The word control has had a bad press. It is often associated with terms such as limiting freedom, coercive action and keeping costs to an absolute minimum.
In project management the term control refers to a mechanism to protect strategic plans during their implementation. Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will. Therefore a control mechanism pre-empt such problems and thus is a valuable asset. A control mechanism links actual behaviour to the intended overall strategic intent.
The basis of control systems is the ability to measure. It is the process of comparing what should happen with what has actually happened or what is likely to happen. Too many firms measure what is easy to measure; not what is important to measure.
Good project management control systems identify and rectify problems at an early stage. Prevention is better than cure. Be proactive not reactive.
It is better to break the process down into a series of simple steps. Interim targets should be set and integrated into overall strategic planning. Results should be compared with expected goals.
There are two sides to control – inputs and outputs. If you only deal in outputs, you are inspecting the process; you are not controlling it. Control processes must reflect both inputs and outputs. This allows managers to optimise processes and to take a strategic view of plans.
Typically there are three typical categories of input:
- Finance (investment, working capital and cash)
- Operations (Capacity, usage, efficiency and the application of machinery and other assets)
- People (numbers, skills and quality)
There are two forms of output:
- Efficiency (How well do we use inputs? Are we at optimal capacity? Are we getting from our financial assets?)
- Effectiveness (Are we doing the right things? This means measuring everything from sales revenues to levels of customer satisfaction)
It is more important to measure effectiveness than efficiency. For example, a firm may be highly efficient in producing its goods but, if it produces the wrong goods, or is ineffective at finding customers for them, those goods may sit gathering dust in warehouses.
On a totally unrelated matter, I must make a couple of comments on the UK government’s plans to control the legislative process as the UK leaves the EU.
This week there has been a lot of comment and debate on the proposed use of ‘Henry the Eighth powers’ by cabinet ministers. These are powers given to government ministers and which allow them to amend legislation using statutory instruments.
Henry the Eighth powers are controversial as they are seen as a way of bypassing parliamentary debate.
In the UK there are two parliamentary processes for the creation of legislation. These are referred to as primary and secondary legislation.
Primary legislation is where the government produces a bill and it is given full scrutiny by parliament It then becomes an act. Bills receive three readings and a committee stage in both Houses of Parliament, the Commons and the Lords.
Secondary legislation is where the government creates regulations and orders. Most EU law is transferred into UK law through secondary legislation; e.g. The Toy Safety Regulations; which are made under the European communities Act 1972.
However, over recent years successive governments have imposed red tape challenges to try to reduce the number of regulations. This means that a lot of law which was formerly in secondary legislation has been included in primary acts. For example The Consumer Rights Act amalgamates a lot of law which was formerly in secondary legislation.
This is where Henry the Eighth powers become contentious; where secondary legislation is used to amend or revoke primary legislation. Many politicians are unhappy that instead of full parliamentary scrutiny of the act, change will be made by the signature of a government minister.
There are two routes to the introduction of secondary legislation; the positive route and the negative route.
The positive route is where the new statutory instrument is recognised as needing some parliamentary scrutiny. In this route there is usually a short debate on the proposed changes and a committee of lords and MPs will sit to examine the changes.
The negative route, usually reserved for technical and uncontroversial changes is the negative route. This route is where the draft statutory instrument is laid in the Commons and Lord’s libraries. Only if sufficient members oppose the new statutory instrument and ‘call it in’ is it tabled for debate.
Theresa May, through the EU withdrawal bill is proposing that the negative route is used for all legislative change and amendment. Government ministers will have wholesale powers to alter UK law, bypassing parliament and effectively dispensing with the UK’s constitutional democracy.
For example, a minister may decide that he does not like the two-year sunset clause on such powers in the EU withdrawal act. He might decide to use a statutory instrument to remove the sunset clause and make the Henry the Eighth power permanent.
It is interesting to note that many of the prominent Brexit-supporting politicians who are avid supporters of Henry the Eighth clauses in relation to EU exit were not so keen seventeen years ago.
In 1999, the Blair government proposed to abolish imperial units of measurement. This meant a minor change to the Weights and Measures act 1985. Blair used a statutory instrument to revoke that part of the schedule to the Weights and Measures Act which stated that imperial measures were for use in trade.
When the metric martyrs took their case to the Supreme court for the retention of imperial measures, their primary argument was that the Blair government’s use of such powers was unconstitutional and therefore unlawful. The martyrs lost that argument.
It is interesting to note that significant supporters of the Metric Martyr’s case were UKIP and many Eurosceptic MPs (odd since metrication was a wholly British policy and had nothing to do with the EU).
On Thursday, I sat and watched Sir Bill Cash in the second reading of the withdrawal Bill.
Sir Bill was a prominent supporter of the metric martyrs yet her he was supporting the government’s right to use Henry the Eighth clauses with gay abandon: precisely the opposite view he had in relation to metrication.
It has also emerged that Mrs May is trying to circumvent normal parliamentary conventions in relation to the committees that will sit in relation to Brexit. Normally, parliamentary committees represent the balance of the parties in the House of Commons. A majority government therefore will have a majority on these committees.
Theresa May, through the withdrawal bill is proposing that her government will retain a majority on scrutiny committees despite the fact that she no longer commands a majority government.
It is clear that Mrs May is attempting to use the clichéd view of project control, particularly in terms of limiting freedom and trying to coerce action. Perhaps she should consider the project management definition instead?