Project controls improvement opportunities in times of coronavirus

Project controls improvement

“Every downside has its upside” is one of the most proclaimed quotes of Johan Cruijff, one of the most famous Dutch football players (and amateur philosophers) of all times. Now you’re probably asking yourself: “What’s the link between football & project controls?”. Well, nothing really, but as a company, we’re proud of our entrepreneurial and positive Dutch heritage and therefore adapted our business swiftly to the unprecedented coronavirus crisis that we’re facing globally.

This means: 98% of our workforce is working from home, and workshops and trainings around Cleopatra Enterprise, our project cost management software, are being executed remotely. Moreover, we utilize the extra time we have on our hands to further optimize the way we serve our clients.

It’s the latter of these three that I’d like to focus on in this article, because I sincerely hope that leaders in the project controls space will also take their time to consider how they can further improve their approach to Project Controls.

Due to a lot of projects coming to a halt and companies killing many investments they had planned, estimators, schedulers, cost controllers and other project team members have some extra time on their hands. We therefore thought of providing you with some tips of how to utilize this time to ensure we come out stronger and more efficient after this crisis, and do our part in limiting the impact on our strong global economy.

1. Harmonize & standardize

Most companies we work with have grown substantially over the last decade due to mergers, acquisitions and setting up new and innovative business lines. After investing substantially in such activities, the main focus is typically on growing their new business by increasing production and executing profitable projects.

This automatically means that little time is left for harmonization and standardization throughout the merged business lines.

Think of setting up a standard Cost Breakdown Structure (CBS) or Code of Accounts (COA) for reporting and analysis purposes. Or laying down your cost estimating / project control processes in a structured, step by step document.

Such standardizations will ease the ways of collaboration throughout the business, but also help with the introduction of new employees, and being able to benchmark projects by making comparisons in metrics using standard structures.       

2. Optimize costs through value engineering

Few things can be more frustrating than seeing weeks, months or even years of hard work thrown away. With projects being cancelled, we risk that millions of euros worth of engineering, estimating and scheduling efforts are going down the drain.

Luckily, a lot of projects will still be considered, even now or after the crisis is over. Companies will have to re-evaluate their business case, both in terms of cost and expected revenue. To ensure not all work is left in vain, value engineering could be a powerful approach to consider creating a better business case.

Some people feel that this is merely a way to create ‘cheaper’ project, but the crux is really in keeping the value at a constant level.

This means, adapting to a more cost-efficient approach while not giving in on the capacity, quality and safety of the project. Looking at a project from a different perspective, for instance by bringing in an internal or external consultant, may help to find such efficiencies.

3. Closing out projects & benchmarking

One of the most crucial aspects of project controls is applying knowledge from previous projects to predict outcomes of future ones. In order to be able to apply such knowledge, it’s important that we take enough time to evaluate the outcomes and draw lessons learned from past projects. Up to a month ago, files of new projects would already be stacking up on our desks before the previous one was finished.

The new situation that we’re facing makes for more time to truly analyse what’s happened throughout the project with the team and go through the cycle of creating intelligence from data/information.

If there’s no procedure on how to approach a proper close-out, go online and read about recommended practices and try to establish a concise process internally, getting stakeholders from around the project team involved. Eventually, the power is in establishing a database of projects which you’re able to analyse on a portfolio level to find valuable trends & metrics that can be applied when creating new conceptual cost estimates.

4. Evaluate project controls software tooling

There’s a huge amount of companies that still use Excel to estimate and control major projects worth tens or even hundreds of millions while knowing that there are better software tools available on the market. Why? Because evaluating and implementing tooling is a time-consuming effort.

Most of the procedures to evaluate our project cost management software, Cleopatra Enterprise, going through all compliancy and getting approvals from all major stakeholders, take anywhere between 6-12 months. Sometimes, software evaluation processes can be a long journey and might not even lead to a decision at all, simply because company initiators can’t get the right people involved to complete the evaluation and push for a change in the organization.

Now, with more time at hand, getting the right people involved in the evaluation process shouldn’t be an issue anymore, and typically we can co-create a convincing business case for upper management to approve of investment in tooling.

Even if an investment is out of the question for the foreseeable future, you could already work on a full evaluation to be done, with a plan to implement the tooling of choice ready for approval once this crisis is over.

When that time comes, we need to be more efficient and agile to stay ahead in the game, and there’s no way better to ensure that than with some proper cloud-based tooling that allows for process automation. Moreover, if you’ve also spent some extra time on harmonization & standardization as previously suggested, this will surely make for a smoother and more effective implementation with better results.

Interested in knowing more about how to approach these opportunities to improve your project controls approach, such as which steps to go through when evaluating a tool? Please don’t hesitate to reach out and we’re happy to provide some further insights on how to approach. Remember, this is all we do, and we gladly share our knowledge to help overcome this situation as an industry, together.

Stay safe and be well.

Written by Gideon Klipstein

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