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Why Project Controls Are Vital When Starting a Project

Rlm Why Are Project Controls Vital When Startinga Project Featured

​You don’t have to look very far to see that Australia has become the mecca for large-scale projects and development. Take the Government’s ten-year, $75 billion Infrastructure Investment Program for example or the resurgence we’re seeing in the mining sector, and the numerous other transport infrastructure projects in progress across the country. For these projects, and any project, to be successful, an ideal outcome is that they are completed on time and within budget. To help achieve this, project controls are delineated at the start of a project. The data is gathered, risks assessed, and the processes implemented to balance the time and cost resources with the desired outcomes for the project. Executing this requires trained expertise. That is why I have seen an increased demand across all sectors for experienced Project Controls professionals and the value they bring to the project. However, not every organisation sings to the tune of this approach. Often the Project Manager or Construction Manager will be accountable for the function of project controls in addition to their own full-time leadership responsibilities, coupled with trying to meet business objectives. As capable as an individual may be, a lack of capacity could potentially see the progress of your project mired in the quicksand of inadequate planning, significantly hindering your chances of success. Here’s why:

The Risk of Not Hiring a Project Controls Manager

The aim of a Project Controls Manager is to gather information in order to plan the cost and schedule of the entire lifecycle of a project. The Project Manager then utilises this information to make the pertinent decisions needed to achieve the milestones for success.  In the embryonic stages of a project, it is currently common to see the Project or Construction Manager plan the project controls as a subset of their daily jobs, rather than assigning this task to a specialist. It could be argued that without sufficient planning through a dedicated project controls team, a project is a house of cards on an unstable table. Project Controls Managers provide the framework to which the outcomes are aligned, and they do this through:

  • Ascertaining the scope and time of the project.

  • Determining the risks and contingencies.

  • Monitoring the project from concept to completion whilst implementing corrective strategies where necessary.

  • Providing budgets as well as deadlines.

Many companies are reluctant to invest in the upfront costs of hiring a Project Controls Manager, pending the size, scale and make-up of the project. However, given their level of expertise and influence on successful outcomes, the return on investment is immense. How much would a failed project cost your business? Perhaps the answer will put into perspective how valuable it is to have someone experienced in laying those controls out at the start.

Consider this. It’s not unusual for companies to have their Project Manager outline project controls at the outset and then hire a Project Controls Manager later on, once the project is in full swing and the Project Manager is focused on the delivery. Having heard of several instances, I can tell you that the repercussions can be enormous. I was involved in a large project in Central Asia and the project controls functions were being handled by the Project Manager and his engineering team over a nine-month period. After that, an experienced Project Controls Manager was hired with experience in the field, well versed in project controls and systems and, crucially, knowledge of the culture. It rendered the Project Manager’s work immaterial and inconsequential. Not having the Project Controls Manager from the start set the project back by three months and contributed to the project starting a year late. To point the entire delay to the lack of Project Controls expertise from project startup may be drastic, it was diagnosed that this was a major contributing factor though.

Bring Them in Early

I have spoken to a number of people in the industry about this topic over the last few months and the feedback is consistent and unyielding: have your planning and control teams set up from the beginning of the project all the way through to the closeout. From the initiation of the project there needs to be clarity on budget, coupled with a detailed schedule encompassing time, cost, scope and quality. Businesses have asserted that in order to run projects successfully, project controls teams must be able to implement their systems, strategies and processes early on, keeping the whole process running fluidly.

The Achilles heel for many businesses is the cost - after all, every project has resource constraints. What if, however, the project isn’t delivering? You are more likely to be burning a hole in your pocket by redirecting funds into trying to fix the problem rather than you would have needed to if a Project Controls Manager had been brought in through the doors early on.

To shed further light on this point, I’ll share an inverse example to the one I mentioned earlier: on a recent big transport project in Australia, the business invested in a Project Controls Manager through the pre-contractual phase of the project, specifically assigned to this project. The right systems were set up correctly from day one, which meant the early stages of the project were able to be planned and scheduled accordingly. This took place in North Queensland where wet season fundamentals and other risks were accounted for in terms of the impact that it would have on the project.

By virtue of hiring an authority on project controls to implement those processes in place, risks were mitigated, and the project was a success. Similar to my previous case study, if it had been the Project Manager who was navigating through the planning and project control systems, vital aspects of the project may have been taken for granted, thus jeopardising the whole venture. 

Final Thoughts

It’s a great time for your business to scale new heights in the Australian engineering, infrastructure and construction landscapes. Every competitive advantage is essential in getting your project delivered on time and on budget, so the outlay of engaging a Project Controls Manager at the beginning will ultimately mean cost savings as you avoid the sinkhole of bad planning. Working together, the Project Manager and Project Controls Manager are crucial to your enterprise – each having their own unique set of skills and responsibilities that will turn plans into action and bring your project to fruition.

If you would like to discuss the benefits of hiring a Project Controls Manager for your business or any of your talent needs, contact me today.