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A personal view of project control

Project management has become one of the most widely described and discussed management subjects, yet questions are still frequently asked about the best way of ensuring project success. This forum gives me a chance to express some of my personal views on this topic.


Foundation for success


Although not always possible, your project should be well-defined before you contemplate making your business case. Planning and estimating should begin with a work breakdown structure in as much detail as you can manage at the early planning stage. Past experience should help you to estimate the costs, foresee the risks, make an outline plan and predict the realization benefits. If you have no past experience, then you will probably need to engage a consultant.

Clearly once a project has been authorized, the benefits will be in jeopardy if you allow subsequent changes. It is usually impossible to prevent changes altogether, but they must be rigidly managed to prevent scope creep. If there is an external customer, then all customer-requested changes must be assessed for additional project pricing.

You will need to identify all individuals and organizations that are going to be primary stakeholders for your project. The relationships between these should be defined by an organization chart.

You should identify as many project tasks as possible and establish their interrelationships and priorities. That requires a critical path network. Good software and a competent (but small) project management office (PMO) are essentials. Unless all the work is to be subcontracted you will have to include resource scheduling in your plan. Your PMO will also help in contract administration, which is important if you have an external customer and/or subcontractors. (To find out more about scheduling and cost control, take a look at the course)


Progress Management


Ideally the network plan should be made with the participation and agreement of all responsible senior staff, so that when the project goes live they are working to plans and costs to which they have committed themselves. Your plan must be made in sufficient detail. As a general rule, no scheduled task should be so large that it spans two or more departments (needing more than one manager per task).

Management and motivation of people are particularly important. An appropriate organization structure can help there, coupled with your own efforts in making people feel that they and their work are appreciated.

SchedulingManufacturing plants use progress chasers to follow up jobs. You can do something similar with your project and have one or more individuals whose job is to ensure that all tasks are proceeding on time. In some project organizations such individuals are invaluable in keeping track of subcontracted work, and they might visit external companies.

Your purchasing department should have expediters on its staff. Their principal task is to follow up orders for goods and services so that late deliveries do not happen or come as unpleasant shocks.

Most progress control is done using cybernetic feedback (Figure 1).


Controlling Costs

I hold strong views that differ from those often expressed on this subject.

Figure 2 emphasizes the relevance of the costs of purchased materials and services. On some projects these can account for as much as 80 per cent of total project costs. Yet the subject is widely ignored. You must control these costs. Most of that control is done at the time when each purchasing contract is made (when the costs are committed).


Staff costs will tend to fall within budget if you control progress. Jobs that run late will cost more than budget. So don’t let your jobs run late.

There are also the hidden costs of overheads to be considered. These are usually thought to be outside the control of project management. However, if your project runs late, the overheads will continue to accrue for as long as the project organization and work in progress exist. So controlling progress to prevent late completion is a great factor in keeping overheads down.




Earned value management

Books have been written and much energy expended on the subject of earned value management (EVM). It is worth remembering that EVM doesn’t actually manage anything. It is only a reporting method. EVM might be necessary to support claims for progress payments or to satisfy curious senior managers who have not learned the principle of management by exception. Also, EVM results should be of most benefit in predicting trends near the beginning of a project, but that is when those results are likely to be particularly inaccurate because of the forecasting methods used. Understanding the principles of EVM and the techniques involved can be useful for some practitioners working on projects where there are accurate figures available ( costs, resource time, EV metrics etc) but can be difficult if the organisation suffers from immaturity in these areas.


Conclusion and references

So now you know my views on project control and management. To find out more about the techniques available for planning, scheduling and cost control, take a look at the course outline for more information.


Here are some further reading suggestions:

Lock, D., 2013, Naked Project Management, Farnham, Gower. (Entry level text).

Lock. D., 2007, The Essentials of Project Management, 3rd edn., Farnham, Gower. (Intermediate level text).

Lock, D., 2013, Project Management, 10th edn., Farnham, Gower. (A comprehensive book, also available as a tutor’s edition with CD-ROM).


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About Dennis Lock

Dennis Lock
Dennis Lock is a freelance writer who specializes in project management. His exceptionally wide industrial experience has included sub miniature electronics, defence systems, heavy engineering and international mining, with a progression of successful management positions in all of those industries. He has fulfilled consultancy assignments in Britain and overseas and in recent years has taught project management to masters degree students as an external lecturer at two British universities. Of over 30 books that he has written or edited, almost all have been published by Gower.

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