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Nicole Tiefensee

Getting Started With Project Control: A Complete Guide

Learn what project control is all about, what questions it is trying to answer and how an effective control system will set you up for success.

So you’ve on-boarded your client and planned out your project’s resources, schedule, and scope. Your project is finally underway 🎉

Time to sit back and relax? Quite to the contrary.

While the team starts working at completing their tasks, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to:

  • Keep an eye on the road ahead
  • Regularly report on progress, issues, and risks and 
  • Work with the team and client to adjust the course if needed

In classic project management speak, this is called “project control.”

Now, this may sound authoritative and micro-management-y. In reality though, it has nothing to do with the project manager taking over or telling the team what to do.

It also isn’t about sticking to the project plan you laid out at the start or hitting the targets you set, no matter what. What if you’re on the wrong course, or even worse, what if you’ve set your sails towards the wrong harbor?

So it’s here that project controls come in handy. Not sure where to start? In this guide, we’ll walk you through not just what project control is but its benefits and when to start with it. 

On the whole, we’ll cover:

What is meant by project control?

Project control is about tracking, evaluating, and reporting on where you came from (your project baseline), where you are at right now (your project actuals), and where you are headed (your project forecast). 

It’s about looking at the underlying problems and making informed decisions when changes occur, and constantly syncing up your plan with reality.

Without project controls in place, your project is likely to go off-track considering deviations from the original project plan are all too common. 

These deviations can surface for any number of reasons – be it unexpected events such as a sick team member or changes in project scope.

Meaning: no matter how well you plan a project, you can’t predetermine its progress. And with a lack of project controls in place, you won’t be able to manage risks that emerge due to unforeseen changes in budgeted project time, resources, schedule, and costs.

With project monitoring and control though, you can catch things that aren’t going as planned and effectively course correct from there — saving the project from derailing or failing altogether.

In short, the project controls team helps answer critical questions such as: 

  • Where are we at?
  • Are there any issues or risks?
  • How’s our budget tracking?
  • What have we accomplished?
  • Are we delivering what the client’s expecting?
  • Are we on schedule? (Or do we need more time?)
  • Will we be able to reach our upcoming milestones?
  • Have we learned anything new about the problems we are trying to solve?
  • Are there any changes? What impact will those changes have on the project’s schedule, budget, and quality?

Put this way, it’s safe to conclude that having adequate project controls in place increases the odds of a project’s success. In fact, 94% of successful projects see project controls as “critical,” “very important,” or “important” according to LogiKal’s 2019 Project Control Survey Report.

So let’s talk about the benefits of project control in project management in detail next.

The benefits of project controls

Project controls and project success are intertwined. 

Research confirms that project managers who viewed controls as “critical” were twice as likely to achieve set project objectives. The reverse? Those who didn’t perceive project controls as important were 3x more likely to fail.

With that, let’s break down how thorough project control and planning helps:

  • Better decision-making. Project controls give you full visibility on the KPIs to track, helping you take informed and accountable decisions as deviations surface.
  • Increased project predictability. With better visibility into KPIs, resource management, and cost and budget forecasting, you can make better predictions for project completion. This, in turn, helps you better manage resources.
  • In-depth visibility into progress and the project’s financial health. This helps you effectively communicate budget and scope changes within the team and with your client. 
  • Streamlined project planning. Use the data and performance insights you glean to better plan future projects and gain competitive advantage. 

What is the role of a project controller?

A project controller is a person responsible for tracking the progress of planned projects to analyze hiccups and course-correct as needed.

But you don’t necessarily need dedicated project controllers as such – a project manager can take on the same responsibilities.

What’s helpful to keep in mind though is that a project control team’s job doesn’t start once the project is in motion. It starts before the project begins in the planning phase as you’ll learn in a bit.

project monitoring and control
Using Runn for project monitoring and control can bring your project success to the next, previously unknown level.

What is the difference between project management and project control?

Although there’s a lot of overlap in project control vs project management – both have a key difference.

Project control focuses on generating a project’s schedule and cost information. The aim is to track all the moving pieces —from people involved to the scheduled budget and time — to save the project from going off track and avoid cost overruns.

Everything that you learn during this is invaluable for future planning and project scheduling.

That said, project management involves taking up the information you gain from the project controller to make informed and accountable decisions for the ongoing project.

This way, project controlling involves gathering information (the theory side) and project management covers putting the information into action by directing the team and resources (the practical side). 

5 areas of project control

Monitoring and controlling projects cover five areas:

1. Project change (especially scope changes)

Not tracking project scope from the get-go makes it difficult to identify scope creep. Pinpointing factors responsible for deviation from the actuals also become a pain.

Tracking project changes, however, helps not only identify project scope variants but also allows you to communicate them on time. What’s more, you can better understand each change’s impact and use the findings to manage future projects effectively.

2. Cost, budget, and schedule

It’s very common to experience delays popping up when you don’t control project cost and schedule. For example, a miscalculation on your part can easily take the budget in the wrong direction.

Left unchecked, you’ll quickly find yourself unable to meet agreed deadlines. Project profitability also takes a hit.

By having a project cost, budget, and schedule control in place though, you can accurately calculate costs and project timelines. Doing so also gives you the opportunity to understand when both vary and why.

3. Project risks and issues

With a project control process in place, you can manage risks better. Basically, pre-determining possible risks and continuously monitoring them helps you identify them in time.

This, in turn, means you can develop a contingency plan to solve the issues all while ensuring the work stays on its projected track.  

4. People resources

Again, without project controls, you’ll find yourself lacking information on who’s available for work, who should take responsibility for specific tasks, and who’s in charge of what. 

The result? You can’t properly optimize people’s availability. In fact, you might even hit project delays and cost overruns simply because of inadequate resource management. 

By planning and monitoring resources in one place, however, you can reduce risks before it’s late.

For instance, keep checks on who’s overbooked and by how much. Similarly, better assign tasks by managing people on a portfolio level. And to mitigate risks in real-time, you can quickly transfer assignments to a different person should a problem arise with the original assignee.

5. Quality and acceptance

Finally, project quality control ensures all internal and client expectations are met. It also makes sure all tasks under a project are complete.

In fact, this is the way successful agencies ensure all their client work is top quality, which helps them stand out against their competition.

Where to implement project controls?

Change control in project management is built throughout the project lifecycle. This means it begins from when you start planning out a project and ends with a post mortem meeting reviewing how things went.

So let’s breakdown these implementation phases:

1. Project initiation

In the initial project stage, prepare for what’s to come.

Focus on outlining project objectives and timelines. Create baselines for the schedule, cost, and work scope. It’s also here that you clearly identify project stakeholders and assign responsibilities.

In doing all this work, you’ll need to have the following project control documents ready:

  • Scope statement. A document outlining all the project objectives (including KPIs), deliverables, and key milestones.
  • Work breakdown structure (WBS). A visual presentation of how the project breaks down into smaller, more manageable tasks
  • Gantt chart. A visual timeline of how tasks are planned out for a project timeline overview.
  • Communication plan. A plan sharing how and when you’d update project stakeholders. It’s best to create a schedule on this so you know when to check in with team members on deliverables and milestones achieved for communication with clients.
  • Risk management plan. Identify and note down possible risks (think: unrealistic time and cost estimates, changing resources availability, etc.) Then, make backup plans to mitigate these foreseeable risks.

2. Project implementation

In this phase, pay attention to assigning tasks, setting up tracking systems, and hosting project kick-off and status meetings. All this ensures your controls are in place to monitor project progress.

Remember, the project controls you set up here will help give you an eagle-eye view of the project status in real-time. So don’t rush through this step.

3. Project performance

Keep tabs on the key performance indicators (KPIs). Monitoring them to access project health and foresee changes or risks is crucial for taking corrective steps in time.

In fact, businesses that track project metrics performance information for managing their projects show a 68% success rate. This is in contrast with the 7% (!) success rate for projects that don’t use this data.

So some of the things to monitor at this point are:

  • Project objectives. How well the team is meeting the set goals and milestones and if things are on schedule.
  • Cost tracking. Keep tabs on resources to see things are within the set budget.
  • Quality deliverables. Identify completed tasks. 

4. Project closure

To ensure project monitoring and control help you succeed in future projects, it’s essential you pencil in time to review project progress. So once the project is complete, look at:

  • What went wrong and why?
  • Why could have been better and how
  • What are some takeaways for ensuring success of similar future projects?

Get started with project control today: Here’s what to do

To implement efficient project controls, follow these two broad steps:

1. Set a framework to track, detect, and act

To effectively control your project, it’s important to have a system that tracks where things are at. 

To this end, choose from any number of tools and techniques out there. For example, select from:

  • Conducting regular team stand-up meetings to understand task completion.
  • Using project planning and forecasting tools to track who’s doing what and when.
  • Using time-sheeting software to record the hours your team has worked so you can compare their actuals with what was budgeted.

The purpose of this control system is to create visibility. In doing so, it helps you detect any budget, schedule, and scope variances against the baseline early on. This, in turn, helps manage your client and their expectations. 

Finally, when you detect any variances, it’s time to act

Assess the impact of the change and consult with your team and client to come up with a way forward. Since you want to deliver maximum value to your client, don’t shy away from proposing and making changes if you think they are necessary. 

2. Use a project management software

An effective project management software like Runn can help you set the track, detect, and act framework. 

Essentially, project control and planning might seem simple on paper. In theory, however, organizations face a handful of hurdles that prevent them from implementing successful project controls.

For example, 54% of organizations share they don’t have the access to project KPIs in real-time. In fact, one-third spend a day or more on manually collecting project reports.

This means the time-consuming nature of implementing and monitoring project controls makes it challenging for businesses to start with change control management.

The solution? The right project management software that:

  • Automatically tracks data in real-time
  • Auto-generates project reports and
  • Gives managers a detailed view of people’s availability

In fact, using a project management tool comes with multiple benefits. These include better timeline and budget estimation, reduced number of failed projects, and more effective use of project resources.



Take Runn, for instance. It provides insights into resource availability giving you access to all employees in real-time including their holidays, workload, availability, and service rates.


resource availability chart

In terms of visibility into the workload, in particular, Runn shows you:

  • A big picture overview of what each team member has in their pipeline
  • Live updates on what’s team members are working on
  • Drilled-down updates on what’s planned for each team and individual

Besides serving as a resource management tool, Runn’s time management features help track projects in real-time too.

Use it to: 

  • Track time in simple timesheets
  • Record billable and non-billable time
  • Understand how time spent compares to the baseline 
monitor and control project work

Not to mention, Runn helps with project forecasting as well. It gives you an overview of projects and shows forecasts of how likely they’re to be under or over budget.

project change control

Project control best practices 

Project control can often step into the micromanagement zone — making things challenging for you, as a project manager, as well as your team. 

Keeping your focus on fostering a culture of transparency and following these proven best practices can help: 

1. Prepare for risks ahead of time

Savvy project managers anticipate risks, and therefore prepare for them in the project planning phase.

Lay out potential risks and backup plans to tackle risk in time. It’s also a good idea to communicate these risks with your team so they’re well-prepared in advance.

And while you’re at it, thoroughly communicate the project scope with your team as well.

Work often expands beyond scope when clients make out-of-scope requests that the project team might not be aware of. This is why aligning your team on the project scope is essential to prevent scope-related risks from plaguing projects.

Dig deeper: Project Risk Management: A Guide to Mitigating Risks in 5 Steps

2. Share documentation

Between the urgency of getting a project off the ground and understanding stakeholder requirements, project documentation often ends up brushed under the rug. Or you might create rough notes or mental plans for the project.

Whatever the case may be, committing time to documentation is too important to miss.

Remember: sharing effective documentation lets you take control by bringing all team members to the same page. For example, anytime a team member is confused about whether something specific is part of the project scope, they can reference the scope statement.

What’s more, project documentation also makes it easy to transfer knowledge and onboard new team members who join midway through the project. The same applies to the contractors you may hire as part of your project crashing plan.

3. Always overcommunicate

With significant work on their plates, project team members can sometimes miss or unintentionally ignore updates.   

To avoid that, co-agree on the communication format your team prefers to share and receive project updates in. That might be short video updates, standup meetings, or bullet-pointed, written updates. Whichever works best for the team.

Also agree on the frequency of the communication — choose depending on the team’s preference and the project’s nature and requirements.

Lastly, don’t forget to reference your resource management platform to stay up to speed on what each team member is working on.

If you’re using Runn, for example, you can get an overview of what’s in each team member’s pipeline and the hours they’ve worked. This way, you can further cut back on micromanaging and update meetings — never having to chase after how much work is done.

Summing up

Having project controls in place not only mitigates work quality issues but ensures projects stay on their charted trajectory and within the allocated resources. 

To begin though, make sure you’ve a system to track and detect your actuals against the defined baseline.

A project management software can help with all this and more.

Still unsure whether you need a project management software? Review your workflow for these telltale signs: 

  • Siloed information and teams
  • Lack of visibility into project and task status
  • Lack of information on people availability
  • Ineffective communication and collaboration
  • Inconsistencies in executing defined processes

If you find any of these problems plaguing your agency, invest in a project management tool today.

Our best recommendation? Runn. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Instead, hear it from someone like you — Studio 24’s Senior Project Manager, Julia Sang — who uses the software:

“Runn helps us manage the studio schedule, highlight resource clashes, and forecast studio capacity so we can accurately schedule new work.”

So try Runn for free today.  

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