Planning the project helps to chart a course towards the project goals. Project control ensures that this course is properly followed and the destination remains in sight at all times. Planning the project does not guarantee, in and of itself, that the objectives will be met. In fact, it is the control system that assists in meeting the objectives by identifying any gaps between the plan and the actual execution and developing responses to minimize unwanted gaps.
For the project control system to function as effectively as possible, it must be an integral part of the project. Control activities are responsible for evaluating the execution of various aspects of the project: scope, work, schedule, cost, quality, safety, changes to the project, potential risks, and meeting the commitments to the customer.
The type of control system used in a given project must suit the nature of the project’s tasks, the resources available for their completion and the level of stakeholder sensitivity to deviation from project objectives.
For the system to be successful, the mechanisms it uses must be clearly defined. Each of these mechanisms should be designed to perform at the level of detail and frequency of assessment necessary to evaluate the element it is controlling, while taking into consideration the characteristics of that element. For example, a particular control mechanism can be assigned to a specific task, with assessments taking place at a frequency and a level of detail that depends on the experience level of the person performing the task. The more experienced the person, the less detailed and frequent the level of control needed, and vice versa: The less experienced the person performing the task and the higher the level of uncertainty, the more detailed and frequent control is required.
It is important to avoid designing an overly burdensome control system, since such a system will only interfere with project work and may damage team morale and motivation.
The control system must provide for gathering data at regular intervals so that not too much time passes between any two evaluation points. Otherwise, any deviation from the plan may become a large gap that might lead to a bigger problem down the road. The speed at which gaps are discovered greatly influences the success of the project as a whole. Therefore, it is necessary to develop mechanisms that will detect these gaps as soon as possible.
It is recommended to plan the controls in the project in three three feedback loops:
- Ongoing controls – the most basic controls to be performed throughout the entire project – continuously, at every formal and informal opportunity possible.
- Periodic controls – controls that must be performed from time to time, with varying frequency appropriate to the type of control in each and every project.
- Special controls – according to interest and need or after a long period of time since the last time this type of control was performed.
It is considered best practice to create uniform control structures within a given project—or even over several similar projects—then manage those with complete transparency. This will help to incorporate the control system into the project easily and to use the results and findings of the system to draw both latitudinal and longitudinal conclusions.