The problem with project controls….

Preparing two presentations, one to the PMI Virtual Scheduling Conference last month, the other for ProjectChat in Sydney this week has started me thinking….  Why do so few project use effective project controls as a core input to project management decision making?

Most projects that have project controls staff seem to use them for forensics, claims and to meet client imposed obligations rather than as ‘trusted advisers’ to the project manager and project decision making teams.  Many more, probably a significant majority, don’t employ project controls staff at all and either rely on part time external agents or expect the project manager to do everything!  There are many and varied reasons for this I’m sure, but developing these two presentations suggests to me that at least one of the root causes for this situation is the simple fact project controls processes are ‘bolt-on’ extras rather then core elements in the overall information flow used to run the project.

For example the project schedule currently resides in a specialist tool (Primavera, Microsoft Project, etc.) that needs a trained expert to operate; the scheduling tool is not part of the work authorisation and allocation processes (at best schedule reports are used to inform these decisions) and it is not part of the progress recording system; update information is gathered separately after the event and reported even later. The scheduling functions are separate activities that may assist management but can equally be ignored by management, or can be not done at all. A foreman does not need a schedule to tell a work crew where to go next, he just has to point to the next work area he thinks needs attention, the instruction may be based on a schedule report, based on intuition or experience, or just a whim.

However, the world is changing ‘big data’ and integrated systems are becoming mainstream and these trends are starting to affect project management.  One example (used in the presentations) is the evolution of BIM (Building Information Modelling), 5D BIM integrates a 3D model of the project with time (4D) and cost (5D) information.  If this type of model becomes ‘fully integrated’ not only will time and cost information be part of the model, but the tools that process schedule, cost and earned value information will be integral to the model – ‘built-in’ rather than ‘bolted-on’.  And importantly the work crews use PDAs to access the model to understand what to do next (what, who, how and when all in the same place), and to record progress in real time.

When you read these presentations, don’t believe he BIM concept is limited to building projects – with very minor changes the BIM concepts can be applied to any ‘three dimensional’ engineering project.  And whilst ‘soft projects’ don’t typically operate in 3D the same approach can be applied to any system that can be mapped as a functional architecture or as a work flow.

The PMI presentation Projects controls using integrated data – the opportunities and challenges! looks at these concepts from the perspective of schedule controls, download from:

The ProjectChat presentation Earned Value Management – Past, Present & Future looks at this from an Earned Value Management perspective. Download from:

These ideas (or something similar) are in all probability coming to a project near you sometime soon.  And when they do the challenges outlined in the presentations will present grand opportunities for those open to change.

Read the presentations and let us know what do you think?? – if you are lucky enough to be at ProjectChat I will be here for the duration!


2 responses to “The problem with project controls….

  1. Hi Pat,
    Interesting papers, but I think you are missing some key points. As we know from the Guild of Project Controls “Scheduling” alone does not equate to “Project Controls”. Project Controls is Planning/Scheduling + Cost Estimating/Budgeting + Forensic Analysis + Document Controls.

    Which means not just 4D BIM but the INTEGRATION between 3D, 4D, 5D and if you want to include risk then 6D or 7D BIM, depending on your definitions. and/or In other words, “project controls” is now expanding to include the professional services that are also known as “cost engineering”. IF and WHEN we stop looking at project management as a stand alone function and start to look at project management as the delivery system of choice to “acquire, create, update, expand, maintain and eventually dispose of” ORGANIZATIONAL ASSETS (See Figures 1, 2 and 4) will we be able to get the full value out of the full “project controls” functions. (which includes such job titles as “cost engineers, system engineers and business analysts to name just a few of the “job titles”)

    Secondly, EVM isi NOT 50 years old, but (per your own research) dates back to the work of Henry Gantt and prior to that, to the 17th and 18th Century Industrial Revolution in the form of what is known as “piecework”. One of the reasons that EVM has not gained the traction it should have is because somewhere along the way, the concept of “earned time” as an INCENTIVE program that linked PAYMENT to PERFORMANCE got lost. (Typical of bureaucratic thinking only governments in general and the US government specifically is capable of screwing up)

    To summarize, at least in oil, gas, mining and construction in general, I do not see “project controls” having the “problems” you identified. Perhaps in other sectors yes, but certainly not construction. But then again, I do not believe that “scheduliing” or 4D BIM alone equates to “project controls”. My research indicates that globally, “project controls” supports not only project management but asset management as well.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

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