Project Controls – A Definition

The Guild of Project Controls is in formation, and most people have a view of what is involved in ‘project controls’ but what is the ‘dictionary’ definition of ‘project controls’?  To answer this question, my proposed definition for ‘project controls’ is:

Project controls are the data gathering, management and analytical processes used to predict, understand and constructively influence the time and cost outcomes of a project or program; through the communication of information in formats that assist effective management and decision making.

This definition encompasses all stages of a project or program’s lifecycle from the initial estimating needed to ‘size’ a proposed project, through to the forensic analysis needed to understand the causes of failure (and develop claims).

The functions undertaken by project controls professionals includes estimating future works, determining the current status of work in progress, understanding the reasons for this status and recommending appropriate actions or alternatives based on the observed status and trends. Within this framework, for a recommendation or prediction to be useful, the reliability of the information upon which it is based needs to be understood, and additionally, any realistic estimate or forecast must take into account uncertainty and the cost and time consequences of identified risk events.

Consequently, the project controls discipline can be seen as encompassing:

  • Project strategy, planning and methods studies to optimize future outcomes,
  • Scheduling including development, updating and maintenance,
  • Cost estimation, cost engineering/control and value engineering,
  • Risk management,
  • Earned Value Management and Earned Schedule, including WBS, OBS and other breakdown structures,
  • Document management,
  • Supplier performance measurement / oversight (but excluding contract administration),
  • The elements of a project management methodology that integrate these disciplines both within the ‘controls’ domain and with other project management functions, and
  • The ability to communicate effectively the information generated by these processes.

This proposed definition deliberately excludes the actual management of the project scope, including scope related disciplines such as quality control and administration, and general management disciplines such as team development, stakeholder management and communication. ‘Controls’ information is often an important input to these functions but the ‘controls’ role is information generation, management’s role is making effective use of the information.

This means: Project Controllers are the experts who gather, manage and analyse data to generate useful information and insights for others to use. And the primary users of the ‘controls information’ are the project management team and project governance and oversight entities within the organisation such as PMOs and ‘project control boards’ (PCBs).

Certainly, the surveillance aspects of time, cost and risk are intimately linked to the accomplishment of scope, to the quality standards required by the stakeholders, by the project team; but the ‘controls’ processes are not directly involved with the management of project work. Project controls professionals work with the team and other stakeholders to plan the optimum way of accomplishing the work, then measure the actual performance of the team against the agreed plan and use this data to recommend future actions and predict outcomes.

Most authorities recognise that it is impossible to effectively manage or govern a project (or program) in the absence of reliable information on the current status of work in progress, and reliable predictions of future outcomes. This is supported by this proposed definition, with the key delineator between ‘controls’ and ‘management’ being the recognition that it is management’s role to make use of the information and advice generated by the controls professionals.

This theme is carrying forward to the 2014 governance and controls symposium – you are invited to be a part of the debate! To catch the ‘web hot specials’ and/or submit a proposal for a paper visit the symposium website at: http://www.pgcsymposium.com/

Once the definition of ‘controls’ is resolved, the next step will be establishing a framework of certifications and qualifications to benchmark ‘professional’ knowledge and behaviours. There is already good progress in this area with developments by AACEi, Planning Planet, PMI and CIOB to name a few (see more on PMI and CIOB credentials).  What’s lacking in the general ‘market’ is a general recognition that effective controls professionals need domain knowledge as well as tools knowledge.  Developing this recognition is the next challenge.

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