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The digital project manager’s guide to project control

This is the first part of our blog post series on project control. 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.

Nicole Tiefensee



The digital project manager’s guide to project control

So you on-boarded your client and planned out your project’s resources, schedule and scope and your project is finally underway. Time to sit back and relax? Quite to the contrary!

While the team is working away 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”.

While this sounds very authoritative and micro-managementy, it has nothing do do with the project manager taking over or telling the team what to do.

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

Project control is about tracking, evaluating and reporting on where you came from (your baseline), where you are at right now (your actuals), and where you are headed (your forecast). It’s about looking at the underlying problems and making informed decisions when changes occur, and constantly synching up your plan with reality.

More specifically, project control deals with questions such as:

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

Track - Detect - Act

To find answers to the above questions and to effectively control your project, it’s important to have a system in place to help you track where things are at.

There’s quite a number of tools and techniques out there for you to use. They range from conducting regular stand-up meetings with your team in order to understand story/task completion to using project planning and forecasting tools to track who’s doing what and when, to 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 your control system is to create visibility and to help you detect any budget, schedule and scope variances early on so you can manage your client and their expectations. In order to detect a variance you need a baseline though. That baseline comes from your initial plan - the schedule, budget, resources, milestones and target delivery date you have agreed upon with your client in your statement of work.

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. You want to deliver maximum value to your client, so don’t shy away from proposing and making changes if you think they are necessary.

Four areas of project control

There are four key areas you’ll need to keep an eye on in order to maintain control of your project:

  1. Project change, especially scope changes.
  2. Cost, budget and schedule.
  3. Project risks and issues.
  4. Quality and acceptance.

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