Every project has hundreds of opportunities to go wrong.

You could miss a deadline, submit a deliverable with a typo, or miscommunicate expectations with a team member. And those situations are even more frustrating when they’re avoidable.

Enter project controls, a strategic methodology that not only saves valuable resources but serves as a compass, guiding projects to success. Learning how to implement project controls will help you provide the right information to your team — and at the right time — to make data-driven decisions and avoid roadblocks.

What are project controls?

Project controls, or implementation controls, constitute an array of techniques, tools, and processes that steer project execution and monitor performance. Their goal is to keep things running smoothly, creating standards that mitigate risks and guidelines for handling project challenges as they arise throughout the lifecycle.

Some examples of project controls include:

  • A RACI chart to assign responsibilities
  • A statement of work to avoid scope creep
  • A quality assurance checklist to ensure everything is working correctly
  • A project budget for every aspect
  • A designated Slack channel for questions about a certain topic

Project controls versus project management

Distinct yet intertwined, project controls and project management elements work together to help teams succeed. Understanding the difference helps you use each correctly.

Project management revolves around the entire process of planning, executing, and communicating between teams. A project manager generally coordinates this process to make sure everyone meets milestones — and does so without too many roadblocks.

A project controller dives a little bit deeper, focusing specifically on tracking and managing performance to make sure every person and process adheres to the plan. Their main target is project monitoring and control, using standardized tools to keep everything from budget to schedule in check.

What are the benefits of project controls?

Implementation controls give structure and drive to any kind of project, no matter the size. They help you set and track constraints so your team never steps out of time. Here are some of its key benefits:

  • Informed decision-making: Armed with real-time data from control parameters on schedule, costs, or quality, you can make swift and informed decisions.
  • Cost and time efficiency: Planning ahead can’t prevent everything, but it can solidify your project against cost overruns and delays.
  • Risk mitigation: Using quality as surance tools and team check-ins helps you spot problems early, preventing significant setbacks.
  • Optimized resource allocation: When you set clear guidelines for budgets and scheduling, you use resources as efficiently as possible.
  • Quality assurance: Project controls define your standards for evaluation before the project even starts, ensuring uniform quality throughout the lifecycle.

Project management controls, explained

As you might have already gathered, project control covers a wide range of processes and tools, which makes it hard to pinpoint. But it’s easier to manage when you break it into sections. Here are the five cardinal project controls:

1. Cost control

Cost control tracks project expenses against the original budget, checking for discrepancies and spotting opportunities for savings. This process involves meticulous scrutiny to spot even the slightest disparities and figure out where they came from.

Besides identifying deviations, cost control helps you promptly initiate corrective measures to realign the project's financial trajectory with the original budget. Ideally, it should offer a plan for what to do when costs fall overboard, keeping the project's financial health robust and resilient.

2. Schedule control

Schedule control sets a calendar and navigates through project timelines to pinpoint potential delays and keep things running smoothly. It should also formulate strategies to counteract delays, making sure the pace aligns with the original plan.

This aspect of project control should include a shared calendar, regular check-ins, and milestone deadlines so every team member is on the same page. Status reports and Gantt charts are both effective tools here.

3. Scope control

Scope control makes sure no team members do more activities than necessary and that every milestone and deliverable matches the project’s original scope. But its role doesn't end there — it also adeptly manages changes and thwarts excessive work. If you’re worried about managing scope creep, setting standards for scope control is the first step.

4. Risk management

Risk management is the mapmaker that identifies potential problems, evaluates their impact, and estimates their likelihood of occurrence. And with that information, you can develop strategies that effectively manage or mitigate risks. Using tools like a risk register or SWOT analysis should be part of this process.

5. Change management

Changes in a project’s landscape are inevitable, and that’s where change management steps in. This process helps you outline what to do when changes happen, whether they’re an unexpected budget issue or new alterations from the client. It evaluates the implications of each change and how to incorporate them harmoniously.

How to implement project controls in 7 steps

No matter what type of project your team is working on, you’ll define project controls at the beginning of the process. To integrate them seamlessly, follow these seven steps:

1. Define a crystal-clear objective

Take the time to meticulously outline your project's overarching goals, the scope of work, and the criteria that will define its success. This is the first step, and it’s arguably the most important because it establishes how the rest of the process will go.

2. Construct a robust and detailed plan

A project control plan should encapsulate the full scope of your project — detailing tasks, their corresponding timelines, and the resource requisites necessary for their completion. Creating a shared living document is usually the best way to outline your plan and document what tools and techniques you plan on using.

3. Establish performance metrics

Define your key performance indicators (KPIs) and outline them in the plan. These metrics and critical success factors will serve as guideposts, helping you gauge progress and measure success.

4. Monitor continuously

Once you and your team actually start working on the project, regularly track performance against the established KPIs. This vigilance helps you spot any deviations before they become problems, allowing you to take corrective measures as soon as possible.

5. Identify and manage risks

You should have set risk identification methods in the planning process, and now’s the time to use them. Constantly assess how your project is going and use a contingency plan when things do go wrong. You can’t avoid every risk, but you can manage them as they come.

6. Formalize change management

Implement a clear and structured approach for managing scope changes, and when you do have to adjust, keep everyone in the loop. This structured approach minimizes disruption and maximizes adaptability.

7. Report and communicate

Communication connects every aspect of your project, so don’t consider this your last step — do it throughout the project. Regularly report progress to everyone involved, from team members to stakeholders. Use different communication channels like one-on-one meetings, group brainstorming sessions, and Slack threads.

When should you use project controls?

As you already know, you should set project controls at the beginning of your project. But you should revisit and adjust them throughout the process. Here are the key moments to look at your project controls:

  • Initiation and planning: Controls will change as you set them. At the beginning of your project, define objectives, allocate resources, and discuss sc ope in depth with your team. Remember that this sets the stage for the rest of your project.
  • Execution: Revisit your controls when your team presses play. Sometimes, the process looks different than you expected, and you’ll have to adjust the way you measure or approach certain factors.
  • Closure: When your project is over, it’s time to reflect. Weigh the outcomes against initial goals and capture valuable lessons for future projects.

Manage successful projects with Roadmunk by Tempo

Whether you’re an experienced manager or a junior entrepreneur making your first steps, setting project controls is the best way to help you and your team reach your goals. And implementing a roadmap might be the difference between getting lost and reaching the finish line.

Use a tool like Roadmunk by Tempo to create and present boardroom-ready roadmaps for your presentations. And when you want to motivate and check in on your team, Timesheets by Tempo helps you track their hours more efficiently.