Calling all project managers! Are you ready to take control of your projects?

Well, we have just the thing for you, and it goes by the very intuitive name of ‘project controls.’

If you’re not sure what they are or how to use them, not to worry – that’s exactly what you’re about to find in this article.

The truth is that you’re probably putting plenty of project controls into practice without even knowing it.

But as tools that stands between a successful project and wasteful chaos, it’s vital that you are able to identify these project controls and give them the priority they deserve.

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First, a definition – what are project controls?

Project controls are the iterative processes, actions, and documentation you use to keep your project on track. A project control system aims to minimize the gap between a project’s plan and its execution, focusing on the cost, time spent, and end results.

Controls are there to give us an advanced warning sign if our project is veering off track (which we all know will happen) by measuring, forecasting, and adjusting the project plan based on these analytics.

While actual project controls differ from industry to industry, from company to company, and of course, from project to project, the high-level goal of serving as a system of checks and balances remains the same.

Project control examples:

What type of things should project controls measure?

  • Alignment with organizational KPIs
  • Project schedule coordination
  • Risk management
  • Project forecasting
  • Project cost monitoring
  • Feedback and reporting
  • Project strategy optimization

Wait, so what’s the difference between project controls and project management?

Excellent question. You’ve been paying attention.

This differentiation can be confusing because many organizations don’t employ separate project controls analysts but simply assign the responsibilities to a project manager. But in order to fully recognize the importance of project controls (and help senior management recognize it, too), it’s important to discern the difference between the two.

Project management An overarching function that includes everything that goes into making a project happen. This includes planning and managing people, processes, and deliverables.

Project controls – A subfunction of project management that focuses on two things – cost and schedule. Controls are there to monitor the project and ensure that it is going as planned without any outstanding deviations from its original plan and budget.

  In a 2006 Project Management Institute paper, it was written that “Project management is both a science and an art. Project controls, on the other hand, are almost entirely a science.”  

Project control jobs: Project manager vs. Project controls analyst

While the project manager is the director of the project, responsible for guiding both people and processes, you can consider project controls analyst/manager to be the technical inspector, whose role is to oversee and track the analytical aspects of a project, including metrics and analysis.

But as mentioned above, if you’re a project manager in a fast-paced tech environment, you probably don’t work with a project controls analyst- you are the project controls analyst.

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6 project control processes you need for your projects

Okay, now that we covered the theory of project controls, it’s time for some actionable control processes you can implement in your projects today.

First, one last thing before we get to the actual controls (we’re almost there) -it’s important to note that they should all be presented in clear reports.

To push project control up to the top of the priority list, you need to make sure that it includes smart and automated reports in the process. For this purpose, we listed 6 project controls for you and along with a template for each one.

Project control templates

Project charter

This document is the foundation of project control. It covers the who, why, and how much of your project. A project charter helps you make the initial decision of whether this project is even worth pursuing – if it’s aligned with the organizational goals, if there are enough available resources and if you can forecast an acceptable ROI.

Remember – a project charter acts as a standing project contract between all parties and is a valuable chart to refer to in order to remain on the right track.

Charter

Project charter template

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

This board is your new best friend. A WBS serves a detailed outline of your entire project and breaks down highly complex projects hierarchically to the simplest components. It covers everything from final deliverables to tasks and even subtasks, along with the scope, cost, and schedule of each of these phases.

In layman’s terms, a WBS is a map of your project, as complex as it may be, and allows you to visualize each of the phases and subsequently track the pre-set plan as progress is made.

WBS

Project WBS template

RACI chart

RACI is an acronym for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed, and is used to delegate roles and responsibilities for each and every aspect of the project, including final decision making.

  • Responsible – The person who will execute the task.
  • Accountable – The person responsible for the task’s completion and quality, and has the final say.
  • Consulted – The person who is considered the ‘expert’ in the field and responsible for providing consultation and constructive feedback.
  • Informed – The person who must be informed about the completion of the task, either to work on a dependent task, resolve a conflict, or to approve the task itself.

This is a valuable asset for projects with complex approval and decision making processes.

Project controls

RACI chart template

Risk register / RAID log

RAID is an acronym for Risks, Actions, Issues, and Decisions. This project control is basically a risk log – a simple yet effective tool that records foreseen risks, their probability, and mitigation options.

As we all know, every project has its risks, and a certain amount of them will turn into full-blown issues. In this log, you can preemptively prepare for them before they even occur. Assign owners to track and flag these risks as well as have a contingency plan in place.

Sharing a risk register before the start of a project is also a great way to foster transparency and ensure that everyone involved, including senior management and the project sponsor, know how risky a given project is.

Raid Chart

Risk register template

Cost report

One of the biggest pitfalls in a failed project is wasted money. Integrating cost reports into your project cycle is essential to understanding why variances occur. By comparing transparent cost reports to your initials benchmark throughout the project, you can flag and mitigate any budgetary issues.

The report should include the budget spent so far, committed expenses, and the ratio of spent vs. planned spending to make sure that you’re not off track.

Cost report

Cost report template

Project milestones/Status report

Following a project milestones report allows you to make sure that everything is on schedule and deliverables are being executed as planned.

It also fosters a sense of accountability and transparency among all the stakeholders, so that they know where the project stands at any given time, while also knowing that their own progress is also visible.

project milestones template

Project milestones template

There’s plenty more where that came from!

We covered the basic project controls, but as we’ve already mentioned multiple times in this article – every project is different and has different requirements.

Starting with these well-established project controls will get your projects started on the right track and give everyone on the project a sense of security and control.

Once you master them and start to see what a difference they make in usually-chaotic processes, you can start to identify the unique project controls you need in your specific project, organization, or industry.

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