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Project Management vs Project Controls: What's the Difference?


This is a common question in the construction industry

This is a common question in the construction industry. Do you think Project Controls is the same as Project Management? Do you think Project Controls is about controlling the quality of a project? Do you think Project Controls manage and control team members? Well, the answer is No. This may leave you wondering then, how do Project Controls ‘control’ a project? It all comes down to those two words ‘cost’ and ‘schedule’.  Project Controls live and breathe the cost and schedule of any specific project.  

Project Controls is all about answering questions like: 

  • How much the project is going to cost and whether we are going to finish on budget? 

  • How long the project is going to take? 

  • Where does the project stand currently? 

  • Is the project on schedule to finish on time or not? 

  • If not, what can we do about it? 

Project Management, on the other hand, includes much more than just cost and schedule. It includes integration, scope, and time. Project Management is split into five key areas: Initiating Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing & Completing. Project Management is imperative to monitor the cost, quality, procurement, human resources, communications, risk management, and stakeholder management.   

It is easy to get confused and think that Project Controls falls into the Monitoring and Controlling part of project management, because of that word control. However, that is not the case, it is critical that project control measures are put in place from the beginning when schedules are being planned and the amounts are being determined, because who is in control of the cost and schedule of the project? Yes, the Project Controls Manager. 


They differ primarily in terms of what they are responsible for, as we mentioned earlier. The Project Controls Manager is responsible for the cost and schedule whereas the Project Manager has more of a holistic approach, they are responsible for scope and quality in addition to cost and schedule. The main challenge a project manager has is to find a balance between these constraints. 

In simple words, project managers are above the Project Controls Manager in a hierarchical system. The Project Controls Manager is there to support the Project Manager regarding the cost and time elements of the project. Sometimes we see Project Controls have their own team this may consist of cost estimators, cost controllers, planner/schedulers, and document controllers: this all depends on the size of the project. However, regardless of the size, the Project Control Manager would directly report to the Project Manager and work closely together to make critical decisions throughout each phase. 


Project Managers rely on project controls to plan, monitor, and control projects for anything that pertains to cost or schedule. Their role is important throughout each of the following; 

  • Planning and Scheduling– The project controls are needed to help assist in establishing the budgets and timelines of the project. 
  • Risk Management – throughout the project controls analyzing the project to ensure that cost and schedule are not at risk. 

  • Cost Estimating and Management– because it uses the word ‘cost’, project controls is definitely heavily involved in this part, this is managing the budget and ensuring everything stays on track. 

  • Scope and Change Management – scope creep is a major indicator that there may have been increased project costs or an extension to the project scheduled deadline. It is critical to keep track of this to minimize scope creep. 

  • Earned Value Management – integrating cost, schedule, and scope to measure project performance and performance. 

  • Supplier Performance – suppliers need continual managing; it is crucial for the managers to watch and ensure the suppliers are keeping to the dates they committed to, to keep the project on schedule. It is also important to monitor the supplier’s change orders to ensure these are also kept in control. 

  • Reporting – although this will be evaluated by the entire project team, project controls are responsible for developing reports and providing data about the project’s status from a schedule and cost perspective. 



In Summary, Project Controls is a subset of Project Management. They are responsible for the cost and schedule of the project – primarily advising the project manager of the potential risks that the project may be in danger of how to get the project back on track. 

Read our Article on Project Controls in Construction, for further insights into the Project Controls role. 

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