By Henrique Moura, PMP, RMP, ACP, EVP, ITIL

Professor of the Project Procurement Management course in the Master in Project Management Program at the University for International Cooperation.

August, 2015


An overview

Work authorization systems are become increasingly common. Their popularity is no doubt a result of the complexity and uncertainty of modern world as well as the pressure to meet aggressive schedules and budgets. The standardization of Earned Value Management Systems through the Cost/Schedule Control Systems Criteria (C/SCSC) and later through the ANSI EIA 748-A standard, and its mandatory implementation in large programs in several countries, created the need for a sound work authorization system.

A work authorization system authorizes, formally and in writing, the start of work packages or activities. Similarly to traffic lights, a work authorization system ensures that work flows at the right time, performed by the right people and at the right sequence. By issuing work authorizations, project managers will gain increased control over execution.

In large projects, a work authorization system can help to coordinate a large number of contractors. In some smaller projects, the bureaucracy introduced by the system can be compensated by the additional control over the complexity and dynamism of the work dependencies.

Work authorization as a controlling tool

A work authorization system helps to exercise control over the budget, ensuring that expenses will only be charged to a work package once it has been properly funded and authorized, and limiting the amount of resources that can be expended.

In larger projects or programs, the control account is the focal point for work authorization, often adopting earned value management systems. A control account is where performance is measured and reported, i.e., where planned value, earned value and actual costs are determined. Each control account is assigned to a Control Account Manager (CAM) that must ensure that all work is completed according to the project management plan, often decomposed into validated control account plans (CAP). The Control Account Managers must also ensure that project cost and schedule variances remain within acceptable thresholds. When necessary, Control Account Managers must also identify potential corrective and preventive actions.

Understanding the process

In a typical work authorization system, the Control Account Manager receives a Work Authorization Document (WAD) from the project manager, authorizing the use of organization resources. In addition to providing the authority, the WAD should list and detail the applicable work packages, document start and finish dates, identify relevant contracted milestones and establish the applicable budget. The WAD is therefore a contract between the project manager and the Control Account Manager that builds the foundation for overall solid scope, schedule and cost objectives, through more detailed performance parameters.

Once the WAD has been approved by all relevant stakeholders, funding has been provided. The Control Account Manager can initiate execution and costs can be incurred in the applicable work packages. Funding can also be authorized incrementally according to the project performance or existing funding constraints.

The control account is a fundamental block of the performance measurement baseline. Therefore, the WAD, and its associated control account, can only be changed through a formal change control process.

Establishing the system

Work authorization systems are typically established through well formal written procedures. These procedures should detail who should authorize work, the methodology and templates, as well as any applicable prerequisites before authorizing work.

A comprehensive system will distinguish internal from external authorizations. Internal authorizations procedures should describe how authorization levels flow down from senior management to the Control Account Managers. Under certain circumstances, procedures can also enable the CAM’s to delegate authority to subordinate mangers. External authorizations procedures describe how work should be authorized when it has some degree of impact on contracts or other formal agreements. There is therefore integration between the work authorization system and the change management system.

More sophisticated work authorization systems can partially or fully automate authorizations as well as integrate the work authorization with the project schedule and cost control system.