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How Project Managers Can Maintain Project Control in PMO
By Megan Brodie

February 26, 2024 | 8 min read

Scope creep, moving baselines and bulging tolerances – sound familiar? Expectations that are repeatedly unmet due to these limitations can be detrimental to a stakeholder’s priorities and resource commitments. When leading a project, control is essential so we can keep tabs on project status, and ensure the project is consistently delivering value for all stakeholder and user groups.

 

So, let’s question why control might be one of the main areas of focus for PMO. Naturally, scope and work packages can become uncertain; moving and adjusting as projects progress. Unfortunately for you and I, uncertainty can cause doubt and pessimism. This leads to project actions becoming deprioritised, especially within work environments that aim for agility and deliver on outcomes that might not be fully defined. 

 

As project, programme, or portfolio owners, we need to ensure that projects are controlled enough to deliver value that stakeholders require. This control can be chosen and tailored in many ways depending on the size and nature of the stakeholder group. Control can take many different forms and look very different in many industries. For example, the control style you may see in projects within the military will look very different to the creative or construction industries. 

 

In this article we explore the covert methods of control, broken into three categories; visibility, resource management and change control. And how we can establish order without being on the front line of desks with a whistle and a megaphone.

Visibility

In the dynamic and often unpredictable world of project management, getting control through visibility and effective communications management is not just beneficial, it's imperative. In an economy where agility is prized and outcomes are often fluidly defined, clear and consistent communication becomes essential in holding various project elements together. When we communicate well, we allow everyone to see what they need to; we create visibility over various aspects of a project. 

 

Whether its keeping stakeholders informed, ensuring team alignment, or managing expectations, effective communication ensures that everyone is looking in the same direction. This is particularly vital in fast-paced work environments where decisions need to be made swiftly and efficiently. By establishing robust communication channels, we can foster an environment of trust and transparency, thereby mitigating the risks of uncertainty and scepticism that can derail project momentum. In essence, we establish control in project management  through strategic visibility and masterful communication; we guide a diverse stakeholder group towards a common goal with one clear vision.

 

Top tip: Try using a clear communications plan at the start of your project. This should include:

  • communication goals, 

  • frequency of communications, 

  • methods (emails, meetings, reports, newsletters), and 

  • who is responsible for each communication avenue. 

 

Ensure you have regular status updates within your chosen communication avenues, where you share important information, such as:

  1. the status of the project, 

  2. what areas are flagging as risks, 

  3. what areas need more support, and 

  4. which areas have been successful. 

 

Realistic resource management

A realistic approach to resource management requires a deep dive into what skill sets are available vs the project's requirements. By doing this, project managers can identify any skill gaps early and make informed decisions about additional hiring or training (if needed). Time management and empathy are also key. Ensuring that tasks are allocated in a way which is efficient, as well as thoughtful prevents burnout and disengagement, which inevitably supports the team delivering the project. 

 

It’s important to recognise that everyone also works differently. Using your emotional intelligence to identify how to get the most out of people is crucial. This careful balancing act ensures that resources are not overextended or underutilised, leading to a smoother project flow and a firmer grip on the reins of control.

 

Top tip: Take a moment to observe how stakeholder groups work. Consider what their team meeting structures are like and how often they email or send out communications. If a team is used to one meeting a week, they won’t respond well to a 30 minute project meeting every morning! 

 

Change control

Change control is another essential piece of the control puzzle. Managing change upholds a firm grasp on the project's scope, ensuring that any alterations are carefully evaluated and managed. Effective change control requires a structured approach, where all proposed changes are logged, reviewed, and approved or rejected based on their impact on the project's goals, timeline and budget. This process prevents scope creep and ensures that any necessary changes are integrated seamlessly into the project plan. 

 

Regular communication with stakeholders about these changes is vital to manage expectations and maintain transparency. As soon as project scope starts to slip under your stakeholders’ feet, they will become discouraged and frustrated with the project’s direction and viability. By mastering change control, we can minimise disruptions and keep the project aligned with its original objectives, thereby maintaining a higher degree of control, and increasing the likelihood of successful project delivery.

 

Top tip: Take a step back from the project and look at the ripple effect of how your actions affect the organisation. How will the project’s tasks flow through the company? What changes will it make? What culture will be adjusted? Try to tackle these issues prior to the task itself. Implement visibility channels for stakeholders internal and external to the project. 

 

In conclusion, the control within PMO is a multifaceted reality that requires a blend of strategic visibility, realistic resource management, and stringent change control. These elements, when skilfully managed, empower us as project managers. As we embrace these practices, we must remember that control in project management is not about rigidly dictating every action but about guiding, influencing, and adjusting with an informed and tactful hand. Therefore, as project managers our role transcends beyond mere management; it becomes one of visionary leadership, where we create a symphony of coordinated efforts, clear communications, and adaptable strategies, all in the pursuit of excellence in project delivery.

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Written by

Megan Brodie

Megan is a project and business change manager with a demonstrable record of leading cross-functional global E2E projects and transformations. She has led numerous business critical projects in large multinational organisations such as Philip Morris International and Impact.com. Megan has extensive experience in building and managing relationships with cross- functional stakeholders and developing operational models and processes.

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