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Taking Corrective Action

A control system should focus on response: if control data do not result in action, then the system is ineffective. That is, if a control system does not use deviation data to initiate corrective action, it is not really a control system but simply a monitoring system. If you are driving and realize that you have somehow gotten on the wrong road but do nothing to get back on the right road, you are not exercising control.

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One caution here, though. I once knew a manager whose response to a deviation was to go into the panic mode and begin micromanaging. He then got in the way of people trying to solve the problem and actually slowed them down. Had he left them alone, they would have solved their problem much faster.

Timeliness of Response

The response to control data must be timely. If action occurs too late, it will be ineffective. This is frequently a serious problem. Data on project status are sometimes delayed by four to six weeks, making them useless as a basis for taking corrective action. Ideally, information on project status should be available on a real-time basis. In most cases, that is not possible. For many projects, status reports that are prepared weekly are adequate.

Ultimately, you want to find out how many hours people actually work on your project and compare that figure to what was planned for them. This means that you want accurate data. In some cases, people fill out weekly time reports without having written down their working times daily. That results in a bunch of fiction, since most of us cannot remember with any accuracy what we did a week ago.

When people fill out time reports weekly, without writing down what they did daily, they are making up fiction. Such made-up data are almost worse than no data at all.

As difficult as it may be to do, you need to get people to record their working times daily so that the data will mean something when you collect them. What’s in it for them? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps future estimates will be better as a result of your having collected accurate information on this project. In any case, you need accurate data, or you may as well not waste your time collecting them.

When information collection is delayed for too long, the manager may end up making things worse instead of better. Lags in feedback systems are a favorite topic for systems theorists. The government’s attempts to control recessions and inflation sometimes involve long delays, as a result of which the government winds up doing the exact opposite of what should have been done, thereby making the economic situation worse.

There is one point about control that is important to note. If every member of the project team is practicing proper control methods, then reports that are prepared weekly are just checks and balances. This is the desired condition.

Designing the Right System

One control system is not likely to be correct for all projects. It may need to be scaled down for small projects and beefed up for large ones. Generally, a control system adequate for a large project will overwhelm a small one with paperwork, while one that is good for small projects won’t have enough clout for a big project.

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