This article is the third in a five part series around successfully delivering step changes in value through a comprehensive view of project / portfolio best practices and organizational change management. To access the other articles in this series, click here.
Technology is empowering. New discoveries are unlocking new possibilities in every industry and in every country on Earth. At ProjectAI, we believe passionately in the power of technology to connect people to projects in revolutionary ways. But if you take one message away from this article, it should be:
Technology alone will not solve the problem.
Without understanding your full business context, and without a commitment to change, simply throwing a technology solution at a business challenge will almost certainly fail.
Successful technology adoption requires more than a scan over what is available in the market, it requires a real contemplation across the other themes of People, Process, Governance and Culture. Only once those dimensions are deeply understood should the technology discussion start to accelerate.
Are your business processes well understood, and optimized for a digital context?
Are you engaging the right people, with the right capability to implement and operate the technology effectively?
In your approach to governance, are you putting the right controls in place to ensure everything works as intended?
Is your organization or project culture set up to fully embrace the technology, and rely on it as a source of truth?
Technology Selection for Volatile Portfolios
According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, more than 1,800 different applications are available to support projects, across a variety of functional specialties. While it’s great to have such a wide choice of applications, a few basic facts about projects continue to impede our ability to continuously improve.
Projects are temporary endeavors. A team comes together to solve a new challenge, they figure out a way to do it, create a lot of data in the process, finish the project, and then disband - taking all of the real knowledge with them to their next projects… where the cycle begins again.
Also, projects are unique. Even if you are building the same thing again and again, you may have different stakeholders, different conditions, different resources, etc.
On top of this, there are a few “integrated platform” products which combine multiple generic project functions into one product - or there are “best-of-breed” products which are really good at doing one thing only.
So… do you settle for basic capability with simplicity, or have outstanding capability with additional complexity? How do you make that decision? And even after, how can you make sure your investment will suit the next project that comes along? This is where some fresh perspective can help you understand what is out there, and how to select the right combination of tools for your portfolio context.
Technology is sexy, but the true power is in the DATA.
Applications alone are useful, but in the complex world of capital projects, it is essential to focus on the underlying data. Project scheduling applications like Microsoft Project and Oracle Primavera P6 are both good products, and well applied in different situations - but they fundamentally contain the same types of data (activities, resources, durations, logic, calendars, etc.).
Once you recognize and embrace this concept, you can unlock new ways of managing projects across any execution or contracting strategy, across any landscape of supporting contractors or owners, or suit the needs of any client that comes along. Move away from dependency on single applications, and rather embrace the power of repeatable and extensible data strategies.
This stuff can be complicated, but the team at ProjectAI can help demystify the possibilities, and unlock ways of increasing predictability and competitiveness in capital projects, and enabling huge wins in operational efficiency through the asset lifecycle.
Despite all of the applications and platforms now available, the most popular project management tool continues to be… (drum roll)… Microsoft Excel.
Spreadsheets can be useful tools, but it’s useful to think of them like a tray used in a cafeteria. You can put pretty much anything on them, up to a certain size. There aren’t really any rules about how you can use them. And once you’re done using it, it can be so easy to wipe clean, store it away, and forget about it.
What about the food that was on the tray? Isn’t that the important thing? Think of data like the food on the tray. If data is like food, consider a supermarket, a farm, a network of ways that food is grown, harvested, processed, distributed and used by people all around the world, the way it is essential to human flourishing. Considering this.. who cares about the tray?
To really take the next step, you need to start considering spreadsheets as the enemy in your journey, and data as the hero.
To manage this wide and growing array of project data, what are the right combination of applications to use? Many of these have been around for years, but their capability and targeted uses have improved over time.
We still need scheduling, cost management, risk management, document management, contract management, and information management tools (e.g. 3D BIM platforms, etc.). These can deliver enormous value in helping to deliver projects on-time and on-budget. Where this typically goes wrong is in the configuration of these products to work together seamlessly.
Why has this continued to be a challenge for project teams all around the world? I could sum it up in two words: scope management. Scope is the most fundamental concept in project management and control. Without a clear understanding of scope, we can’t ask other questions such as “when?”, “where?”, “who?”, “how?”, “why?” or “how much?”.
To succeed at this you must change your thinking about the role that breakdown structures (BS) and metadata play in this complex web of applications and data across project, portfolio, BIM, ERP and other interfacing systems. We need a new paradigm in BS…(yes, you can quote me on that :)… WBS, CBS, OBS, PBS, RBS, FBS, and so on. Even though we’re using many of the same tools, getting this right can really help to minimize the amount of time your team spends managing the data, and maximizes the time your team spends managing the project.
The next generation of technology solutions are getting a lot of attention in the industry today. There is naturally a lot of excitement, and a fair bit of skepticism, about what can be achieved. Terms like: “artificial intelligence”, “machine learning”, “computer vision”, “neural networks”, “drones”, “robotics”, “the internet of things”, and many others are now common parlance in practically every industry or economic journal in the world.
Many of these advanced technologies rely on massive amounts of data, so that machines can analyse, infer, learn and act on trends that humans couldn’t possibly identify. But when a project starts, we’re are often starting with a blank page, an empty field, something that doesn’t yet exist. So how can we possibly apply these technologies to an empty data set?
Remember that people remain our most important sensors, and even in early phases, the information that people generate can add enormous value ensuring the right projects are being selected, and that the desired outcomes can be delivered on-time and on-budget. We see enormous potential in certain technologies to forever change the way projects are executed.
So how about we start with the people (teams and stakeholders), start understanding more about how they feel (both perception and reality), explore the concepts they are discussing… and from there, begin to interconnect more traditional project data sets as they are developed over time. Then we can use other methods to identify “peripheral” data (weather, stock, news, social media, etc.) to identify potential early warnings. Using a new approach to data modelling, we can more easily understand which concepts are the most important to project success, and their status in qualitative and quantitative terms.
Having this map of project knowledge can help in two major ways:
Intelligent Projects deliver Intelligent Assets - modeling the data in this way allows for many of the same capabilities to be carried forward into the operation of the asset, unlocking more predictive analysis capability to improve operating efficiency and engagement with the asset value chain.
Intelligent Projects improve Future Projects - by modelling the data in this way, we can more easily normalize project outturns to make future projects more competitive and predictable by creating and applying valid benchmarks in cost, schedule, risk and technical dimensions.
This is the reason ProjectAI exists. We exist to connect people to projects in revolutionary ways. We meet you where you are, understand your needs and propel you forward.
We are working to accelerate the benefits of tomorrow’s technologies to today’s projects, and can help you to demystify many of these complex topics, and find the real ways to optimize value across your portfolio.
Technology is certainly a game-changer, and can help to deliver a step-change in how projects create value for your organization. We are committed to helping our customers explore, accelerate and embrace the power that technology can offer, but we will never neglect the other critical dimensions which make any technology implementation successful.
We would welcome the opportunity to work with you to develop and implement an exciting technology strategy for your project or portfolio, and tell you more about how certain technologies can unlock a whole new dimension for your organization. Contact us to find out more!
We’d love to hear from you! How has technology changed your approach to projects? Which emerging technologies do you see having the most potential? Which technologies continue to fail? Where do you think the industry should focus? Please feel free to leave your comments below.