Best Practices in Project Controls

What are project controls in construction?

Project controls encompass the processes and tools used to plan, manage, monitor, and mitigate any risk events that may affect the cost and schedule of a project. Project controls processes are a subset and support of project management methodologies that focus on controlling the schedule and the cost of the project. In brief, they are the disciplined and methodical processes used to monitor a project’s scope, schedule, and costs.

Why is control important to project management?

When projects are large or complex, an owner and project team need a project controls group or specialist to help manage the schedule and cost details. Additionally, if an owner has not managed a project before, and they want to successfully deliver a one-time project, there should be a project controls component embedded within the project management entity. As management is guiding the project, project controls provides the data needed to set and reset the course at any point in time during the life cycle of that project. Project controls are essential to successful project management.

What does a project controls manager do?

Project controls professionals are an integral part of the project management team. Their focus is taking project information and an understanding of the project that the team is trying to execute and translating that knowledge into schedules, budgets, and tools that will support the team in delivering a project within budget and on schedule. Every project has an element of project controls—it is a question of how many resources can be dedicated to this aspect of managing the project.

A project controls manager will ensure:

  • The project’s scope is adequately captured and reflected within the project’s accepted baseline schedule and budget;
  • The project’s actual progress (schedule and cost) is recorded and reported at the required intervals;
  • Any approaching risks impacting the project’s schedule and budget are brought to the forefront for team discussion and mitigation as necessary; and
  • Schedule and costs trends are leveraged at required intervals to provide the most realistic forecast at completion.

What is involved in monitoring and controlling projects?

The project controls professional ensures that at the required intervals, the project’s actual progress in terms of schedule and cost is recorded and reported. The ability to accurately forecast the ultimate outcome of a project distinguishes a great project controls specialist from a mediocre one. He or she ensures that, at the required intervals, any approaching risks impacting the project schedule or budget are brought to the forefront for team discussion and mitigation. Examining trends and remaining focused on areas of challenge within a project are vital components for project management success.

What are project control processes?

Interactive planning and scheduling, planning of the works charrettes, schedule update walkthroughs, risk assessment workshops, and cost trending are the principal processes within project controls. Sometimes the owners prefer to retain their own processes; in other situations, the project controls team will develop the reporting tools and decide on the necessary level of reporting. Tailoring these processes to meet the needs of each project and reviewing the reporting needs of the project team as the project progresses are considered best practices.

What tools do you use for project controls?

Oracle Primavera P6, Microsoft Project, NetPoint, NetRisk, and Excel workbooks are the tools primarily used by project controls professionals. The principal tool in the cost world is Excel. Another important tool is a Project Management Information System (PMIS) that contains a cost element. The PMIS is used for large projects and programs by authorities that want to invest for the long term. A PMIS facilitates an environment where everyone is working from the same information database, with standard definitions and processes, and the ability to pull in project history and lessons learned. Most projects of shorter duration would use spreadsheets to analyze the data, standardize reporting, and then integrate the data into monthly reports.

What is a project control document?

A project control document is a formal report vetted by the project management team and published by the project controls manager that clearly conveys the status and direction of a project from both a schedule, cost, and risk perspective. These documents would most likely contain data that supports forecasts and highlights decision points to ensure that the project either remains on course to successful completion or gets back on the rails for satisfactory completion.

Are project controls different from one industry to another? (vertical construction, biopharma, water…)

For controlling costs on a project, the basics are the same; there is a budget and there are actual costs. However, the terminology and sometimes the contracting methodology differ from one industry to another. For example, some vertical construction lends itself to better forecasting if there are elements within the project that tend to repeat themselves (think of a hotel or an office building). Other industries such as biotechnology and pharma or water and wastewater have elements in their project’s scope of work that are unique, which make it difficult to accurately forecast completion if the work has not progressed as originally planned. The project controls team needs to understand what is driving the budget, where the changes in costs are originating from, and how everything ties into the financial reporting system. Knowledge of the client and industry is also a project controls best practice.

How is PMA a leader in project controls?

Project controls is a PMA core competency. We have established our firm as a leader in cost and schedule controls and we have maintained this leadership by managing more than $100 billion in construction projects and programs. Many other firms have a project management group but are not as heavily invested in project controls. PMA is the opposite; all our project managers are well trained in project controls and supported by a dedicated project controls group. We will dig into the details, including the human element, and consider these factors in our approach to project controls. We communicate and work productively with everyone on the project in order to control the project cost, schedule, and risk.