’s week will be consumed working with team members on these constraints.

Take the following key points:

  • Scope definition is defined by the project requirements and is estimated. This serves as the baseline for the project. Functionally, estimating is sometimes considered part of PC.

  • The scope is managed via the baseline and change management system. It is usually run by project controls.

  • The PC team are the gatekeepers for time via the schedule

  • The PC team are the gatekeepers of cost via the cost management system.

Project controls are not only a critical resource for the project manager but also provide support to other functions. During my stint in planning/scheduling, I found that I was the first person to need the information to make the schedule accurate and was the last person to receive it. In scheduling specifically, functional leads may tend to get intimidated by scheduling lingo and complex logic ties. If this is the case, the PC team can do a better job to simplify the process and make it less of a burden. They can also offer training on the systems and processes.

Ultimately, the project manager must take responsibility and stress the importance of the PC function to team members responsible for managing scopes. I believe that yearly evaluations should include a component for those working on projects as to how well they managed their respective scopes utilizing PC systems and staff.

Here are some KPIs that you can consider as a PM:

  • Did those responsible get their schedule updates in on time for the planner/scheduler to update the master schedule?

  • Did scope owners take ownership of their costs and review the cost reports for issues?

  • Did team members elevate scope issues and identify trends via the change management process?

  • Did those responsible obtain progress, schedule, and weekly reports from the contractors that they are managing?

  • Did those responsible have proper kick-off meetings and hold weekly contract meetings to discuss progress, schedule, and cost? Are PC team members invited?

  • Did team members attend team meetings and show up prepared to discuss the critical path schedule, progress, change management, and cost?

For the project to be successful, scope owners and the PM must understand and embrace good project control practices. Having a strong knowledge of how the systems work and properly utilizing project controls staff will help managers proactively manage the project. Project controls staff have actual data and tools to see issues and opportunities far more in advance. As a PM, engage with your project controls staff, include them in key decisions, ask for or take part in any PC training, and consider how PC staff can better serve the team. PC team members should always proactively support functional leads and the PM.

As always, I am looking forward to your thoughts and personal experience on this topic.


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