Project Controls & Communication

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Categories: Communication

Describing scheduling, earned value management (EVM) and financial management as "project controls" is, I would suggest, dangerous!  

The steering mechanism on a car is a control system. You move the steering wheel, and the front wheels turn and if the car is in motion, its direction of travel is altered. Control systems cause a change.  

Altering the duration of a task in a schedule, or calculating the current cost performance index and estimate at completion for an EVM report changes nothing. All you have is new data.

If the data is going to cause a change, it needs to be communicated to the right people. They need to receive, understand and believe the data--this changes the data into information. Then they need to use this new information to change their future behaviors.

This is a communication process. The challenge facing schedulers and other controls staff is recognizing their primary role is communication not controls. Certainly they need to be able to gather and process information effectively but this is wasted effort without equally effective communication.

Other challenges include:
•    Identifying the right people to communicate with--the project manger is the only one
•    Formatting the data in a way that can be easily understood by the receiver. Without understanding, there will be no action.
•    Focusing the information on what matters in the future

No one can change the past and it's always too late to change the present. The only value a project control tool can offer is to influence future actions and decisions. This requires making schedules, cost plans and the like as simple as possible to improve communication and facilitate understanding by the project team.  

Only after the project team fully understands the information can you expect them to use the information to make wise decisions about future actions.
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 24, 2009 03:44 PM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Glen B. Alleman

Every PP&C function we provide sits in a weekly meeting where the Control Account Managers (CAMs), Program Manager and her deputies sit for several hours.

The "controls" outcome only results with the EV data from the previous week's CAM review meetings is used to plan the outcomes for the coming week or weeks work efforts.

The function of Program Planning and Controls - as you suggest - must communicate. I know of now credible PP&C group that provides information that is not acted on by Program Manager. I know this situation exists, but it is no credbibly appliying the output of EV to "control" the direction of the program.

Glen B. Alleman
I came across a page in our EVMS training course with interesting statistics

Systematic EVMS weaknesses identified by [Defense Contract Management Agency] DCMA during 39 reviews in 2007:

1. CAM knowledge problems
2. Span of control issues
3. Inadequate schedules
4. Data integration and integrity problems
5. Undisciplined work authorization and change control processes
6. Poor variance analysis
7. No formal corrective action processes
8. Inadequate Estimate at Completion procedures
9. EVM used to report data, not as a management tool

It seems that the last item summarizes your point and the issues with using EV as a simple data reporting process and then saying "we're doing EVM."

Ray Hudock
Excellent points and spot on. Quality "tools" are more readily available than the qualified practictioners who know how to use them effectively. At the end of most Projects, Communications is often identified as something that could have been done better.

Project Management Templates
Well ... the project controls is the development of a project plan, inclusive of an estimate, and then monitoring the performance against that plan throughout the project lifecycle.

Changes resulting from projects often create unusual or difficult situations. These issues should be addressed before the project even begins.

How you handle these issues is critical to your project's success. You can't always resolve issues right away, or you might not have the clout or the time to work something out on the fly. Issue tracking ensures that issues are formally addressed and resolved, not swept under the rug or left to fester.

Shea Putnam
While I agree with most of your article, the one thing that I would point out is the "control system" of a car is not the steering system ... it is the person behind the wheel.

You make a good point that it is the people-side of the project that will make or break a project. Success of a project is tied directly to the points you make, communication, the ability to process information and make crucial decision with accurate information.

Too often, I see managers try to throw "tools" at a problem. It is the easy decision to make. But time and time again, I see the problem typically lies with the people.

"Just because you know how to swing a hammer, doesn't make you a carpenter"

Wes Querns
It's not dangerous at all - unless you have incomplete control systems.

Project Controls includes communications. Agree that it's an essential part of controls. Of course a tool is just a tool, and data is just data. But that's not what Project Controls professionals do.

Controls involves setting up systems, tracking, analyzing, reporting, and following-through to ensure the value proposition - that project metrics, business cases, and expectations for long-term capital asset management will be met.

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