Project control is simply another way of saying project monitoring. This phase often overlaps with the Project Execution phase. During the Project Planning phase, you designed a protocol for assuring the quality of data collection and management, now it is time to turn that plan into action.
In addition to backing up data, checking data for errors and ensuring a proper upload of data to any relevant databases, you should focus your attention on several other aspects of quality management:
1) Scope is managed
– Ensure that your project doesn’t expand to an uncontrollable level once you are in the field collecting data. Sometimes, there is an inclination to alter or expand the sample size or field sites based on some early experience in the field. A limited amount of change and flexibility is required, but if you find yourself in a position that requires large changes in research protocol, consult your thesis supervisor immediately.
2) Work is on-time and within budget
– Time management is often the enemy of good researchers. Be sure that you have a detailed data collection plan and that you stick to it as much as possible. A good plan identifies the number and location of participants needed each day or week in order to meet the requirements of your research design. This type of plan is often easier to define with quantitative studies in which the precise number of participants is known before data collection commences. It is harder to plan precisely when conducting qualitative research; however, it is advised to have some project timeline for your qualitative data collection. A failure to manage your data collection schedule can often result in cost overruns. Be sure to keep a running list of the expenses incurred each day and compare them to your project budget regularly to ensure that you don’t run out of research funds before the end of your data collection and analysis period is complete.
3) Stakeholders are satisfied
– Stakeholders can range from supervisors, local partners, local chiefs and assemblymen, contracted staff and research participants. It is important to manage stakeholders carefully. One way to do this is to consult your local partners on local customs, expectations, dress codes, greetings, etc. Regular meetings with important stakeholders are also important for ensuring good communication and clarifying any confusion. Once you have begun data collection, make a list of all the project stakeholders and define a way to communicate with them regularly.
4) Team is high performing
– This generally refers to the contracted staff hired to assist you with data collection and analysis. Be sure to monitor performance per the agreed upon quality assurance plan and provide kind, helpful and constructive feedback. If a contracted field assistant is continually underperforming, consider replacing him or her. Consult your supervisor and local partners for advice.
5) Risks are mitigated
– It isn’t possible to anticipate all risks to your research project before launch, however, it is recommended to brainstorm potential risks and define risk mitigation strategies. The most common risks focus on human resources, research materials, inability to recruit sufficient participants, data management, and technology. For example, if your budget allows, you may consider recruiting and training two part-time filed assistants instead of one full-time assistant. In the event that one leaves the project, then you have a trained back-up in place. If you are using technology like a PDA to collect data, have a second one programmed in case the first crashes. If the budget won’t allow for two PDAs then be sure to have a defined paper based data collection strategy and materials ready in case of a technical failure.