How Do You Keep Control of a Multi-billion Dollar Project?

Jamie Downing

Major construction projects always come with major scrutiny. There is even greater need to keep the project under control and to troubleshoot problems before potential knock on effects arise. This means project managers need easy access to critical project data, and they need to know precisely where that data has come from.

Whether you are overseeing an international effort to build a complex one-off facility or managing a programme of work as part of a major infrastructure project, you always need accurate and consistent reporting from your project managers so you can keep the programme under control.

Early on, the project managers and programme functions select the best tools for their specific requirements, and there’s plenty of choice; from tools such as MS Project, Primavera, Deltek Cobra or Active Risk Manager, and many others; and each of these tools generates reports in different ways.

These tools capture all the project data, however, they often come from different vendors and they store data in different ways. This makes it difficult for programme managers to get a consistent overview of all the information that their projects generate. It also means that project managers spend valuable time each month manually creating reports which can lead to errors, as well as inconsistencies in the reports from one project manager to another.

To solve these problems, the programme needs to have a system in place that defines standard report templates and fills these with the appropriate project data at the press of a button.

Integrating the project data

Tessella have worked with large projects, including the ITER project and a major infrastructure project in the Middle East, and we’ve provided a unified approach to reporting and project controls. This involved working with a variety of project management software products from different vendors, and extracting and integrating the data into a set of consistent reports.

To integrate reporting across the systems, we begin by agreeing on a common structure (such as the work breakdown structure) for the project, which can then be used as a map of where different types of information should be linked together. This can then be coded into each software tool so they can be integrated into a common data model. Depending on specific reporting requirements, other codes will need to be added to each software tool. This enables us to create additional links and meta-data in the common data model, for example linking activities to contracts or encoding KPI information of interest to senior management.

Once the initial coding structures have been defined, we define and build the data warehouse to store the project information, as defined in the common data model. We also create the process to extract the data from the different source systems, transform it into the common data model and load it into the data warehouse. The data warehouse then forms the basis of reporting, and can be configured to keep historic data allowing better trend analysis, and overview of the project through time.

Delivering tools for project oversight

The data is now consolidated in one place, but no-one can see it! We recommend three main tools that can be built on top of the data warehouse to expose the data to as wide an audience as possible.

Firstly, project staff need to be able to get an overview of the programme baseline. This will let them find key project information, such as schedule, cost, scope and risk, much more quickly. We call this bespoke tool the “Baseline Explorer”. This is an intranet site that allows users to browse the programme of work and for each subsection, view the main baseline information, drilling into details.

Secondly, project staff need to be able to produce accurate and consistent reports without having to follow a lengthy, manual process. We can select and deploy an off-the-shelf reporting tool on top of the data warehouse, and then, according to the projects requirements, we can author a set of report templates that will present the information from the data warehouse in an easily digestible fashion that allows project managers to quickly make informed decisions. By using a standard suite of report templates, all areas of the project will report in the same way eliminating any inconsistencies and arguments over who has the correct data. A transparent software platform, like this, can encourage project staff to be more open and honest about the status of their projects and results in less biased reporting.

Finally, many project staff will have specific questions that they need answered. For example, “how many procurement staff am I likely to need next year?” or “what is the payment forecast for all contracts placed with a particular supplier across all projects?” It is possible to let people query and explore the data. We can recommend various off the shelf products to enable this, and we can assist in deploying and configuring them to work with the common data model.

Of course, the process does not stop here. As project managers see more reports, they then think of new questions, and of other areas to report on. Useful ad-hoc reports can be converted into standardised reports. The process can be repeated to bring more tools into the system and report on more data types. We have often been able to develop additional tools not covered by the existing off-the-shelf software and integrate these with the system.


Major projects often begin with a number of project management tools that don’t talk to each other. They effectively store the project data, but expensive licences or lack of staff expertise means that the data remains isolated in different silos. This restricts program managers from analysing the data, and often means that project managers have to manually build their reports, and spend valuable time doing so. The final reports may then be unreliable, as different managers produced them in different ways.

By working with us, it is possible to obtain a system that delivers a uniform set of reliable reports that expose project management data to anyone who needs it. This allows your project managers to spend less time copying and pasting data from one system to another and more time managing their projects. It also provides your senior program managers with the timely information they need to in order to intervene on overrunning projects before they get out of hand. This timely information also gives you the ability to report accurately to your senior stakeholders to demonstrate they are getting value for money from their major investment.

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