In project management, project control is the effort to reduce the discrepancy between the project plan and reality (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 421). Reality is inherently complex and dynamic often leading to difficulties during a project. As a project manager (PM) focused on trying to encourage desirable behaviors and discourage undesirable results, project controls can lead to a variety of challenges (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 423). One of the primary challenges for a PM is to identify what element of the project to control. If a PM is uncertain whether an issue was caused by human error or some random occurrence, it can be difficult to know where to take action to correct the issues. Another issue that stems from the human element is that it can often be difficult to provide criticisms to people in the project group or to enact controls on them (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 423).
Knowing when to implement controls and interventions can also be difficult (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 427). Some issues require immediate responses while others may be worth keeping an eye on to see if the trend continues. A PM should be focused on achieving results for the project. Knowing when and where to implement controls is difficult and often not well understood, however, implementing project controls is critical to ensuring results while being a good steward of an organization’s assets (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 423-425).
Establishing controls for projects is an important element to ensure success. To help establish those controls, evaluations and audits can be useful tools. Evaluations can be conducted frequently with brief evaluations or with deeper periodic evaluations. While each method may have different pros and cons, project evaluations should be conducted several times during a project and especially early on to correct problems earlier when they are easier to deal with (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 459-465).
Evaluations can often be resource intensive, time consuming, and distracting to the project team (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 462). More frequent brief evaluations can often utilize less resources and be less intrusive while identifying problems. If a brief evaluation reveals a cause for concern, then deeper evaluations can be implemented. If frequent brief evaluations are utilized, often issues regarding lack of trust and self-preserving behavior from project team members can be minimized by conditioning them to these frequent audits. Major evaluations can introduce much more anxiety and lack of trust for project team members (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 462). Since evaluations can be flexible, it is important to minimize project team disruptions while ensuring good project control. Frequent and early brief evaluations can be a good method for a project manager to limit these disruptions.
While I have not been a part of a project that has undergone an evaluation or audit, I have seen deep process audits before. The purpose of those reviews was to identify duplicated efforts and unnecessary tasks. Overall, they were helpful to the organization, however, they did introduce a lot of distrust and self-preservation actions from those being audited. Many employees would provide the auditors information about how the tasks should be completed according to the procedures but would not reveal the actual actions taken because they feared they would get in trouble for not following processes. Often those actual actions were vital to getting the tasks accomplished, they just were not part of the approved standard operating procedures. Employees also feared that the evaluations were initiated to find cost savings through workforce reductions. The results of the audit found that there were larger process issues that were occurring between departments and less within a single department. This led to larger organizational projects to optimize the entire organization’s workflow. Nearly eight years later, and that company is still working to correct the issues that were found from the evaluations. High turnover in leadership and Lean Six Sigma individuals led to difficulties implementing such large organizational changes.
Author: Logan Callen
Meredith, Jack R., Scott M. Shafer, and Samuel J. Mantel. 2017. Project Management: A Strategic Managerial Approach. 10th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-13: 9781119369097.