July 31st, 2019
Project controls is a set of tools and processes that help manage projects through measuring, forecasting, and improving project performance. It adds an important dimension to project management by providing a complete system for managing cost and schedule. When these important aspects of a project are under control, it stands to reason that your company will experience enhanced success, with results reflected in the bottom line.
In order to provide unprecedented project performance, your project controls processes should employ certain best practices. Each of these concepts provide the best results when they work closely together. Their interrelated nature is a crucial element to the success of any project.
1. Planning and Standardization
A successful project—of the large capital engineering and construction variety that our organization focuses on anyway—can’t begin without detailed plans, an implementation schedule, and tracking tools. Each activity should be anticipated and scheduled, with milestones that include clear expectations and a possibility for built-in incentives. This crucial first step can make or break your project right from the start.
Standardization should be baked into the planning process. Standardized tools and templates help team members create consistency across projects. Consistency, especially at the beginning stages of a project, creates clear and measurable steps to track success, simplify analysis, and replicate successful projects.
2. Documentation and Communication
Documentation and communication during the initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closeout phases of a project are crucial responsibilities of project controls.
A project environment is dynamic and must be kept up-to-date to stay the course toward its goal. Various stakeholders, managers, and project team members may need the same information, with different details to meet varied expectations.
When everyone works from the same data, communication can focus on facts rather than interpretation. An integrated enterprise project controls solution enables team members to operate from the same pool of information.
Standard, formal procedures for documenting discussions and other communications also provide important historical insight for decision making. When information is recorded, it provides references that can easily and quickly sidestep or resolve miscommunication or mistakes.
3. The Living Forecast
Once a project begins, forecasting is that critical discipline that tells us where we think the project costs and schedule will end based on what we know today. There are a multitude of methods, formulas, and applications for developing a forecast, but all strive to identify when and where corrective action may be needed.
Given that, a Living Forecast seeks to have semi-automated forecast adjustments occur regularly. The idea is for every project in the portfolio to have an up-to-date forecast every period, where the adjustments are fully auditable. Frequency and timeliness of forecasting add tremendous value. Knowing that corrective action is needed now rather than when a forecast is updated at the end of a quarter (or longer) can be the determining factor in whether anything can be done to address the root cause of the change.
4. KPIs that Add Insight
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are quantifiable measures used to evaluate performance related to operational goals. They are carefully linked to enterprise strategy and can provide important information to team members for project completion and success.
In addition to the tried and true KPIs of project management, project controls must also include KPIs that add an enhanced level of insight. Specific KPIs that add actionable insight to project controls include:
- Predictability Index: Accurately predicting project outcomes early is a key to a project’s ultimate success. Predictability indices measure a project team’s ability to accurately predict cost and performance. Two indices are often recommended for predictability measures: Normalized Cost Timeliness (NCT), which measure forecast timeliness; and Cost Predictability (CP), which provides information about the accuracy of forecasts.
- Earned Schedule (ES): An enhancement to Earned Value Management—ES provides cost-based features to the management and control of schedule performance. ES can significantly improve performance analysis and prediction.
Problem solving and issue resolution must be managed in a proactive manner, course-correcting quickly and effectively when necessary, before time and resources have been wasted. Proactive control of a project has effects on budget, time, quality, and human resources.
KPIs are an indispensable tool for proactive management of a project, providing close oversight of the measurables and on-going results. Active KPIs provide insights that allow team members to manage a project proactively to avoid process mistakes, and/or manage unexpected challenges before they derail the project. This proactive approach helps avoid mistakes and miscommunication, and provides a decisive plan of action for resolution.
6. Integration and Automation
Enterprise project controls solutions allow businesses to quickly integrate data, making information available and secure, and create a single source of truth for schedules, budgets, expenditures, timesheets, invoices, and all data that affects the progress of the project.
The right integrated solution also opens the possibility for automation, which lowers the rate of human error, while saving time and money by reducing the need for labor-intensive manual tasks. More accurate insights are available sooner, facilitating better decision making and greater proactivity (see above).
The Right Tools for Project Controls
The endgame is all about successful projects, and modern technology offers the solution by providing project management platforms that incorporate project controls best practices.
With the right tools working 24/7, your staff, management, stakeholders, and anyone who touches the project will have everything they need to produce successful projects again and again.
EcoSys Projects provides planning, tracking, measurement, and predicative indices that enable team member communication, proactive responses to challenges, and effective forecasting of project success. Request a demo to see it in action and learn how EcoSys can help you incorporate these best practices into your own project controls.