Improve Project Controls

People-related problems often hobble current efforts.

By Robert Mathias, Pathfinder, LLC

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This effectively guarantees a shortage of experienced personnel in the long term. Companies must devise strategies to retain highly skilled people by providing avenues with increasing responsibilities and appropriate compensation levels. Many approaches are available -- the trick is finding one that's right for your organization.

4. Project controls personnel aren't sufficiently integrated into the project. All too often, they're only peripherally involved. This sometimes stems from resource restraints that limit hiring and thus spread personnel across too many projects.

Remember, reports preparation is only one of a project control specialist's activities. To avoid becoming marginalized, the person must interact with the project team outside of the reporting environment. Otherwise, the data and analyses produced won't relate to what's actually occurring. The numbers are only one basis for analysis. Effective communication of ideas, opinions and concerns also is necessary. Improper integration makes project controls appear as more of an audit than a project-support function. Such a perception can get in the way of the proactive (rather than reactive) role that project controls should play.

5. Project controls work is considered clerical.

The work is as technical as any other on the project. By its very nature, it requires intuition, creative problem-solving, individual initiative, technical knowledge and independent analytical skills. Additionally, project controls specialists must know how to manage relationships, including those needed to elicit information from various sources as well as to confidently present and argue positions to all levels of project and corporate management.

Treating these people like clerks can reduce their involvement to the point where it's totally ineffective, and leads to compensation that makes it impossible to hire the right people to do the job. You wouldn't pay a process safety specialist a wage appropriate for a non-skilled laborer. Don't make such a mistake in project controls.

6. The skill sets of project controls personnel don't align with their job descriptions.

Project controls encompass many discipline knowledge areas. Job duties must match the skill sets of its practitioners. For example, it's difficult to find large numbers of staff proficient, say, in both cost and scheduling analysis. You may have a person who's skilled in one area but who only has a rather basic understanding of the other. People naturally focus on the areas where they feel most confident, putting lower priority on those areas where they feel most uncomfortable and limited. So, avoid assigning tasks outside of someone's proficiency. In this case, it would be better to use a separate scheduler and cost engineer, allowing either the most experienced project controls specialist or the project manager to take the lead role in coordinating their work.

7. Project controls personnel aren't trained specialists in their discipline but are simply drawn from other areas of the company.

A project controls organization must include an adequate level of experienced practitioners. Otherwise, the work will be ineffectively executed. And it will be impossible to provide the leadership and mentoring required to train new people in the skills and techniques required.

A number of lapses and miscues frequently undermine the prospects for success:

Well-organized "what-to" and "how-to" guides are scarce or nonexistent. Often, you can rectify failures in performance simply by providing appropriate procedures, work practices, guidelines, etc. A practitioner must clearly understand what he or she is being asked to do. Procedures sometimes are written at too high a level to help the worker actually charged with carrying them out. Correctly written instructions significantly decrease the learning curve for new employees and don't allow supporting groups to dodge their responsibilities.

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