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January 2011
Project Controls: A More Effective Way to Manage Your Project Management Data
By Rick Nicolini

     Access to both historical and current operational information is integral for a project manager (PM) prior to and during a project. The ability to view archives of a similar project gives the PM a very supportive longitudinal depiction of situations he or she may potentially face and mitigation knowledge to navigate the operational risk. The ability to access and review current project information allows the PM to initiate corrective action if warranted, accurately restructure the project based on change control or, most satisfying, continue on course knowing that all is well.

     Operational information is compartmentalized into two categories—financial and schedule—and should be captured, managed and reported on a consistent and frequent basis. Financial information includes, but is not limited to, budgeting, forecasting and accounting.

     Collaboratively, schedule information includes project charter, project plans, work breakdown schedule, change control, metrics and everything else operational in-between.

     Individual project teams have routinely been subject to building their own unique operational infrastructure and unfortunately, without benefit of a committed resource; the effort falling on the PM’s shoulders. Typically viewed as additional workload, there clearly are inherent challenges in terms of quality, time and cost at the project level and even greater at the program level.

     Contemplate the financial issues that arise from inconsistent activities across the enterprise: project funding requests, budget preparation, capitalization guidelines, journaling, add-on funding requests and financial reporting to project/program/senior management among others. Compound the financial issues with inconsistent schedule processes around on-boarding, project planning, schedule development, schedule monitoring and reporting, change control and project metrics.

     Wrap all of this into an interpretation of the inconsistent data and it’s a wonder a project can be successful. Unfortunately, this environment is prevalent throughout the business world.

     You might be asking, “Why add overhead to the project with another resource?”

Consider the concept of a Project Control Center of Excellence (PCCOE) to efficiently and effectively capture, manage and report operational data in support of the Project Management Office (PMO). The benefit: a PM puts a laser focus on the functional aspects of multiple projects, and the tasks within each, knowing full well that a project controller (PC) is tending to the operational activities in much greater detail than the PM could alone. A standardized project controls toolkit and supporting processes are key ingredients for the PCO.

     Like its big brother, the PMO, the motive to create a PCO is simple: to build and manage a repeatable, scalable and sustainable environment across the enterprise. Its primary function is to identify and report deviations from the budget and project schedule at the earliest possible moment; tasks that may be secondary for the busy project manager.

     Organizationally, a project controls office is typically deployed in one of the following forms: the larger fully-staffed FTE departmental view, and the smaller functionally supported matrix view. The fully-staffed FTE view is the traditional tiered management structure. The matrix view can/should be a small functional office supported by one or two staffers/former practitioners who build, maintain and disseminate the PCO tools, then train the PC practitioners on the use of the tools.

     A project controls approach standardizes project operations leveraging a metrics-driven approach to validate the activities. Functional project resources are freed to focus on outcomes linked to the project goals. Activities are choreographed within a disciplined approach which is transparent and builds confidence by creating reliable output. Success becomes a team effort.

     The resultant benefits are many. The economies of scale (i.e. less cost per unit of work) and management efficiencies translate to substantial cost savings. Decision-making is pushed down to a lower-level given the more precise knowledge of the project status. Metrics tell a tale that experience sometimes ignores. Consistent data moves up the chain of command, is more easily consolidated and much more readily available for consumption at each level. Metrics are employed to proactively identify challenges and opportunities while also providing a glimpse into trends.

     Project success depends on planning and execution. Since effective execution is dependent upon a shifting plan, the ability to determine deviations in operational data at the earliest possible moment is crucial for adjustments in order to meet expected outcomes.

     It is evident that poor planning and lack of monitoring play a major role as the cause of project failures. A comprehensive PCO provides the methodology, guidelines and tools to uncover, capture, manage and report the deviations leading your organization to a higher probability of project success.

     Content contributed by NouvEON, a management consulting firm. For more information, visit www.nouveon.com. To contact NouvEON’s expert, e-mail him at rnicolini@nouveon.com or follow on Twitter@NouvEON.

Rick Nicolini is a Senior Managing Consultant at NouvEON.
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