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Project Management control Systems

Several months ago at the Project Governance and Controls Symposium in Canberra I was asked to define project controls. The Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) has a project controls Special Interest Group (SIG), the Project Management Institute (PMI) has a couple of ‘Communities of Practice’ (COP) focused on aspects of ‘controls’. PMOs do ‘controls’ and everyone talks about the importance of ‘controls’. Where there is no real agreement though is in agreeing exactly what is included in project controls and how controls relate to other disciplines such as project governance.

The term control or controls is used widely and there are at least three distinctly different uses:

  • Control systems
  • Management directing and controlling work (PMI’s monitoring and controlling)
  • Project controls discipline

Control systems measure progress versus the plan and then, through an adjustment, correct any observed deviations. The steering mechanism in your car, when connected to your eyes is a control system. Your eyes and brain assess the current trajectory of the car and compare this to the desired trajectory and by adjusting the steering wheel, you alter the progress of the car.

Every manager controls the workforce s/he is responsible for: by definition management includes directing and controlling a workforce (for more on management see: Defining Management).

Then there is the project ‘controls discipline’, which I’m trying to define. My proposed definition for ‘project controls’ is:

Project controls are the data gathering, data 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).

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