I've been thinking lately that project controls can be compared to changing nappies on a baby. For starters, every single nappy change is slightly different and every project by definition is a unique endeavour with a definite start and definite end!
Do you have the correct "size"?
Let's draw some parallels. When you think about putting on a nappy one of the first things you have to do is ensure that you have chosen the correct nappy size. In the project world this is asking yourself if you've got the correct control systems in place for the nature, size and complexity of the project? What do we mean by systems? Well, this is the people, process and tools triangle of systems - we love triangles here at Project Chatter!
Tools are relatively easy to decide on. Although software companies might argue this next point - most planning software tools do much the same as each other, most risk management tools do a similar job, etc. etc. It's akin to the variances between Android and IOS - both have pros and cons. There are many software tools out there so assess them based on what you want to get from them. For example, do you need all the functionality of a Primavera or is your project simple enough to capture and manage in MS Project standalone? Can you control your budgets and cost baselines in Excel or do you need a Deltek Cobra to apply EVM?
Once you've gone through all your various output requirements and decided on the correct toolset, you need the processes and people to ensure that these tools are used in the correct way and that you are getting your full return on investment for these tools as they can often be very expensive. I've seen cases where expensive schedule and cost software solutions are procured but the processes accompanying them and the people using them only utilise a small fraction of their functionality in reality. Great for the software companies profit margins but a terrible investment from a business and project perspective.
It's worth mentioning that you don't always start with selecting your tools first, usually the processes and people play a major part in which tools you choose to implement on the project and often decisions are made in a circle rather than a triangle, as you'll revisit the tools based on your processes and people options and may go around a few times before you settle on the right combination and mix.
Determining processes is largely dependant on the projects requirements and business rhythm - rate at which outputs are required; this could be daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Once you agree on the outputs you'll implement the detailed processes to get you there. Some of these processes are more automated than others and this will depend largely on the people (read: skills) that you have at your disposal. A SIPOC is a good visual to understand the end to end process but you'll need detailed documentation to support any processes that you implement.
For me the most important part of the triangle is the people! I (and many others) have always said that you can have the best tools that money can buy and the best processes in place, but if you don't have the people with the skills and behaviours(!) to make the triangle effective and efficient what you'll get is mediocre. (Side note: often it isn't the people that are at fault, people will respond to the environment that they find themselves in. Leaders create the right environment for success.) Invest the time to select and train the individuals that will work with your processes and tools and the reward will be a strong foundation for a solid project controls ecosystem.
Is it watertight?
Once you've decided on the nappy size, you need to ensure that you've put it on correctly. For me, this parallel is the implementation and education of how this ecosystem will work and benefit the successful on time and on budget delivery of the project - some people call this Stakeholder management, buy-in and knowledge.
If everyone on the project, from project manager to test engineer, understands this ecosystem and how to use it to make informed decisions then you will typically see fewer issues encountered as you progress and more risks mitigated earlier as the entire project will be working in harmony - much like the nappy being put on and checking to see if the "wings" have been pulled out correctly to mitigate any leaking. This isn't to say that if something catastrophic happens you won't incur a bit of a surprise or disaster, but there are ways to clean it up!
Monitor and Control the situation
Once the nappy is secured, you have to monitor the nappy and control when it needs a change! You need to do regular checks to see if the nappy is wet or soiled - this is the monitoring bit. Do you have the right metrics and KPIs in place to tell you weather the project is in a good state? The blue line on a nappy tells you that it is wet, have you got indicators that tell you when you need to change course or make decisions on the project? What is your blue line? It could be schedule milestones, actual costs incurred versus budget or full blown EVM - no matter what it is, make sure you are regularly monitoring it! If you don't it may spiral out of control and no one likes to change an overflowing nappy!
If you have the correct indicators in place, controlling the situation is key. If you need to change the nappy then you will know when to do it, and when you need to make decisions on a project you will know when to make them.
Once you know that you have to change the nappy, you'll have to ensure that the mess is cleaned up properly and that everything is in a clean and safe state before you put on a new one. If you have a change to the scope, cost and/or schedule make sure that you have implemented this change correctly. The decision to implement the change is often easier to make than the understanding of what is required to implement the change into the triple constraint (cost, schedule and scope) correctly. Failure to implement the change and failure to put on a new nappy correctly will result in an increased risk of crap everywhere!
As the project nears the end of its life-cycle and when toddlers are being potty trained we may tend to lose sight of the strict monitoring and control but beware as you are not yet done!
There really is an art to changing nappies correctly and this is also true for project controls. What shape is your project controls ecosystem in?
I hope your project control ecosystem is fit for purpose and allows you to control any mess appropriately!