The demand for construction services in a world of complexities means the practices of project management are always open to scrutiny. In an efficiency-focused future, project managers are challenged to not lose sight of the fundamentals while keeping an eye on relevant advancements. This especially holds true in the case of project controls.
At the center of a valuable project management process is a proactive project controls system. Core elements of most control systems include cost, risk, schedule, document and change management, which are fed by a mixture of data and communication between team members. What distinguishes one control factor from another is its relevancy to an owner’s needs. Understanding the nuances of those elements keeps you in control, providing confidence in the result.
“No area of project control should work in isolation,” says Tarkan Yuksel, a department manager at Burns & McDonnell. “Success comes from understanding the desired result, creating systems that are flexible but mandatory, and making sure every action plays a part in helping achieve the end goal.”
But a missed opportunity can occur when open communication isn’t present, project data isn't visible or the application of advanced technologies is absent. Here are the essentials of each project controls element:
Projects of all sizes require rules of credit to be identified upfront so that project controls can help track cost and schedule performance accurately. Judging scope management performance by amount of change orders is not a good method for these contracts. Instead, costs are carefully monitored and changes identified and managed well before they cause issues.
For large projects, companies should expect robust cost forecasting as part of project controls. Disciplined monthly cost forecasting, when implemented, gives the client insight and confidence to present project updates to stakeholders.
Technology also can play a role in cost management, as project management tools are making the collection and management of data more effective. “Today’s tools make project teams more efficient and productive,” says Christina Gepner, a project manager at Burns & McDonnell. “Efficient data gathering, sharing and transparency into project data improves collaboration and saves costs.”
Infrastructure projects must go beyond building a contingency amount into the budget. Risks can increase when, for instance, communication fails or data can’t be verified. A risk register should go beyond tracking risks, functioning also to facilitate communication across project teams and apply data collected from various sources.
Any estimated contingency should be verified using risk analysis. During project execution, the risk register is maintained as some risks develop into issues, some go away and new risks become apparent. With this proactive approach, stakeholders can foresee potential threats and make course corrections early to control any impact to cost or time frame.
Delivering expected project outcomes on time requires a detailed project schedule that maps all activities to an agreed contracting strategy. A supporting work breakdown structure (WBS) tracks project scope details to monitor and provide alerts on tasks performed by all companies. With schedule management software and dashboards, no task is overlooked, and everyone involved understands where and when to take action.
Coordination of this kind removes rework and wasted days. Tying every piece of the project to a project management tool that disseminates schedule and other pertinent information to field crews in real time facilitates project progress.
When it comes to managing documents, unique policies and procedures should be agreed upon from the start to avoid surprises and set clear expectations. Over the course of a project, thousands of documents can be generated. Project controls systems should modify system parameters to meet unique requirements for tracking and reporting.
Additionally, be it contract, design or construction related, these systems pull documentation together into a single repository, making it accessible to all project members.
In a dynamic project environment, open communication is essential. Because project controls hold the key to proactively managing project success, it’s important that team members understand any changes to the program as they occur. Good project teams should engage in facilitated discussions of any potential changes to explore different solutions and secure agreement.
No matter the project size, changes are inevitable during its life cycle. Because change impacts everything, having the tools in place to pull together the systems and people is essential to successful project controls. By providing visibility and accurate dissemination of data, project stakeholders have the information necessary to make successful decisions from the contract phase to the day-to-day process and on through project closeout.