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Monitor & Control Cycle: What is it? All You Need to Know

What is the Monitor and Control Cycle? All You Need to Know

Once your project moves from planning to delivery, you can relax. Or, can you? Not quite. You need to stay on top of progress and setbacks. You need to monitor what’s going on, so you can control any issues that arise.

Our Agenda for Exploring the Monitor and Control Cycle

There are five things we need to look at:

  1. The Monitor and Control Cycle
  2. Baseline Data to Monitor and Control against
  3. Monitoring Performance
  4. Controlling Your Projects
  5. The Outputs from the Monitor and Control Process

And, of course, we will start with the monitor and control cycle itself.

A good companion to this article – especially if you are studying for PMI exams, like PMP or CAPM, is Monitoring and Controlling: What is The PMBOK 7 Measurement Performance Domain?

The Monitor and Control Cycle

The monitor and control cycle (or monitor and control loop) is like the beating heart of your project, during the Delivery stage.

The Project Lifecyle - Monitor & Control

We monitor the status – both formal and informal – and then we intervene as needed, to keep our processes under control.

Monitor and Control Cycle

The single most important thing to understand about the monitor and control Cycle is ‘cycle time’.

Cycle Time

Cycle time refers to the rate at which you cycle around the monitor and control Loop. The faster you cycle around it, the earlier you will spot problems and the sooner you will be able to deal with them. If you can deal with a problem earlier, there is a good chance that remediation will be quicker and easier. 

So, how fast should you cycle around the monitor and control loop?

The OODA Loop

The OODA Loop is a simple model developed in the context of aerial warfare. But it is both relevant to and instructive for Project managers. So, we have a whole article on it: The OODA Loop: Take Control of Your Project with this Powerful Idea.

The four stages of the cycle are:

  • Observe (what is going on)
  • Orient (yourself to the new situation)
  • Decide (what you need to do next)
  • Act (to improve your situation)

The essential point that John Boyd (the originator of the OODA Loop) made is this…

If you can cycle around your OODA loop faster than your opponent, you will gain a natural advantage over them in the situation. 

All other things being equal (or nearly so), this means you can defeat this enemy in combat.

In Project Management, we don’t have an ‘enemy’. But, it tends to be unexpected events that cause a well managed project to fail.

So, the insight translates to this…

If you can cycle around your OODA loop faster than events, you will gain a natural advantage over them in the situation.

The Natural Rhythm of Your Project

Most of us have worked on projects where nothing much happens from one week to the next. If you check-in once a week, you’ll stay ahead of events.

You’ve probably also worked on projects where there’s often some change by the end of each day. For these, you need to monitor daily at least – maybe twice a day, to stay in control.

And you may have worked on projects (as I have) where, if you take an hour out for a meeting, things have probably changed by the time you get back. For these projects, you need to be constantly monitoring what’s going on, if you want to keep up with events.

So, from these examples, you should see how easy it is to sense the characteristic cycle time of your project. And, if you are unsure, it pays to err on the cautious side and monitor more frequently at first. If you find it’s too much, then, you can ease off!

The Natural Rhythm is like a Heartbeat

In part three of our free four-part Project Management Fundamentals program, I discuss ten ‘project heartbeat’ functions. I would recommend you take a look at that video (and, indeed, the whole course). Those will all come up, in different ways, throughout the rest of this article.

I also discuss this in my article; The Secret of Project Delivery: Project Implementation Heartbeat

Baseline Data to Monitor and Control against

As soon as I start talking about ‘monitoring and control’, you should be thinking:

  • Monitoring against what?
  • Control to achieve what?

Monitoring Baseline

If you are a PMP person, you’ll recall the old editions of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) that had its ITTOs. These are now in the PMIstandards+ corpus. It lists a lot of inputs to the ‘Monitor and Control Project work’ process. But, boil it down, and there are four primary baseline documents that you are likely to monitor formal performance against:

  1. Project Plan
    Maybe a whole suite of documents that will include activities, schedules, milestones…
  2. Budget
    All of the cost related estimates
  3. Quality Plan
    The Quality Design and specifications documents that define the final deliverables in detail
  4. Benefits Realization Plan
    The way you will create the benefit the sponsoring organization expects

Control Objectives

In a ‘traditional’ predictive project, the objectives of project control are easy to state: ‘to keep the project on plan’.

But, even in the most highly predictive of projects, we know that shift happens. Sticking to an out-of-date plan is no better than drifting from it!

So, what is important is that we are clear at the outset about what matters: the goal of our project and the value it needs to deliver. Control means:

  • Adapting to circumstances to continue to move towards your goal and value objectives as efficiently and effectively as possible
  • Exercising mechanisms to become aware when even your goal must change

Monitoring Performance

Let’s start by noting that there are two major aspects to monitoring your project:

  1. Formal monitoring of ‘hard’ objective measures
    This includes things like schedule, budget, and quality performance.
  2. Informal monitoring of ‘soft’ subjective measures
    This covers things like team performance and morale, stakeholder perceptions, and user readiness.

We’ll take them one at a time.

Formal Project Monitoring

The new edition of the PMI’s PMBOK Guide, PMBOK 7, has a lot of interesting things to say about what it describes as The Measurement Domain. Indeed, I rated this the most highly of the eight PMBOK 7 Project Performance Domains. Our article is well worth looking at, as you explore this topic – whether you are a PMI person or not! It’s called: Monitoring and Controlling: What is The PMBOK 7 Measurement Performance Domain?

The kinds of tools you will be using here are:

However, there is more to formal project monitoring than simply measuring progress. You will also need to keep your eye on:

Note that the first three of these can all come under the wide heading of Value Delivery. A great article to supplement this aspect of monitoring and control is Value Delivery: The Driving Force that should Motivate your Projects.

The last two, however, start taking us in the direction of monitoring your team. You will do much of this, however, informally.

Informal Project Monitoring

I am a big fan of the concept of ‘Management By Walking About’ – or MBWA – in projects. Wander around your project, meeting team members, users, and other stakeholders. Get a sense of how they are feeling. Gauge the mood of your project and the morale of your team. This is enormously valuable information – and is often a leading indicator of troubles to come.

Better than MBWA is Management By Sitting Around – or MBSA. On one major project, I would settle myself on a sofa in the lobby area of the suite of offices we used, with a cup of coffee. Over the course of each morning, I’d have a series of informal chats with my Workstream Leaders. On the face of it, these were about gathering the ‘hard’ project data. But, of course, that could all come equally easily by email, slack, or dashboard. What I really wanted to know was:

  • How were their teams doing?
  • How were they doing?
  • What successes could I celebrate and share more widely?
  • What issues were concerning them, that I could help with?

The combination of MBSA (for my leadership team) and MBWA (for the wider project) is a formidable way of gathering data, staying up with the mood of your project, and being highly visible to your team.

For more on MBSA: Project Delivery is the Easy Part of Managing Projects | Video.

Controlling Your Projects

One of the most important aspects of good monitoring (frequent and effective) is that you can be confident about the status of all aspects of your project. And that means that, when one thing goes wrong, you can turn your attention to it and not need to worry – in the short term – about everything else. For me, my MBSA approach allows me to:

  • Know everything is fine 
  • Act early when something is not

Risk Management 

I am not going to talk about Risk Management here. That Is a proactive approach to managing the unknowns of your project. So, instead, I want to point you to the two principal articles and one video (from around 20 free resources on this site) that can help you out with Risk Management in general, and 

Issues and Problem-solving

Risks may happen. Issues either will happen or already have happened. The intervention you will need to make is to figure out what to do – and then fix the problems they cause. This is Issue Management.

For me, this kind of problem-solving is what keeps projects exciting. And, yet again, we have a load of excellent resources to help you. The place to start is with our comprehensive article, Issue Management: All You Need to Know about PMBOK’s Missing Process.

Then, dive into problem-solving with this article: Problem Solving: A Systematic Approach

After that, we have some great resources about specific ideas and techniques:

No Solution without a decision

Of course, solving the problem is not fully resolving the issue. Don’t underestimate the importance of decision-making as both:

  • The initiator of action
  • A step in the governance process

We have two articles that address this:

Contingency Management

A related part of Project Control is the management of Project and Management Contingency Reserves. Issues can add to costs, through the need for additional:

  • Team members, contractors, consultants
  • Materials
  • Equipment and assets

Some of this will be within your (the Project Manager’s) delegated authority and this contingency budget typically sits within the formal project budget as a contingency for a workstream or work package. It is known as Project Contingency.

Your budget may also have an additional contingency that is outside of your control and needs a client, sponsor, or other senior executives to authorize its use. It is usually a larger sum, and not allocated to any specific part of the project. This is your Management Contingency.

Gaining or giving appropriate authorization and drawing down these sums is known as Contingency Management.

Team Management and Resource Deployment

Another big part of your day-to-day project control will be active team management. This is about:

  • Maintaining and developing the healthy functioning of your team, as a whole
  • Developing and supporting individual team members
  • Allocating tasks to individuals

This is a combination of both managerial and leadership interventions. Therefore, it’s an area where we have perhaps more resources than any other. So, rather than list a few, here are links to directories of articles and videos. There is bound to be something here that answers the questions you have.

Change Control

Shift happens. From time to time, either:

  • The project team becomes aware of the need to change some aspects of the project’s objectives or specifications. This could be because of:
    • a new opportunity to create significant extra value 
    • or (more frequently in my experience) an issue can only find resolution arising from a change
  • One of your stakeholders or users requests a change, so they can either:
    • Gain more benefit
    • Resolve an issue

Project Change Control is the primary mechanism for managing this in an orderly and transparent manner. What matters here is that each decision is made:

  • On its merits
  • Based on facts
  • By authorized individuals or groupings

For more detail, take a look at our comprehensive article, Project Change Control: What You Need to Know to Make it Effective

Stakeholder Engagement

An under-appreciated form of project control is active and respectful stakeholder engagement. You can both:

  • Gain an early understanding of stakeholder concerns and issue
  • Head-off those issues and reset expectations

In a very real sense, stakeholder engagement is a project control, as much as risk management and reporting are.

Again, we have far too many resources to list, so here are a great starting place and a directory:

Work Package Management 

Finally, I want to draw your attention to the constant need to review Work Package status, so that you can control:

  • Work Package initiation: authorizing the start-up of new work packages
  • Active Work Package status reviews
  • Work Package closure: formally declaring the work complete

The Outputs from the Monitor and Control Process

There can be many outcomes from your process of monitoring and controlling your project. I will focus on the five biggest.

Change Requests and Variation Orders

The first output is the formal change request and change order (or Variation Order in the terms of many contracts) that arise from them. Change management documentation needs to be formal and auditable. 

In a more agile environment, however, change is part of the process.

Forecasting

Having intervened to control an aspect of your project, you may choose to update your forecast, in terms of schedule, budget, resource utilization, or any combination. Perhaps you will be able to confirm that forecasts are unchanged. More likely, there will be some modification – even if final out-turn budgets and completion milestones can still be met.

Reporting

This is likely to feed into the reporting process. You will certainly need to report your status and actions in your regular status, update, or progress report. But you may also need to produce occasional exception reports too.

Here are some resources to help you with your reporting:

Stakeholder Communication

Perhaps your project report is already a (particular) kind of stakeholder communication. But, arising from changes, stakeholder engagement, or other incidents, you may need to formally communicate with some or all of your stakeholders. That communication can take many forms, in terms of both:

  • Media
  • Tone

Your best resources for this are:

Lessons Learned

Whenever you need to intervene in your project, there are lessons to be drawn. At your next team meeting, discuss what happened and what the team can learn from it. If you have a formal lessons-learned log or register, update it. But, the true value is in the discussion among your team.

We have a great article and video (that cover much the same ground):

What is Your Experience with the Monitor and Control Cycle?

As always, I’d love to read about your experiences, perspectives, and questions. I’ll respond to any comments you leave below.

A good companion to this article – especially if you are studying for PMI exams, like PMP or CAPM, is Monitoring and Controlling: What is The PMBOK 7 Measurement Performance Domain?

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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