| Today's fast-changing projects
call for managers to be highly responsive to the unexpected
-- those surprises that can alter the course of a well-laid
The "old school" approach was to emphasize control
as adherence to plan -- much like using a thermostat:
a point is set; then, by measuring the temperature,
the heat is turned on or off, maintaining the pre-determined
standard. It's simple and stable. But projects rarely
are. In today's fast-changing world, a more suitable
metaphor for project control would be coaching. A coach
would hardly be effective if he was isolated in the
locker room, receiving statistics via a monitor -- he
needs to see the game in order to guide his team.
While it may not be possible to eliminate uncertainty,
you can anticipate many of its surprises before they
occur, and hence lessen their impact. Project managers
must review formal reports -- as well as "move about"
during the progress of a project. I call this "systematic
monitoring," a two-step process of evaluating critical
planning assumptions and providing timely feedback for
The following 15 rules for systematic monitoring are
taken from Ninety-Nine
Rules for Managing 'Faster, Better, Cheaper' Projects
PDF 150 Kb).
- Identifying a small problem is difficult; correcting
it is easy. Identifying a big problem is easy; correcting
it is difficult.
- Dynamic environments require monitoring the validity
and achievement of objectives (effectiveness), and
the utilization of the means (efficiency).
- In unsuccessful projects, there is never enough
time to do things right, but there's always time to
do them over.
- Management systems don't control projects. People
do, helped by management systems.
- Only team members directly responsible for project
implementation can control projects.
- What is yet to come can be controlled. Last week's
performance is relevant to the project team only when
it helps them decide how to do next week's work better.
- More paperwork does not ensure more reliable or
accurate information -- and it only seems that more
measurement and reporting means better control.
- Excessive control often "encourages" employees to
distort data or develop aberrant practices to suppress
critical information in fear of management reprisal.
This, in turn, provokes even greater management suspicion
- Successful teams know that effective project control
does not result from reviewing and analyzing performance
reports, but rather by carrying out effective front-end
- Managers who stay in one place are forced to make
complex judgments with incomplete cues.
- Master project managers control the project by employing
formal performance reports and by moving about.
- Moving about contributes not only to "understanding,"
but also to "influencing" project control; plus, it
allows project leaders a natural, subtle, and timely
influence on project activities.
- When uncertainty is low, control is best implemented
by measuring performance and then by taking corrective
steps to adjust performance to the plan. As project
uncertainty increases, control is less of a "governor"
of execution, and more of a data collection function
for continuous planning.
- In uncertain conditions, "control" should provide
feedback for planning, and thus its emphasis should
be on looking ahead with anticipation rather than
looking back with justification.
- When uncertainty is high, the best way to control
the project is by selecting adaptable and responsive