Blog

11thDecember
Project Controls Software

As a project controller what is your most annoying/difficult task while executing a project?

In any company that builds or executes large scale projects, ask any resident project controls (PC) personnel and their most dreaded time is invariably month-end reporting and the ensuing late nights in getting data ready for monthly stewardship reports.

This article focuses on the benefits of having an industry developed and tested project controls software tool that can do the leg work on data collection and formatting, and allows skilled project control personnel to analyze and trend the data to focus in on the message they want to give out.

An advanced project controls software, usually already allows for data integration with ERP systems and can be also customized for each customer’s proprietary tools. This, therefore, allows for the integration of the output of those systems within one tool, saving valuable time and coordinating data.

Project Control Challenges

1. No matter how much pre-planning is done at the outset, when a project is in the execution phase, it feels like everyone is being pulled in different directions and there are never enough resources to deal with all the issues. How is the project manager to keep track of the project in this situation to ensure that it will meet it's cost and schedule objectives?

2. No matter how much planning is done at the bid stage or the estimate stage, it is inevitable that during the execution stage, things will change, and that change will cause ripple effects to other activities that have not been anticipated. How will the project management team keep ahead of these changes to ensure that the effects can be contained or mitigated and that the project can still maintain its objectives?                                                                                                                                                                       

Required Solution

The answer to both these questions and more is utilizing a software solution for project controls that will allow the project controls team to fulfil their mandate and forecast the future of the project in 30-day or 60-day lookaheads instead of reporting what is already being done on the project. No one can argue that if an event has already happened, there is little that the management team can do to avoid it. However, if there was a heads-up that an event is likely to happen based on current trends, there is much that the project management team can do to mitigate the effects or even avoid it altogether.

In project controls, history provides a lot of pointers and in the case of project management, history has a way of repeating itself. However, based on recent mega-project execution management analysis, there is ample evidence that lessons from history seem to fall on the wayside.

Elimination of Inefficient Excel Spreadsheet Solutions

There are countless hours that have been attributed to checking of data, reworking, figuring out why the data doesn’t make sense, only to find that data input error was the culprit. Excel, far and wide the most widely used cost management tool in companies nowadays has a lot of advantages. However, it is in some of its greatest strengths that lie some of its greatest weaknesses.

For instance, the versatility of Excel leads to individual customization, so much so that 6 months or 1 year down the line, when the employee has moved on to other jobs or companies, the process is replicated by another employee with his or her own customized spreadsheet. This does not help in aligning the different cost management modules that are required to produce the results expected by a professional project controls team.

Companies do not track the valuable hours spent in developing these solutions. In fact, if that tracking is done, it sure to be significantly higher than the cost of implementing a software solution. This is not even counting the hours that future employees will spend on developing various versions of the same solution for the same purpose.

Ancillary Benefits of a Project Controls Software System

1. Data Analytics

Some ancillary benefits that can be obtained from using an integrated cost management tool also include the data analytics module within the software. Most commercially available project controls software includes a version of these analytical abilities, with some more than others.
However, the ability to slice and dice an estimate and a cost measurement report in order to relate other projects using standard breakdown structures at the click of a mouse is one true valuable ability of world-class project controls software tools.

One can instantly compare like projects at the same level, relate estimated rates of placement against actuals or relate planned progress and budget of work planned to actual costs using earned value management (EVM) and earned value analysis (EVA) techniques.

2. Data Integration with other Software Solutions

Another ancillary benefit that comes with using a software solution is the ability to integrate to not only with systems within the company but also other commercially available software system modules that specialize in other parts of project management (i.e. scheduling, risk etc.). If the estimating and cost software that’s being run can ‘talk’ to, for instance, a scheduling software, various scenarios could be developed to produce the most optimized manpower distribution curve solution to meet the specified objective for the project, whether it be the cost or the schedule.

In terms of project risk, it is quite usual to have the estimate being developed in a separate tool, create a mapping tool to load the data onto a separate risk software, do the required ranging and input the risk events as well as schedule risk items manually, before running the software to produce the risk value for the project.

In the meantime, if any of the estimate parameters change, causing a change in the estimate structure or values, this exercise would have to be repeated (albeit in a shorter timeframe), however significantly increasing the risk of input errors.
Although, if there was a software solution that could map itself to the risk tool, then the laborious process described above happens in the background and the results become much faster and more accurate. In terms of engineering too, if there was a software tool that could utilize the data dumps from engineering modelling software, the entire MTO development process could be completed within a single day as opposed to weeks of manual data entry and countless hours spent understanding the data.

Conclusion

Everyone who is, or has been involved in project controls, knows that time is of the essence. A project that is currently heading towards the completion within schedule and budget can quickly go wrong if warning signals are provided too late, or not at all.

In the past, it may have been possible to use manual methods to monitor and process project metrics and other factors. But nowadays, it is important to use advanced analytics, automated reporting and algorithm-based forecasts to harness the best available project data and complete projects on time and within budget, which is only possible through using a dedicated project controls software system.

 *This article is based on the AACE International technical paper ‘Integrated Software Based Project Controls on Major Capital Projects’ written by Abhoy Ganguli.


About Cleopatra Enterprise

Cleopatra Enterprise is the innovative and industry-leading Project Cost Management Software for the oil & gas, chemical, mining, pharmaceutical, infrastructure, and construction industries. With a mission to help companies complete projects within time and budget, Cleopatra integrates cost estimating, scheduling, cost control, and project benchmarking.

For more than 20 years, Cleopatra Enterprise has been used by more than 500 industry-leading companies in 75 countries to control technical projects and improve project performance. If you'd like to talk to an expert about our software Cleopatra Enterprise, please request a demo now.