5 project controls and where to implement them

Team Asana contributor imageTeam AsanaNovember 19th, 20215 min read
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Summary

Project controls are the processes used to understand the time and costs spent on a project. In this piece, we’ll explain what project controls are and how you can use these processes to help you stay within project scope, minimize your project budget, and keep to your project schedule.

Time and money are two things that most people would admit they want more of, but saving what we have of them isn’t always easy. Businesses, however, must prioritize savings because doing so is often what keeps them afloat. The easiest way you can help your company save time and money is by controlling projects with project management

In this piece, we’ll explain what project controls are and how you can use them to help you predict and understand the time and money spent on your projects.

What are project controls in project management?

Project controls are a set of processes used to understand and influence the amount of time or money spent on a project. Each project control focuses on a distinct part of the project plan, like the schedule, resources, or potential risks.

What are project controls in project management?

The goal of using project controls is to stay within project scope, minimize the project budget when possible, and stick to the project schedule.

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Project controls vs. project management

Project controls and project management have overlapping functions. Both processes help you keep a project on track and within scope. However, project controls aren’t as broad in their purpose as project management. 

While project management focuses on keeping the entire project on track, including people, processes, and deliverables, project controls focus specifically on quality control in order to save time and money. 

Why are project controls important?

Project controls provide information that allow project managers to make informed and timely decisions that prevent project risks. From project initiation to completion, your job as project manager is to keep things on track and within scope. 

Without a project control process, it’s difficult to answer important questions about the project, which may impact or complicate project success. Some reasons why projects might go off track without project controls include:

  • People: Without project controls, questions may arise about who’s available to work on a project, who’s in charge of which roles and responsibilities, and who should take ownership of specific tasks during project development.

  • Quality: The project control process ensures that expectations are met, items in every project phase are complete, and everything works along the way.

  • Cost: When the project cost isn’t controlled, unforeseen fees may occur because of changes from stakeholders or miscalculations during project planning. 

  • Time: Monitoring project time prevents issues like schedule delays, shifting priorities, and clashes in resources, which can lead to unsatisfactory project results.

Through the control process, you can catch when things don’t go as planned and quickly course correct to keep your project on track. 

5 project management controls

These are the five project controls you can implement to get better intel into your project plan.

5 project management controls

1. Schedule

Increasing visibility into your project schedule helps you know you’re proceeding along your project timeline. To do this, make sure you’re tracking all of your project work in one place, like a project management tool. That way, you can get at-a-glance insight into your tasks, deadlines, and dependencies. Plus, you can put project milestones in place as checkpoints to gauge your progress.

To keep your stakeholders looped in on the project’s progress, use project status reporting. These biweekly or monthly reports are a great way to evaluate whether your project is on track or not. If the project is not going as planned, you can quickly pinpoint the reason and troubleshoot accordingly. Then, share this information with stakeholders so everyone is on the same page.

Quick tip: Use a Gantt chart to see your project schedule broken down by tasks and milestones. A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart that illustrates the timeline of a project, program, or work. This type of chart can help you assess how long a project will take and show you dependencies between tasks.

2. Resource

Every project depends on resources—things like time, money, or project team member availability. Resource management is a critical part of the project control process because it is your team’s chance to effectively control costs and monitor your available time and materials. Cost estimating and resource planning during project initiation can also help you stay within budget. 

Not only do you need a clear sense of what resources are available when the project begins, you also need a way to keep track of costs and resources as the project goes on. If a part of the project goes over budget, or a team member is no longer available when you thought they would be, proactive project controls can help you quickly identify an alternative. 

Quick tip: Try calculating cost variance to analyze whether you’re performing at the right rate to stay within your means. To determine your cost variance, subtract earned value from actual cost. Earned value is the amount of a task actually completed. Actual cost is the amount of money that has been spent for the work already done.  The formula to calculate cost variance is CV = EV – AC.

Read: New to cost management? Start here.

3. Risk

Project risk management is a crucial project control to proactively identify and prevent risks from derailing your project. The best way to do this is with a risk register, where you rank potential risks by priority and assess how to manage them accordingly. 

Quick tip: Common risk scenarios you may encounter in your project include data security, communication issues, scheduling delays, unplanned work, and material theft. You can use these categories to begin brainstorming your risk register.

Read: 7 common project risks and how to prevent them

4. Change

Change controlis one of the best ways to prevent project scope creep, which can lead to timeline delays, increased budget, and project defects. When you implement a change control process, you’ll feel prepared for any project changes that come your way. 

That’s because a change control process can help you evaluate whether proposed changes are important and, if so, which changes to implement without increasing your project timeline or impacting your project scope. Using this process can ensure your team handles the change effectively because they feel informed, involved, and validated.

Quick tip: Typically, the change control process is project-specific. For larger, organizational change, consider implementing a change management process. Change management is the process of preparing for and managing organizational change.

Read: What is change management? 6 steps to build a successful change management process

5. Performance

Performance management is the broad process of monitoring your project’s success. The simplest way to do this is to set key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess project performance. These may include tracking costs against baselines, on-time completion, billed hours, and return on investment.

No matter what goals you set, make sure they’re quantifiable, specific, and measurable. When in doubt, use the SMART goal method. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. 

Quick tip: A good KPI should track one measurable value that you or your team can influence in a timely manner. It should also help you achieve your strategic objectives and give team members a clear sense of how their projects contribute to company goals. 

When you use these project controls, you can feel confident that you’re monitoring your project from all angles. This will ultimately save you time and money and help you create successful project deliverables

Where to implement project controls

Controlling your project is just as important as creating your project deliverables. Implement project controls at every stage of the project life cycle if you want to avoid unexpected surprises.

Where to implement project controls

Project planning (initiation)

The project planning phase is your chance to build project controls into the bedrock of your project. The more detailed your plan is, the less control management you’ll need to do later on. 

Project planning includes:

You should also plan your budget during the project planning phase and try to estimate future costs. Preparing for what’s coming is part of the control process because it keeps your project on track before it begins.

Project execution

Once your project is in development, it’s go-time for your control processes. As your team members design, code, and create your product, your project controls will help you monitor the project and its progress.

Consider the five project controls listed above and ensure you’ve covered all your bases as you move through the project life cycle. Using these controls during project execution can give you a big picture view of your project status in real time.

Project closure

After submitting your completed deliverables to all project stakeholders, use the information you’ve gathered from your project control processes to lead a post mortem meeting. 

The post mortem meeting is a chance to assess what you’ve learned and get guidance for future projects. Whether you lost money and time because of mistakes or handled things exceptionally well, this step allows you to take any learnings from this experience into future projects.

Read: How to capture lessons learned in project management

Control your project with project management software

Controlling various parts of your project at one time can get chaotic. Because the control process happens while the project is in motion, you have to keep track of project controls while also ensuring your project team stays engaged and focused on high-impact work. 

With project management software, you can track and monitor project progress, stay on top of important metrics and status changes, and get the bird’s eye view you need to keep your project on schedule and within budget.

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