Understanding the critical role of project controls in construction

Project controls are vital in construction, ensuring projects meet budget, schedule, and quality standards by managing all aspects from start to finish.

A line of hammers in a construction job site

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Anyone who has been in construction for more than a week knows a lot more goes into a project than just a set of plans and a crew to follow them. These massive projects are made up of smaller details, all of which need to be tracked closely to ensure that the project makes it on time, on budget, and up to the customer’s standards. 

Keeping these projects on the straight and narrow requires a certain approach. This requires constant checks, small adjustments, and an overall awareness of where the project is headed at all times. This is where project controls come in. These tools and processes are designed specifically to detect any potential issues and improve the overall outcome of the project. In this guide, we’ll go over what you need to know about construction project controls.

Project controls in construction are essential to ensuring projects start and finish according to their plans. But, first, what are project controls in construction? They are defined as the processes, tools, and techniques used to manage and oversee the various aspects of a construction project throughout its lifecycle. They help prevent budget overruns, scheduling delays, and costly mistakes that could easily waylay a project.

Construction project monitoring and controls ensure several aspects of the project stay on track. For instance, they ensure that the cost of the project doesn’t unnecessarily overrun the budget. They also ensure that any risks that the project or company faces are mitigated efficiently, and that the quality of the project meets the owner’s standards before delivery. They also encourage clear communication, keeping the contractors, subs, suppliers, and other stakeholders in the know and holding them accountable. 

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By their definition, any process, policy, tool, or check can be considered a project control. However, there are six key components of effective project controls. We’ll discuss each of them below so contractors and project managers will have a better understanding of these essential project guard rails. 

Cost Control

Some of the most critical project controls in construction are those designed to keep the budget on track. These controls involve tracking and understanding cash flow and project expenses and performing accurate estimating processes. Job costing analyses that provide real-time data are critical. 

Schedule Control

If a project can’t stay on schedule, it will almost assuredly run over budget or fail the customer’s expectations. For this reason, schedule controls that identify potential delays allow for scheduling flexibility to keep the overall project moving toward completion. These controls often require real-time data, clear communication, progress reports, and site inspections.

Scope Control

Scope control is one of the trickiest aspects of project controls. The goal of scope control is to stay as close to the project’s original plan as possible. But—as all things can—plans can change, so scope control then becomes critical for ensuring that any changes to those original plans are accounted for both contractually and financially.

Quality Control

Processes, tools, and other activities designed to ensure that a project meets the specifications are called quality controls. This process involves inspections, RFI reviews, testing, and even using AHJs as references. 

Risk Management

Risk management is an important and ongoing process for any construction company and the projects they run. Constantly assessing risks and their impacts allows the company to make adjustments, put plans in place to deal with these risks, or decide whether or not the risks are severe enough to take action. In some cases, risk management controls may even lead a company to avoid a project altogether.

Time and Resource Management

Efficiency is the name of the game, and resource and project time control in building construction is critical for ensuring that projects run as efficiently as possible. Allocating materials, equipment, labor, and subcontractors to optimize productivity and efficiency requires constant checks and assessments of progress. 

Other Potential Project Controls

There are other aspects of project controls in construction, as well. For example, monitoring key performance indicators by generating reports, understanding trends, and identifying areas for improvement improves the outcome of all the projects a contractor delivers. Also, ensuring that there is timely and open communication encourages all aspects of the project to move along faster, more accurately, and with fewer surprises.

Implementing project control in construction is relatively straightforward but does require a deliberate effort and plan. The following steps will help with implementing the different aspects of construction project controls mentioned in this article.

Establish Project Objectives and the Key Performance Indicators

The first step in implementing project controls is establishing what the project objectives are and the data you’ll use to compare against them. In construction, project objectives require identifying the scope of the project, the deliverables, and the requirements, and these are typically determined through a consultation with the project owner, the design team, and the contracting firm.

KPIs are key data to observe the impacts controls can make. KPIs should include data on costs, project schedules, and safety data. Using this information, contractors can assess whether their project control efforts are on track or if there is a need for adjustments.

Outbuild analytics module
With Outbuild you can visualize KPIs like PPC or Reason for Variance in real-time as you fill the platform with information | Outbuild's Analytics Module

Implement Cost Controls

All modern construction companies should be able to implement cost controls relatively easily. This requires using construction management software to track job costs, direct and indirect costs, and real-time job progress to ensure that the numbers are balanced. 

These software programs also provide an instant overview of accounts and balances. Implementing daily checks of the amounts billed versus the amounts spent, as well as the remaining budget, helps pinpoint challenges before they completely throw a project off track. Also, reconciling accounts once or twice a week allows construction firms to stay ahead and recognize problems sooner. 

Implement Schedule Controls

Schedule project controls help keep the project moving forward, working toward an on-time delivery. To implement these controls, companies need to establish a schedule that includes all of the important milestones, activities, phases, and deadlines in the project, and who is responsible for each of them. Then, using construction scheduling software, the company can adopt Gantt charts to help understand the order of events and which parts of the project can overlap.

Companies can easily use this software to notice when the project is off track, update the schedule if delays occur, and make adjustments to better utilize the resources in place.

Implement Quality Controls

Implementing quality controls requires creating a schedule of inspections and tests. It also includes ensuring that the communication between the design team and the subcontractors and contractors is open and flowing. Any RFIs need to be reviewed and responded to quickly, and any shop plans also need prompt approval or comments.

Outbuild Roadblocks Log
With Outbuild you can import RFIs from Procore and turn them to Roadblocks so you can visually see it in your schedule | Outbuild Roadblocks Log

The design team and project management team should also walk the site on a weekly basis. Construction Apps like Outbuild make these tasks extraordinarily easy. It allow you to collect information in real time while you walk around the jobsite. During these inspections, they’ll need to ensure that the work performed meets the project specifications and that any alterations to the plans are being reviewed, approved, and recorded. This also makes the development of other customer-required documents like O&M manuals and as-builts faster, leading to better customer satisfaction. 

Risk Management Implementation

In and of itself, risk management is a form of project control, and companies need to use it. Generally speaking, developing a risk management plan involves all stakeholders discussing the potential risks associated with the project. Then, likelihood and severity scores are assigned to each risk to determine the next steps. But also, it’s important to continuously monitor for new risks that might affect the project.

It’s common for project controls to face some challenges in their implementation process. The following are some of the most typical difficulties construction companies face with implementing and utilizing project controls.

  1. Change resistance:  The construction industry is historically resistant to change. Implementing new tools, technology, and processes is typically met with some degree of pushback from the people responsible for utilizing them.
  2. Executive decision-making: Project controls require buy-in from everyone, including executives. Occasionally, these stakeholders will make decisions they think are best in the long run, rendering the project controls used to make those decisions useless. 
  3. Resource availability: The tools, labor, and software programs necessary for project control implementation cost money. The larger the company, the more they cost. While project control costs will pay for themselves, the resources required upfront can be challenging to navigate. 
  4. Data interpretation: Project controls rely heavily on data, but data is only as good as the minds interpreting it. Seamless implementation requires sharp analysts who can understand the signs the data presents.
  5. Communication: Communication is always a challenge on a construction project, but for these controls to work, there needs to be open communication between stakeholders, subcontractors, and project management teams.

The most effective way to start implementing project controls is to use the technology designed with these controls baked in. Several software programs exist that make implementing project controls and monitoring their effectiveness easier. 

For example, Outbuild helps companies quickly establish their current progress. It also allows project managers to receive real-time updates from the field. Outbuild promotes communication, as well, allowing project teams to collaborate on a scheduling dashboard interface and make instant changes when necessary. 

Understanding where we're at from a financial standpoint, understanding where we're at from a schedule standpoint we can make better decision on our projects. Craig Loschen, Vice President – Project Management at Wells & Wells Construction Co.

Other technologies that project management teams can implement to assist with project controls include building information management, cloud-based document storage and communication, and construction management software.

  • Building information management provides a virtual look at the project, helping the team achieve quality control. 
  • Cloud-based document storage and communication allows teams to access all of the latest information from anywhere they have internet access.
  • Construction management software enables the team to see real-time job costing reports, project progress, budget health, and more. 

Utilizing these technologies as the project control tools they are is a shortcut to better project deliveries and company growth. Implement your schedule controls today by embarking on a 30-day free trial with Outbuild.

Lee Evans
Tom Scalisi
Content Writer
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