Project Management Control - keeping it simple yet effective.

The project management control process, just like the planning process is a vast topic, with many resources readily available about its theory and why you should use the multitude of project management control tools available.

It's all good stuff and highly relevant in specific circumstances. The higher the inherent risk associated with a project, the more effort is needed to ensure the project control processes are effective.

Hugely complex projects employ teams specifically working elaborate, but necessary, project management control processes in order to understand the critical dynamics of a project.

Such activity may also employ regular "what-if?" scenario planning to identify contingency plans should the project experience a shock to its desired control points.

OK then, lets bring it back to the basics. Low tech, high touch!


Because it is our view that project managers should adopt the 20/80 rule to much of what they do day to day regarding the application of tools.

20% of the time should be spent understanding where the project is and identifying significant deviations from the plan.

80% of the time should then be spent leading the team, to resolve issues quickly and focus on delivering the project to its agreed implementation plan as well as exceeding sponsors' ongoing expectations.

Over time we will be sharing those low-tech, high-touch project management control processes and resulting tools that have consistently served us very well when managing both straight-forward and complex projects successfully, even if we had a team crunching the numbers on our behalf some of the time.

These approaches have allowed us to spend more time hands-on, leading the team and communicating the vision, rather than behind our desk pouring over historical metrics.

Read on to find out our recommended Metrics for Success!.....

If you cannot afford to wait for us to share everything, and would welcome some comprehensive support now, then please don't hesitate to contact us...

History is all we have to go on...

"often, managing a project becomes like driving a fast sports car whilst only looking in the rear view mirror".

For how long could that be pulled off until a major crash, injuring everyone in the car as well as those around it?

Most driving instructors would prefer your regular glimpses in the rear view mirrors, with your main focus on the road ahead; immediately in front of you as well as further ahead in the general direction you are heading.

Paralysis by Analysis

Back with your project: avoid paralysis by analysis, use the simplest tools you can justify without compromising the level of control needed.

Make quick and regular glances at your metrics, and spend most of your time navigating the immediate issues and looking ahead for rocks on the road that could cause significant problems if not avoided.

Use the 20/80 rule to continually challenge yourself whether you are over-analysing history.

Something for everyone to understand

It is also beneficial to make a project management control link between the top level objectives of the project and the day to day activity. Something big and tangible; something those involved can easily understand and visualise.

This provides an important focus for ALL involved in the project, not just those managing the project.

We have achieved this in the past by identifying Critical Success Factors, CSF's; generally no more than three Critical Success Factors for any one project. Creating more can reduce the impact and focus.

Critical Success Factors are those top level achievements that MUST be made in order for the project to successfully achieve its stated objectives. CSF's are those parameters that MUST be met under all circumstances.

For example, "500 tons of saleable quality New Product X must be available for dispatch by 1 June 2015", or "Our new home MUST be built for less than £635,000". Missing these means the project was not as successful as expected.

Metrics for Success!

In order to demonstrate you are in control of your project, we recommend you having a full understanding of the following control metrics:


- the only REAL measure of progress is PHYSICAL Progress. What has the project actually achieved, or delivered, compared with what it should have achieved, or delivered, at the review point?

IMPORTANT! this should be a tangible measure, based on FACT, NOT opinion! This is also often termed "Physical Completion", "Earned Completion" or "Earned Progress".


- what are the committed costs of project activities undertaken, compared with what the planned committed costs should have been, at the review point?


- what is the level of agreed change that has been encountered, and what level of identified changes have not yet been agreed as change? This is often referred to as CHANGE CONTROL.


- how has the risk profile changed? Are those risks requiring management action being mitigated properly and is the level of exposure being reduced by proactive management? Are new risks being identified and closed out accordingly as the project progresses?


- is the project delivering value? How much is it costing to earn physical progress?


- given the level of performance achieved, and the cost committed to deliver that performance, what is the effect of this productivity on the both the planned completion dates for activities as well as the financial budgets for delivering them?

Consequently, what is the FULL project forecast in terms of overall cost outcome and completion date?


Cash Flow
- how is the cash flow comparing with that assumed in the project definition, and how is it affecting the financing for the project?

Costs or savings associated with actual cash flow need to appear in the committed cost analysis and consequently the project forecasting.


Unresolved actions/issues
- are issues and actions getting closed out in a time efficient manner? Here we are looking for signs of a snowball effect starting.

Issues and actions are inevitable and a necessity, though decisions need to be made and issues need to be closed out in a timely manner, if the project is to progress efficiently with the momentum to maintain the expected level of progress.

This is one good tangible indication of the Team's performance: the ability to develop project processes and outputs together.


Sponsors' Perception
- VERY OFTEN OVER-LOOKED! How is the project performance perceived by the project sponsors?

Also a measure of whether the team is marketing itself properly. First, the Team has to deliver the required performance (EXPECTATIONS), then it has to be seen to be delivering consistently a top performance (EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS).

Better to find out perceived issues as they occur; and manage them proactively, rather than getting a surprise at the end of a project when everyone on the project think they have done a great job, the sponsor not totally agreeing.


- Over and above those project management control metrics above, many projects have other important control metrics that are essential to delivering a successful project.

Typical examples may include: health and safety performance and project quality assurance performance.

The above list of project management control metrics may seem rather long, though projects need to manage all these issues well in order to maintain control and deliver the objectives and benefits expected, whilst delighting the project sponsor.

NONE of these project management control metrics should be left out, irrespective of how complex your project is.

What will change is the complexity of the tool used to manage each of the control processes.

REMEMBER: low-tech, high-touch - keep it simple! - DO JUST ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON.

Then spend your time acting on it. Be as SIMPLISTIC as you can be WITHOUT compromising the level of control required for the project, and introducing unnecessary risk. We cannot emphasise this enough!

Shortly, links will appear within the list above for further in-depth advice on how to pragmatically control each listed project metric.

KEY is understanding where the line is between simplicity and adding risk by not being thorough enough; this ultimately comes from experience.

Want More?...

Should you like some specific advice on project management control processes or metrics before it gets added here, short-cut the wait and get the advice direct from us via the Contact Form.

With plenty of experience managing teams of project managers delivering their own project, dipping in to any of the above areas and drilling down with the project manager, provides a fantastic appreciation of how well the project manager has his finger on the pulse of the project.

Project Management Control whilst always seeking to maintain the initiative guarantees SUCCESS!

Return from Project Management Control to the Home Page