Creating a Culture of Project Control
By: Kris Durbin

Creating a Culture of Project Control
By: Kris Durbin

  Kris Durbin, from the Shawnee, KS suburb of Kansas City, is a project control manager with over 15 years of professional experience. Kris has experience executing projects in the design-build space and across multiple industries such as power generation, telecommunications, federal programs, and more. Kris is married to his wife, Jacque, a project quality manager, and together they enjoy traveling the world, eating good food, and the companionship of their pet Goldendoodle, Willa.


Every organization that designs, builds, contracts, or executes projects face many of the same challenges: completing the project under budget, on time, and within scope. These challenges are universal because the very nature of the enterprise involves risk. This problem perpetuates itself when, due to the cost of time, we are forced to accelerate execution before all the planning is complete. Naivety also introduces additional risk when an organization attempts to execute a project in an area where they lack experience. These compounding problems are all addressed by one critical component to the project management life-cycle Ė project control.

Project Control is the method by which an organization plans, documents, monitors, and reports progress, performance, and risk. It involves a wide-ranging portfolio of roles, techniques, tools, and processes that are combined to create a fluent machine of information for project management to monitor the overall project health and predict future performance. The less risk a project presents, the less control measures it needs; likewise, the more risk a project presents, the more control measures it needs. The strategy is in identifying the amount of control necessary and implementing those controls in a way that contribute to the project teamís ability to execute well.

Many organizations that execute projects often task their project managers with the performance of the control practices. Some of these organizations have standards that document techniques, processes, and tools that must be followed and used to facilitate these exercises. Some project managers delegate some of the responsibilities to team members such as accountants or assistant project managers. In larger organizations or on projects with more risk, you will likely find a team of dedicated project controllers facilitating these measures.

No matter how an organization structures its people around the project control methods, one commonality always exists: those project team members who are performing the work will have to interact with the individuals controlling. This is where the culture of project control becomes a necessity. Putting it simply, the persons executing the work need to understand the control measures, and the persons controlling the project need to understand the execution strategy. This two-way street is often where effective project control ceases to exist. The successful implementation of this culture revolves entirely around the people.

A proper investment must be made to build the team around this culture. Project control professionals should be capable of effectively communicating with the project leaders and the project team. When choosing the right individuals for a project controls team, leadership should balance the needs between the interpersonal requirements and the technological requirements. Often, you will not find a one-size-fits-all project controller, and you may require more than one role for the various control methods you wish to implement. For example, it is illogical to assume that you can hire a project scheduler who can understand the commercial implications of their work product, interpret the execution strategy, guide the project team through the planning process, and be able to communicate all potential risk factors to the project leadership along the way. This is not to say that these individuals do not exist Ė they do, but they are exceptionally rare. This is because their skills present greater value to many organizations capable of identifying and better utilizing those skills.

As important as the investment in the project control organization is, the attitude of project leadership towards this function is far more important. The project management sets the tone for the rest of the project team. If he/she has a perception that the project controllers are trying to point out every execution flaw or mistake, then the rest of the organization will resist their input and advisement as well. Similarly, project management and project controllers can have a chilling effect on those executing the work if there is a perception that maintaining budget and schedule adherence is a higher priority than quality. Project managers must set the tone that those controlling are a part of the team, and have as much interest in seeing the project succeed as anyone.

Processes should also be developed so that expectations between the controllers and the project organization are exceptionally clear. These processes should maximize the output value and minimize the input effort. In planning and scheduling the work, project controllers should be able to come to the table with a broad understanding of the work steps necessary for each project stakeholder, and should have relatively specific input requirements that those stakeholders can contribute to, and get on with their work. Once the work is scheduled, it is imperative that project management confirms that the plan is achievable by those performing it. Project leadership should maintain a firm grasp on the viability of the remaining plan at all stages of execution. In budgeting and forecasting the cost, project controllers should have historic references of wage rates, unit rates, and project costs. These expectations should be visible to the project teams performing the work, and those with the responsibility should have clear lines of communication back to the controllers to ensure costs are not only managed, but that forecasts are also monitored. The project controllers should also be assisting the project leadership with the monitoring of scope adherence.

Technology should be an empowerment tool and not a burden or a fix for organizational problems. Many organizations are quick to hire software developers and to purchase software suites, when instead, their focus should be on the people and processes that they think the technology will fix. A general rule that leadership should impose is that their teams should demonstrate their ability to maximize their workflows within the mandatory processes before any technology investment can occur. This is especially true in project management. There are no shortage of software, databases, applications, and systems that promise a successful project with complex project control functionality. These suites can be very powerful and can streamline a lot of information movement, but they cannot manage your project for you. For example, if Sally in engineering forgets to tell Frank in procurement that the specs for the offshore fabricated pump have changed, you have a communication problem, not a technology problem.

A culture of project control is far more than having a schedule in place, hiring a cost engineer, or buying a fancy project management program. A culture of project control is how an organization adapts the processes and tools to the skills of its people. It is maximizing effective communication, and it is the institutionalizing of the methods and techniques you use to know if your project is winning or losing. On your next project, will you make a commitment to lead with a culture of project control?

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© Copyright, 2017, Kris Durbin

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