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Control systems are sometimes classified into two categories, preventive and reactionary.
Discuss how the WBS, Risk Register, and the Bow Tie method can be used as tools to control projects.
11.1 The Fundamental Purposes of Control – The primary objectives of control stated in the text are:
· The regulation of results through the alteration of activities.
· The stewardship of organizational assets.
· Physical Asset Control – One aspect of control, often neglected in project management, is physical asset control. This involves, among others, the issues of receipt, inspection, storage, inventory, and maintenance of physical items.
· Human Resource Control – This aspect of control concentrates on the growth and development of the people resources on the project. Ironically, this most important asset is the hardest one to measure. Organizations never stop trying, though, through appraisals, surveys, and other techniques.
· Financial Resource Control – These controls are in some ways the most familiar in business as they include the budgeting and capital investment processes. Even though projects are unique, they must conform to the financial control processes of the parent organization and possibly the customer’s as well. The “carefully count every bean” attitude of the financial folks is often the antithesis of the “just get the job” done attitude of the PM. The PM, nonetheless, must perform his/her part of the financial control process.
11.2 Three Types of Control Processes – Every control process has some features in common: the selection of control points, the determination of how to detect deviation, the amount of deviation that will trigger a response, how much deviation from the plan can be tolerated, and the process to detect problems before they occur. There are three basic types of control processes:
· Cybernetic Control – This type of control works to automatically detect problems and act. The classic model depicted in the text shows a process with inputs and outputs. A sensor monitors some aspect of the output providing information to a comparator, which compares the information to a set of pre-determined standards. The difference between the actual output and the standard is sent to the decision maker that determines if some action is necessary. If so, the effector is signaled to take action. This complicated sounding process is embodied in simple devices like thermostats and governors. Cybernetic control aimed at reducing deviation from a standard is called a negative feedback loop.
· Go/No-Go Controls – These controls determine if a predetermined condition has been met and, if so, allow the process to proceed. One challenge in applying this type of control is determining how precisely the predetermined condition must be met to allow the “go.” Go/no-go controls should be linked to project milestones, as opposed to arbitrary schedules (e.g. every quarter) to ensure that decisions are made with meaningful data at significant points in the project’s schedule. One popular application of this principle is the phase-gate process of control. This process is often applied to design and product development projects. Funding is only provided until the next gate, which often is a review of the fledgling product or design for functionality and the current market for projected demand. The project plan provides most of the data needed at go/no-go reviews.
· Postcontrol – These controls may not seem timely since they are applied after the fact, but are nonetheless extremely important. Postcontrols are opportunities for organizations to learn from recent experience and formulate “lessons learned” to be applied to the next project. A formal postcontrol report should contain the following elements:
o The project objectives
o Milestones, gates, and budgets
o The final report on project results
o Recommendations for performance and process improvement
11.3 The Design of Control Systems – There are a number of important questions that must be asked when designing a control system. Perhaps the most important one is whether the system is sensible or not. Some other important characteristics listed in the text are:
The system must be flexible
The system should be cost effective
The control system must be truly useful
The system must operate in an ethical manner
The system must operate in a timely manner.
The system must be accurate enough to control the project within meaningful functional limits.
The system must be as simple as possible to operate.
The system should be simple to maintain.
The system should be capable of being extended or altered.
The system must be fully documented and the operators trained.
The PM must look at different types of data to control different aspects of the project. For performance this may include test results, trouble tickets, and maintenance activity. For cost control this may include cash flows, labor charging, and income reports. For schedule control this may include status and exception reports, Gantt charts, and network diagrams. Important elements of both cost and schedule control are variance analysis and trend projection.
· Critical Ratio Control Charts – The critical ratio is an overall measure of project cost and schedule health. It is measured as:
o (actual progress/schedule progress) ´ (budgeted cost/actual cost)
o Using this measure, ratios less than one are “bad” and those greater than one are “good.” A feature, or failing depending on how you look at things, of this ratio is that good cost performance offsets poor schedule performance and vice versa.
· Benchmarking – This popular technique is the comparison to “best in class” practices; both within and outside of the organization.
11.4 Control of Change and Scope Creep – Coping with change is often cited as the single biggest problem in managing projects. The source of change is often quite innocent: the client and/or team proactively seeking “better” solutions to the problems at hand. The challenge for the PM is embodied in the adage “Better is the enemy of good enough.” Project schedules and budgets are set with some level of “good enough” in mind. The PM will find it necessary to implement some type of formal change control to keep scope change from occurring without his/her enlightened consent. The change control process need not be bureaucratic, but it must include the following elements:
· The project plan must include a description of how change will be managed.
· Once the plan is approved, subsequent change must be captured in the form of a “change order” that includes a description of the change and analysis of its impact. Note that in the text the term change order is used generically to describe any change identification and notification mechanism. This may confuse some students as the term is also used by firms that do business with the U.S Government to describe a particular, contractually prescribed document used at a specific point in the change management process.
· The change must be approved in writing by the appropriate authorities, which may include the client also.
· The PM must be consulted during the change process, but his/her approval is not required.
· Project plans and schedules are updated to reflect the approved change.
Many large projects benefit from the implementation of a change control board. This is a group of empowered stakeholders which meets regularly to review and approve proposed changes. Small projects may not need the formality of the change board, but they still must have the equivalent of all the steps described.
11.5 Control: A Primary Function of Management – Project control is always exercised through people. The objective is to motivate people to perform in a manner that supports the project without violating rules. Since, people are involved, it is a complex subject. Responses to motivation typically fall into three categories:
· Active and positive participation
· Passive participation to avoid loss
· Negative participation and resistance
These responses can be associated in general with the type of control mechanism employed.
· Cybernetic Controls – “Steering” tends to be viewed as a positive way to control people, provided they accept the goal being aimed at.
· Go/No-Go Controls – These controls are viewed in a more negative light in part because the control recognizes “good enough performance” the same as “exceptional performance.” On the positive side, go/no-go emphasizes team over individual performance, which often is a great source of satisfaction to the participants.
· Postcontrols – These controls have the same emotional impact as a report card. They are also often difficult to administer because they will attempt to address “soft” areas like team interaction and communication.
· Balance in a Control System – The control system should be well balanced which includes the following factors:
· The cost/benefit of control. The cost of control goes up exponentially while the benefit only increases linearly.
· As control increases beyond some point, innovation suffers.
· The focus of the system is detection and correction of error, not punishment.
· The system exerts enough control to achieve the objectives, neither more nor less.
· The system strives not to annoy the people actually doing the work.
Control systems are subject to some common pitfalls. Among them are:
· Placing too much weight on easy to measure factors.
· Emphasizing short-term results.
· Ignoring change necessitated by the passage of time or changes in the way the organization does business.
· Creating an atmosphere, where only the factors measured are deemed important.
· Controlling Creative Activities – This is a sensitive subject, particularly among technical professionals who often don’t believe that their creative activities can or should be controlled. The argument tends to focus on the wrong issue, however, it is true that in creative endeavors the outcome may not be predictable. The real issue, however, is whether any project can afford not to have some control over the process that creates the outcome. There are several techniques commonly used to control creative project processes:
· Process Review – The process being pursued is reviewed to see if it is meeting the objectives. Again, this is not forcing an outcome, but checking the process. Project milestones are often logical times to perform this type of review.
· Personnel Reassignment – People who are productive are kept, while those who are not are sent to other projects.
· Control of Input Resources – Resources needed for the process are controlled. This process must be applied with care, as the outcomes may only result after considerable, seemingly un-productive effort.