It is the year 2020 already, and most of the companies are either have digital project managers who have to manage teams that are either in-house or remote. Others are getting day; one day at a time…
Several thoughts that cross the minds of many digital project managers are that, “Why do I have to bother with project controls?”, “Didn’t we cover every detail about the project in the project brief?” and “Everyone seemed pretty confident the last time we conducted a session”, among many others.
Well, the fact of the matter is, things never go as they are planned in the real world and you have to keep into account all of the factors that may or may not affect your project. You should always have a backup solution to keep control of the project and complete it properly.
That’s where project controls come in. While it’s very critical that you have a detailed Statement of Work that consists of a proper Budget Estimate and a detailed project plan that accommodates different priority shifting strategies, you still need to have project controls that embrace all of the changes to the guidelines you set at the very start of the project.
Setting up this project control system will help you keep a thorough eye on your budget when different variables of the project change and evolve throughout the project lifespan. It is the solution you need to keep your project afloat in today’s tough market and make it successful.
Let us start from the beginning then.
What Are Project Controls?
According to the definition given by the Project Management Institute (PMI):
“A project control system aims to minimize the gap between project planning and project execution in order to achieve project aims, i.e., cost, time, and content.”
In short, these controls are the affirmative actions and the detailed documentation needed to keep a project on track and get it delivered successfully. And in the project lifecycle, project controls are one of the most crucial parts of the Monitoring and Controlling the project phase.
A very common misconception about project controls is that you need to keep a tight hold on your team all the time to gain the best results. Still, if you control your team in the form of micromanaging, you don’t get to enjoy your team’s maximum strength and that will eventually take the project off track.
Project controls are not that visible contrary to common belief. Project controls reign over the structure and flow of the project rather than controlling the work or the people involved in doing the work. These controls are also the key elements necessary to anticipate all upcoming opportunities and problems.
Why Project Controls Are So Vital?
As a digital PM, there is a high chance of you not working with a Project Controller and you yourself are the Controller. This makes you responsible for all the elements related to the project like schedule, scope, and cost.
Every Project Controller has been in a condition where they might have had a conversation with the client about buying some time and apply some changes. And in return, the client agrees but with more budget cuts.
These two points are major headlines of most client-controller conversations and balancing both of these is really one of the hardest goals to achieve as managers. This is where Project Controls show us their true colors.
Project Controls allow the managers to go and take control of these meetings with informed decisions. When these controls are applied correctly, the managers can be more confident while maintaining a proper balance between schedule, cost, and quality.
The Procedure for Controlling Projects
If you are in the position of a project manager, then you know that this role is all about keeping the project on track no matter what the cost. And for that, you have to know what is going on with your team at all times.
The following steps help the project managers be in control of their respective projects at all times. Let’s take a look.
Whichever activity you are about to perform regarding your project or otherwise, you always need to evaluate all of the components and their outputs from day one. Why? Because evaluating these components will give you helpful projections about the overall trajectory of the project.
As a project manager, you need to get under the hood and get a feel for everything that is happening regarding your project. You need to ask the right questions and you have to use Status reports and project metrics as a basis for all of your future project decisions.
Based on your evaluations, you need to plan your future project activities. Being a project manager, you need to anticipate, before anyone else, where things are actually going and what you can do to avoid potential obstacles in the development of your project.
Once you have devised your plan and you have all the information necessary for the development of your project, implement the changes that you think will be beneficial. This also includes informing the client what is changing in the project while keeping the team informed of these decisions too.
You need to understand what these changes require to be applied, what impacts would these changes have on the budget and the overall project timeline. All of this information will let you make the appropriate adjustments regarding your project.
As a project manager, you’re the center stone that the whole team, stakeholders and the clients revolve around. You need to communicate the appropriate knowledge to all of the concerned people related to your project so that everyone who has any connection with the project gets the whole picture.
To make sure that everyone gets this knowledge, set reminders and do follow-up meetings with the internal players and the external players, so that all of the information is communicated, and nothing is left unsaid.
How much Reporting is Necessary?
In this article, we have consistently talked about project controls being one of the most important elements in making decisions regarding your project, but how do you actually get all of the metrics Right for these activities? This is where reporting shows its true colors.
Reporting is not a step that you should take as easy or procrastinate while devising a system for it. The preparation for this step should be started from the beginning of the project.
If you are using project management software then you’re a pro but if you’re not, then you should start using nTask. It has amazing Tracking tools and other metric generation features that will help you to generate your reports seamlessly.
At the start of the project you should make sure of the following elements:
- Are there any important reporting requirements you have set in the contract?
- How can you utilize the data you already possess?
- What metrics do you require to determine where the project is headed right now?
External Vs Internal Reporting
There’s a lot of differences when it comes to external and internal reporting. As a general rule, you should let the team know what the company is doing and what changes are happening regarding the project. This means that you have to expose the team to the overall reporting and all the project control efforts on a very high level so that they can get the full picture of everything that is happening around them.
As the project manager, it depends on the level of trust between you and your team that whether or not, you share with them the actual numbers and growth projections. To be on the safe side, you should always keep some things to yourself instead of spilling the whole story.
To aid internal reporting, ensure that the following steps are followed:
- Budget and time expectations should be set at the very beginning
- The team should be properly updated if there are changes happening
- The team members should be properly informed of all of the changes in the status reports
- Use proper reporting metrics to cover up any shortfalls happening in the project
- Make the deadlines crystal clear to everyone involved in the project
What are the different types of reports that you need, to Control your Projects more Easily?
A Status Report is the most comprehensive of the three. It consists of all the information about the ongoing project and ensures that all the stakeholders and other parties involved in the project have a clear understanding of where the project is at right now and where is it headed.
Status Report is important for a lot of things, mostly because of the fact that it ensures that all of the relevant parties are informed about the decisions and other metrics like costs, blockers, risks, and timing. Having a regular meet-up session will keep the clients happy and in the loop that will ease off the tension in tough conversations.
A generic Status Report should consist of the following things:
- Budget Overview
- Timeline updates
- Action items
- Remaining budget
- Total project cost
A change request is proper documentation of all of the changes that have happened in the project or are about to happen. This documentation helps to keep everyone on the same page. Once you have all of the changes mapped out, create the description, impacts on timeline and budget, and send it over to the client.
This will help make sure that the client is informed of all of the changes which will create fewer arguments to be raised in tough conversations.
The following elements are achieved with the help of Change Requests:
- Reason for diverting from the original scope of the project
- Description of scope change of the project
- Official acknowledgment of all of the changes that are about to happen in the project
In our experience, project controls are the center stone for delivering all of the projects on time and mostly on the pre-decided budget. It also provides support and peace of mind to the team as well as a sense of belonging that the project manager is keeping them in the loop while making important decisions.