How is project control embedded in the Agile model?

Introduction

Controls in Project Management are essential in order to be sure that the project can be realized in time within the agreed budget.

Project Controls keep a project on-track, on-time and within budget.

 

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 The « Project Control Academy » defines project controls as follows:

“Project controls provides accurate and timely information to project management team that will enable them to make informed decisions and take necessary actions to correct any possible adverse situations or trends. Project Controls also advises the client of the true status of the project.”

It is important to keep in mind that project controls are not limited to controlling and monitoring during the project execution phase. An effective project control process begins early in the project, in the planning stage and ends in the project with post-implementation review.

The project manager is like a captain and the project controller/PMO acts more like a navigating officer keeping track of the speed and variations.

We will have a closer look at the (possible) role(s) and responsibilities of the project controller and evaluate their meaning in an Agile Model.

What are the role and responsibilities of a project controller?

 The project controller supports the project manager: he/she helps defining the project’s goals and objectives; to create and follow-up the project budget and schedule, analyse progress reported against the work schedules and recommends actions to improve progress.

The responsibilities of a project controller are:

-        Monitor project activities: changes in staffing, schedule, scope

-        Oversee project budgeting and scheduling

-        Generate project reports and present it to senior management

-        Suggest and manage changes in project processes to maintain efficiency and cost control

 The most important skills for a project controller are :

-        Insight into business process

-        Cost budgeting and estimating

-        Risk analysis

-        Critical path diagramming and analysis

-        Resources forecasting and change control

Does this function exist in an « Agile » organisation?

  Within the Agile methodology, there is no real role project controller/PMO, this role is rephrased and reconsidered depending on the chosen framework.

Within the Agile methodology, budget control is depending on the chosen framework:

Within the SCRUM framework it is the product owner who takes important decisions on prioritization, and budget approval.

The SAFe framework distinguishes between:

·        In the Essential Configuration Set-up, meaning that the program comprises 50 to 125 collaborators, the Product Management takes decisions on program budget;

·        Within the Large Configuration Set-up, a framework in which more than 125 collaborators are involved, Solution Management has the decision power on the budgetary aspect.

·        In the Full Configuration, a configuration in which more essential and large solution set-ups that are not aligned on scope are combined, the Lean Portfolio Management will take care of the budget follow-up.

·        From a program global point of view, the Lean Agile Center of Excellence will take care of the global support to project controls and budget follow-up.

Let’s analyse the Agile fundamentals, the 12 principles of the « Agile Manifesto » to have a clearer view:

source: Agile.org

source: Agile.org

In these 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto, controls and follow-up are embedded in the following way:

  • Continuous delivery of valuable software implies a continuous control that the software answers to the client needs;

  • Deliver working software in weeks/months enables an easy follow-up of progress, as the delivered working software has to be seen as a minimum viable product;

  • Self-organizing teams and face-to-face communication allow a frequent follow-up

 Several controls can be identified in the Agile model

Several controls are embedded in the Agile model but they are so interwoven that are not immediately detectable:

-        Daily Stand-Up: the goal of this meeting is to check the team’s progress and highlight any impediments. Some of these impediments can be solved immediately but others need to be fed into Agile Risk Management. This means that the whole team is responsible for the progress and timing;

-        Frequent delivery: working in sprints allows a periodic control of delivery with important tests. Product owner has to control the quality of product and accept the product according to agreed definition of done;

-        Product backlog: allows to follow at each moment the prioritisation of stories, features and epic and consequently the budget foreseen for each delivery;

-        Quarterly budget review meetings: budget estimations and feature/user story prioritisation will be done for the next quarter;

-        Continuous improvement: it’s an important thing to improve the way of working and allow to improve regularly quality controls; 

-        Sprint planning: allows to control quality within a sprint of 2 weeks and maximum 1 month; slicing of budget in different iterations corresponding to features and stories. Early testing equals budget (time or cost) gain on the longer term;

-        Demo: validation of the project at the end of each sprint. This means that the budget spent has to correspond to business needs;

-        Retrospective meeting: within the retrospective, you assess whether the budgeting for the previous sprint was effective and whether you need to estimate more budget, this can help to plan to next sprint.

 Conclusion

 Within the Agile methodology, the opted framework has embedded specific project roles and more in particular budget controls. Managing projects in time and within the agreed budget implies that you anticipate and have a clear description of roles and responsibilities on budget and time control. Clear communication and early detection of impediments allows smoother follow-up.  At the same time a clear agreement on definition of done allows to deliver products meeting the client needs. The concept of frequent delivery and embedded testing simplifies control and progress follow-up.

About the author

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Diane de Meulenaere has a master degree in Commercial & Financial sciences, a certificate as Internal Control Specialist and a long experience in the financial sector.

She is specialized in Operational Risk and Control and managed a lot of projects in order to comply with different compliance and regulatory requirements such as Mifid, KYC, GDPR, Money Laundering, fraud. Her area of expertise is focused on coaching, change management, process advisory and improvement, project management.