This post examines project planning and control and introduces the project control cycle.
The concept, which is founded on statistical quality control, is simple: continual  improvement.
Whilst this method has its root in manufacturing and quality control it follows basic cybernetic theory. That is, a closed signal loop where there is a circular causal feedback mechanism.
Project Planning and Control
Similarly, in project management the project manager needs to create an environment where any change to the project plan is fed back as information.
Typically, this is depicted as the project planning and control cycle. The importance of project planning and control cycle — or the project control cycle — cannot and should not be understated.
It is the raison d’être of the project manager.
During each stage of the project the project manager must continually forecasts and re-forecasts the three areas of project benefit viability: time, cost, and scope.
And to do this effectively, the project manager needs to plan. That is, know what you are going to do next and know how risk may disrupt your plans.
Monitoring and Controlling a Project
Tracking and managing progress is crucial to project success.
If you don’t do it you won’t know where you’re at and when you’re going to arrive at your destination. The project planning and control cycle assumes that there is an agreed plan
Once this is in place the project manager needs to continually measure progress against the plan, re-forecast to the end of the stage (or project) and take any steps necessary to bring the project back on course.
How you achieve this is a matter of choice. My preference is to estimate when a task or product will be completed and report on the activity in one of three ways:
- Not started
- Started but not completed
What’s more, concentrate on what’s important — use critical path analysis — and that which isn’t started.
Risks affect the balance of project benefit viability. Whilst risk management alone will not eliminate risks altogether it may be possible to avoid risks in some instances or minimise the disruption in others with careful planning.
That is, you really need to address risk at the start of the project so that contingency plans are prepared and their potential impact minimised. Preempting future issues is key. Once the project is started you should:
- Regularly maintain and monitor the risks with the project team and reassess their proximity, likelihood of occurrence, and seriousness of impact. It’s always a good idea to schedule the more risky activities early to reduce their impact.
- Log all new risks and opportunities. Categorise and report on the action being taken to deal with them in regular project progress reports.
- Use scenario or sensitivity analysis to check and predict the impact of possible outcomes.
And finally, if things don’t go according to plan and you need to revisit your schedule do this under strict change control. And remember to keep stakeholders informed!
Effective project planning and control is needed to effectively manage a project.
What do you do to encourage effective project planning and control?
 I prefer to use continual than continuous because I see activities such as forecasting, reviewing risk, or making improvement as a cyclic activities. That is, I see it as a wave. Activities are regular occurrences: monthly, weekly, or even daily. In contrast, continuous implies that these things are done all the time, i.e. a continuum.
Creative Commons image courtesy Alessandro Caproni.