How project controls can help you tame any job

Drive-thru:

  • Scheduling—and relying on others to stick to schedules—can be tough. That’s where project controls come in.
  • Project controls set markers along the way that help project managers, supervisors, owners and others know if things are running smoothly.
  • you can implement several project control techniques to deliver work on time and on budget—and they don’t necessarily include buying expensive project controls software.

As a contractor, you have a lot of balls in the air. Scheduling—and relying on others to adhere to those schedules—can be overwhelming. That’s where construction project controls come in. With the right controls in place, you’ll be better positioned to predict and understand your projects.

Good project controls ensure that construction projects are completed on time and on budget, says construction engineering consulting firm Spire Consulting Group. But the key is consistency. Spire says that by using project controls across every project, you can significantly improve customer relations. This helps grow and improve your reputation, landing you more work later.

What exactly are project controls?

Instead of waiting until the moment of a project’s completion to determine if everything went according to plan, project controls set markers along the way that help project managers, supervisors, owners and others know if things are running smoothly. This allows them to “right the ship”, as it were, before it’s too late.

According to a document published by the Project Control Academy, “Project controls provide accurate and timely information to a project management team that will enable them to make informed decisions and take necessary actions to correct any possible adverse situations or trends. Project controls also advise the client of the true status of the project.”

Too much time spent controlling a project can distract you from important tasks. Too little can result in delays and errors.

You can maintain proper control through analysis of a project to see where it stands compared to where it needs to be, says Spire. It also requires evaluating what lies ahead and how it might affect the project (for example, weather concerns).

Take time (and care) in laying out the controls

Simply documenting your construction plan ahead of time isn’t enough. Assure all parties understand your timeline and are on board. Educate your team, both internally and externally, so everyone is on the same page. This makes accountability for checkpoints much easier later. The time that you invest in the development of your plan will increase its chances of success, according to Shohreh Ghorbani, founder of Project Control Academy.

Cost estimating is an extremely important (and sometimes difficult) factor. After all, for many small or specialty contractors, one failed project can potentially wipe out an entire year’s profit—which quickly puts the value of project controls into perspective.

Determining how much control you need is necessary as well, since the size of the project will affect how closely you must monitor its progress and adherence to schedule. Too much time spent controlling the project can divert you from important tasks, while too little can result in delays, errors and poor quality.

Change management—or your ability to pivot and redirect the timeline for your project as needed—also matters. And, even as a smaller company, document control should be considered. House your schedules and documents in a place where all parties involved can access them and understand the time frames.

Throughout the project, track supplier performance. Our memories can be short when we are under the gun. Keep notes on your suppliers and whether they deliver quality products and services on time. You’ll be able to plan appropriately next time when armed with this information.

Keep notes on your suppliers and whether they deliver quality products and services on time.

Tips for controlling your project

According to Bright Hub Project Management, you can implement several project control techniques to deliver work on time, on budget, and with limited turbulence. And this doesn’t necessarily have to mean buying a mega-expensive project controls software suite.

Bright Hub says the factors that can influence a project during execution can find their roots in some obvious and some not-so-obvious sources, such as scope, scheduling, human resources, cost and risk management. As always, the most important project resource is people, since it’s their actions that lead to assigned tasks being completed on-time or delayed. Delayed tasks translate to extra work that’s not in your budget.

Spire suggests three techniques to ensure timely completion of tasks:

  • Daily team meetings. This is basically a project huddle, when team members give a status update of their tasks. Daily team meetings also involve identifying dependencies and risks to the assigned tasks. Capturing meeting notes is critical to ensuring next steps and key decisions are taken.
  • Retrospectives. These meetings would be conducted over the life of the project, ensuring continuous learning throughout. Spire says the lessons learned can then be implemented proactively while delivering the release.
  • Critical path analysis. Every project has a critical path—timeline dates you must hit to stay on schedule. If any activity on that path is delayed, it directly impacts the project completion date. Hence, the critical path must be monitored and followed.

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