Improve Project Controls

People-related problems often hobble current efforts.

By Robert Mathias, Pathfinder, LLC

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Many projects suffer because needed capital assets aren't delivered "on time" and "on budget." Such mishaps take a toll on corporate profitability as well as a company's ability to service existing customers or seize market opportunities.

Effective project controls should minimize, if not eliminate, such capital asset issues. It's the job of project controls personnel to provide a sound and functional hammer with which the project manager can build a successful project.

However, many managers complain that project controls haven't achieved expected results. Too often, efforts don't pan out because of inadequate attention to the "people factor." Success requires employing staff with the right skill sets and experience for their roles, and providing organizational and functional environments that allow them to work effectively.

In many instances, you can significantly improve project controls' effectiveness simply by taking steps to identify and remove those issues that prevent its practitioners from doing their work. So, here, we'll look at ways to tackle the people issues. We'll focus on strategies that can maximize the people side of the project controls equation and enhance overall capital-project performance.

THE PROJECT TEAM
Let's start by defining the roles of a few of the many members of a typical project team (see Figure 1).

The project manager is responsible for coordinating all participants in a capital project. This person should have organizational skills, teambuilding know-how and project execution experience. A project manager motivates, guides and facilitates the outcome of a project. So, the person must be adept at seeing what must be done, deciding who must do it, and ensuring it gets done.

The project engineer expedites the flow of information among disciplines, such as design, environmental health and safety, and procurement, as well as vendors, fabricators, construction managers, contractors, and commissioning and startup personnel. A project engineer facilitates technical resolutions and keeps the technical wheels turning -- allowing the project manager to focus on client, business and commercial issues.

Discipline supervisory staff oversee execution of the work in their field of expertise, ensuring individual workers perform their tasks in a satisfactory manner.

Project controls personnel provide cost- and schedule-performance feedback to all the above team members. They look for problems; investigate, document and quantify them; and bring them to the early attention of the project manager, project engineer and discipline supervisors. The team then can form a consensus on the cause and potential impact of each problem and the appropriate actions to take.

The project controls discipline is charged with defining, quantifying and tracking all cost and schedule issues. It provides the subject matter experts and experience for executing work related to:
• estimating;
• risk assessment;
• planning and scheduling;
• cost management and forecasting;
• progress and productivity measurement;
• trending and change management;
• contingency management; and
• project metrics' capture and close-out.

Figure 2 shows how these activities fit into the total project-controls process.