Cost, schedule, time, and outcome. These four things define project controls. Yet, we often get questions from people wondering what the difference is between project management and project controls. We touched upon this topic last week, but as a reminder, project controls personnel collect and analyze data from the start of a project to its final steps. We’re talking projects like those used to build and maintain bridges, railways, wastewater plants, and more. Using software systems like Primavera or Microsoft Project, a project controller will gather data, analyze the data, help plan costs, determine schedules, and use this information to remain close to the project life cycle at all times. When it looks like a project milestone may be off-target, they advise project management and suggest corrective actions. In turn, they also have a direct impact on overall project management and future decision making.
What does the project manager do?
The project manager is accountable to the client for overall project quality and project delivery. They will work closely with the project controls staff to develop a project plan or a model highlighting objectives and work (SOW). Individuals in this role set the project targets and milestones. They are responsible for people, processes, and goals. The difference with a project controller is they recommend actions for improvement. The project manager, in turn, carries out these actions.
However, not every company employs both a project manager and a project control manager. It really depends on project complexities such as size, team experience, and client requirements. Just like how not every company hires a president and a CFO to manage finances, the same can be said of project controls. The role of a project manager and project controls professional can, and often do overlap in many scenarios. In smaller-scale projects, it can be common to see the project manager also be responsible for the project controls of the project. As the projects grow in size and complexity, the need for schedules, costs engineers, and project controls managers grows.
In projects like these, having a project controls specialist on hand to oversee specifics such as forecasting, reporting, change management, and more can profoundly impact the budget and deliverables. The importance of doing so can mean the difference between a successful project and one that experiences many overages. One such example is The Big Dig, which started in Boston in 1991, to replace the six-lane highway with underground roads. A mega project which became known as the most expensive construction project in U.S. history. It was supposed to be completed in 1998 and instead took over 10 additional years to complete. Original estimates had the project at $2.6 billion. When in actuality, the project cost closer to $14.8 billion and, with interests on loans, equating to almost $22 billion.
The Big Dig isn’t alone. When it comes to large scale capital projects, a majority do experience over costs and delays. The difference between ones that adhere to schedule and budgets frequently has to do with having a reliable project controls process in place. The primary reason projects go over budget is faulty schedules, inaccurate initial estimates, administrative issues, and improperly managed change orders. And while not all problems can be avoided, having a solid process and the right project controls staff in place can certainly make a difference.
At FootBridge, we help you hire the right project controls professionals for your specific project. We would love to talk to you about your next project.
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