Knights in Shining Armour and the importance of Project Controls

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I just got back from the EVA21 conference in London. A hectic couple of days in the historic setting of the Armourers Hall in London. EVA21 is a conference organised with Steve Wake and is associated with the Project Controls community. For many years, Steve was the Head of the APM Planning and Control Special Interest Group (more on this later).

Firstly, the venue. If you want to steep yourself in English history this is a good place to start. The Armourers are a guild of craftsmen making suits of armour set up in 1322, and given a Royal Charter by Henry VI in 1453. They set up their headquarters near Moorgate in London and have been there since. The building certainly impresses with its historical significance and also the attentiveness and courtesy of its staff. At the bottom of the staircase, a suit of armour announces that I have arrived in the right place. Halfway up the stairs a magnificent silver piece of a knight on horseback. Really quite distracting, especially seeing a member of staff pick it up and take it away for polishing!

The venue is appropriate for a ‘Project Controls’ themed conference with the emphasis of monitoring project value, the Armourers’ motto ‘make all sure’ is displayed on coats of arms throughout the building. This refers to the security of a suit of armour but also could be taken as a metaphor for project controls, ensuring the project is on track by comparing information on actual progress versus planned progress.

In 1703, the Armourers amalgamated with the Brasiers who produced brassware. The guilds were in similar areas of craftsmanship and were stronger together. The motto ‘we are one’ also displayed prominently in the building emphasises the two guilds see their future together and are committed to joint working. A shining example of all being one is when a member joined the guild, they committed to buying a silver spoon. This was engraved with the member’s name and kept in the guild. A priceless collection is now on display, so the guild has left a legacy for future generations in their beautiful craftsmanship and this historic building.

Today, the ‘We are One’ motto could refer to the interdependence between Project Controls and Project Management functions. The Project Manager needs consistent, reliable information on project progress in order to make decisions and obtains this from Project Controls. Project controls needs the Project Manager to interpret the information on progress and make the right decisions to keep the project on track and address any issues. Without effective project management, the project controls function is just an observer. Without an effective project controls function, the project manager is operating in the dark.

The project manager may be compared to the knight. They may be regarded as heroic but they rely on effective use of resources (horse, armour, weaponry) provided by others. Project controls will ensure all the resources are there. They also have to make sure the project has reins and stirrups to accelerate or decelerate progress!

Do all projects and organisations have a Project Controls function? Well yes, they all have this function but for small projects, it may be one of the responsibilities of the project manager, perhaps with an assistant to help gather information. In larger projects, the Project Controls function has evolved to take responsibility for gathering project data, reporting and ensuring its accuracy. In some organisations, Commercial Management may combine with Project Controls be part of a ‘Project Office’ function, procuring the resources needed and managing the contracts. It’s back room stuff but very important. As Napoleon said ‘an army marches on its stomach’. If the army is not fed, there will be no progress.

The Planning and Controls Special Interest Group is the voice of the Project Controls community within the Association for Project Management. It is a very industrious group which has produced a range of impressive publications and guidelines on Project Controls for the APM community. I attended the EVA21 conference because I was interested in becoming more involved in the Special Interest Group on Project Controls. The final photo is me in the impressive Court Room of the Armourers Hall, immediately prior to being elected to the committee. I hope that being involved in the committee, I can help build a bridge between Project Controls and Higher Education. I would also like to see more activity related to project controls in the North West region.

We are one and committee members really need support of members to ensure these aims are translated into effective actions. Your comments and offers of help are welcome!

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