Imagine a world where the power of advanced data analytics transforms project delivery. The possibilities are endless, and we all know it. But here's the catch: the real benefits of this game-changing technology will only be fully realised for another decade or more if we start shifting the way we think about it. Are you ready to be a part of the solution and unlock the enormous potential of advanced data analytics?
Point solutions will undoubtedly help. Start-ups will emerge with bold and original ideas as they begin the journey in their industries. But the real prize comes after we integrate project delivery data at scale. This will include something other than the data we have today.
As a generalisation, it's just not cutting it. The volumes aren't there, and it needs to be aligned with the problems we want to tackle. We must up our game and aim higher to make a meaningful impact. Many organisations don’t even have a strategy for collecting, curating and extracting value from project delivery data. If they do, it tends to be reflective rather than viewing project delivery data as an end-to-end process – which requires a collaborative approach.
If we want to up our game, too, we need to encourage more people to swallow the red pill (see my earlier blog) and get ready and accept a different way of thinking. These people must exist at every level of the organisation, from C-suite/Project Function/CDO to data scientists and project data analysts.
The C-suite sets the vision, the roadmap and the pace. But it's up to the project function and the Chief Data Officer (CDO) to turn that vision into a solid project data strategy while considering the impact on project delivery and supply chain strategies. However, this will only matter if we have the power to bring it all to life.
This needs to be a combination of the following:
1. Senior leaders
Senior leaders help shape the priorities and make the roadmap happen. They are also translators who deeply understand the application of advanced data analytics within the project delivery domain. James Garner, from Gleeds, is one stand-out example. He is helping to transform their approach from cost management to project controls and challenging established thinking at every level. He has the board-level commitment and is accelerating. It is helping to transform their business fundamentally. We’ve had the honour of working with them at the hacks, providing leadership training and working closely with them on the apprenticeship. They are truly leading the way.
These are people who deploy advanced data analytics within their roles. Firstly, they automate and remove the burden of mundane tasks. This allows them to focus on more critical tasks at hand. It will also release bandwidth to explore the clever stuff. Some people stay as generalists, understanding the broad range of capabilities and how they can be deployed. Some specialise and focus on one area. It will all be up to you and how you like to work.
Learning to use PowerBI or any other software won't magically solve our problems. Although it is a step in the right direction, becoming a ‘tool jockey’ won’t move the dial. To truly make a difference, we need to dive deep and understand the problems we're trying to solve, figure out the data we need to solve, build the necessary data pipelines, and completely revolutionise how we work. This isn’t a tweak, it requires a revolution.
One example is Jonathan Williams at the Environment Agency. He is a member of the Project Data Academy, funded 100% by the apprenticeship levy. He is working closely with Jo Jolly to reimagine how the organisation, and its delivery partners, can deliver projects.
He has swallowed the red pill and understands the scale of the opportunity. Their vision isn’t to bolt on a few but to reimagine how their work. They are pathfinders within government working with courage and conviction. Their leadership is also helping to inspire their supply chain. Jo co-chairs the cross-government project data working group, which will help to spread the message across other departments. They are creating a Mexican wave with implications far beyond what we can imagine.
It only takes a few visionary people to initiate a chain reaction. But it also requires a critical mass of people to make the vision a reality; otherwise, the Mexican wave will soon fizzle out. When I speak to project professionals, there is often a perception that ‘we don’t do data’ because it is the job of the data team. But that is simply not the same. We all need to, no matter our job title. Our schedules, cost plans, benefits maps, and risk registers are all underpinned by data; it is our bread and butter. So why do we see data as someone else’s job? It isn’t. It is a core part of all project delivery roles.
When we founded the project data analytics community in 2017, we saw a need to help seed the critical mass and its building blocks. We wanted to share stories, good practices and inspire people. That small community back then has now grown to ~9,000 people. But that wasn’t enough because we wanted more.
In 2018 we worked with Sir Robert McAlpine to mobilise Project: Hack to help people to gain practical experience in deploying advanced data analytics. To remove the fear to inspire and help people build up their CV. Many have gone on to bigger and better things as a consequence.
But we saw that we would only achieve what we intended to once we could transition from data-driven project delivery being a side hustle init becoming mainstream.
In 2020 we launched the Project Data Analytics Academy, fully funded by the apprenticeship levy (i.e. for most people, free). This has sparked a movement, bringing together hundreds of people who not only "get it" but can also put it into action and drive transformative change within their organisations. We’ve also run boot camps for organisations such as ECITB and leadership training to help seniors to challenge their thinking on the future of project delivery.
Back in September 2020, we joined forces with a group of senior people to create the Project Data Analytics Task Force. Together, we helped to tackle some of the core enablers and provided a vehicle to facilitate change. To this day, our efforts are only gaining momentum!
Although we are approaching critical mass, we still need thousands of people to join us on the journey to ensure we embed a data culture at every level of project delivery. Even though we've already accomplished a lot, we're not stopping anytime soon. There's so much more for us to do!
If you are a project professional, please get involved. Attend one of the community events, a hack, get involved with the Task Force or sign up to the Project Data Academy and develop your data-driven superpowers.
A new, bold and exciting future awaits us. Get involved, get ready and make a difference in your life and the future of data. Be part of something extraordinary. Together, we can change project delivery performance more in the next five years than in the last 50 combined.
Project-based organisations are transitioning toward data-driven project delivery at different rates. This creates division, producing unnecessary divisions that can lead to duplicated solutions, even for common problems. We slow the journey rather than trying to tackle the challenge independently. Instead of tackling challenges alone, let's join forces and collaborate.
The Project Data Analytics Task Force leads a campaign to tackle this head-on by developing a series of theme-based visions for 2025. The provisional themes highlight key areas of focus where we can start to align our activity. If we can reimagine how we perform risk management, benefits management and a range of other project delivery capabilities, we can break them down into a series of modules!
We can then lay out a collaborative roadmap to tackle each module while focusing on overall integration. So what does this mean? When we conquer each module, we'll connect our problem statements and user stories with the relevant data and share our learnings with others in the industry. This will drive innovation and pave the way for new discoveries and breakthroughs.
Hundreds of people are being trained on the application of data analytics within the project domain, all needing to create a portfolio of solutions to demonstrate the application of their newfound skills. If we can align these projects to the roadmap, we will create an engine for change. Imagine if we could amplify our efforts even further by harnessing the collective power of the community through hackathons. We could achieve extraordinary things by working together towards a common objective.
But why stop there? We can pool our resources and build on our progress by aligning project-level funding with our collaborative roadmap. Together, we can achieve our goals a hundred times faster than we would on our own!
The attached set of slides summarises this strategy, outlining our approach. We are targeting this May at our community Hackathon to get things rolling.
We are entering a new era. Don't hesitate to get in touch with one of us on The Task Force if you’d like to be involved!
We work with over 60 organisations and have a profound grasp of where they struggle and where others outperform them. A question that we commonly ask ourselves is, 'what makes a winning organisation?' We've boiled it down to the following key factors:
- Vision, strategy and ambition. - In most cases, the most successful organisations have a clear vision, strategy and ambition. They clearly understand where they are currently, where they want to be and how quickly they want to get there.
- Senior commitment. - They also have board-level support who are interested in driving through change. Having full support from the board can make a big difference in an organisation's success.
- Governance. -We also realised that senior members of the organisation are often involved with driving progress, unblocking obstacles and holding people to account. They tackle the cross-organisational issues that often drag transformational projects down.
- Understanding of constraints. - They have a good understanding of their constraints. But they don't get suffocated by them. They work around them, use the evidence of impact to influence others and build momentum.
- Transformation. - They understand this isn't the job of 'someone in the data team'. It requires a data culture that runs deep into the heart of the project delivery organisation. As such, the organisation treats it as a transformation project rather than a bolt-on. The organisation understands the various strands of activity that need to be developed in parallel.
- Iterative approach. - We've seen some organisations trying to tackle the challenge of data in a massive change programme. However, they often get bogged down in organisational design, consultation and much more. Those organisations pulling away are running pilots and driving change in rapid spirals rather than a big bang.
- Developing talent. - They recognise that some members of their project teams will become increasingly obsolete as new methods gain traction. Rather than trying to find data talent within an overheated market, they invest in developing their people. Step 1 highlights the need for change and the opportunities it presents. Step 2 is to inspire them, create a fear of missing out, and show them a path. Then sign them up for the Project Data Academy.
- Open-source. - The organisations making rapid progress tend to be those working on open-source solutions. Clients are beginning to understand the opportunities that this provides, leaving them with solutions that they can iterate and build on for collective benefit.
- Data. - The more advanced organisations are also beginning to understand that the data they collect and the problems they aspire to solve are only sometimes aligned. They are beginning to get to grips with how they close these gaps.
Most interesting, there are organisations out there that are working within a walled garden, developing products and services to sell or differentiate themselves from others. But we sense that those who work collaboratively will outperform their peers. Particularly those who are agile and responsive. They'll move more quickly together than alone.
Get in touch today for more information about our services or how we can help your organisation work towards the winning formula!
We always love to catch up with our apprentices after completing one of our courses. After completing this higher apprenticeship, Nick has gone on to become co-founder and CEO of his own Software Development and Consulting firm with the mission to become a trusted partner in digital transformation for project organisations to enable AI-driven learning from experience and automation of deliverables through our platform. Read Nick's story below.
Q. A lot has changed for you since starting the apprenticeship. You got promoted at your current employer to a Project Manager, then joined a new one as a Digital Improvement Lead, and now you are also a co-founder at Inforecast.
Tell us a bit more about what inspired this progression.
A. The apprenticeship helped me transition quicker and more formally from construction project management to data & digital thanks to the behaviours, knowledge and skills enhanced during the programme. This enabled me to better and faster understand the underlying principles of data analytics and their application to projects as well as to better communicate with technical teams. As a result, I was able to faster grow into a leadership role at Mott MacDonald. For example, I led the digital team on HS2 Phase 2B to deliver bespoke automation and data analytics solutions to drive productivity and insights.
The apprenticeship also gave me greater exposure to the industry and the challenges that it experiences. This inspired me to help the whole industry by teaming up with experts in AI and Software Engineering across other industries to create InForecast. As a result, I can more effectively collaborate with the team at InForecast to create more impactful and useful solutions.
Q. From this apprenticeship, what was your long-term goal?
A. My long-term goal is to continue engaging with the wider industry, including the Project Data Analytics Task Force to help solve some of the most pressing issues that we are facing in construction today. My vision is to empower project teams to take advantage of the most advanced technology and foster a sustainable transformation to solve these challenges. I see InForecast as playing a core role in helping our industry thrive in the near future.
Q. How has the apprenticeship impacted your existing skills?
A. The apprenticeship enabled me to communicate more effectively with technical teams and even solve some of the challenges myself. In terms of technical skills, I feel that it impacted my python and power platform skills the most. I also acquired useful knowledge about other technology available such as Azure artificial intelligence and graph databases.
Q. What sort of daily tasks have you managed to automate off the back of this apprenticeship?
A. There are a few great ones. For example, I created and led the deployment of a solution architecture to fully automate emails containing the timesheet booking reminders. I also created a Machine Learning algorithm to classify the skillset based on the staff CVs.
Q.What tools would you say you'll now use most?
A. The greatest asset for me is my business analyst skills to capture the project team's requirements and communicate those effectively to technical teams. The apprenticeship can drastically support the industry and create more synergy between project and technical IT teams.
Q. To what extent has the client's approach helped to influence your approach to PDA?
A. I feel that this depends a lot on the type of clients and their maturity to start implementing data analytics and automation. For example, HS2 are quite forward-thinking and keen to innovate and transform the ways of working. At the same time, some clients may be more reluctant to change. Working with clients to assess and communicate a clear value-add of the proposed solutions does help quite effectively at times.
We always love to hear the success stories from our apprentices and how the course has helped them develop the skills to succeed! For more information about our courses, please click here.
About the author:
CEO and Co-Founder at InForecast
With Project:Hack17 just around the corner, we've looked at some of the common misconceptions and questions about the Hackathon. This post covers the following subjects, busting any misconceptions there may be about taking part in our Hackathon and sharing our tips for making the most of the event.
- Why you don't have to be a data expert to excel at the event
- Why it's a great place to network with like-minded people
- How you will fit into a team competing for a £5k prize fund
- Why this event is for both professionals and students
- How you can benefit even if you don't want to compete
Misconception #1 - You have to be a data expert
In recent years, "data" has become something of a buzzword in the tech industry. And while it's true that data-driven innovation is everywhere, you don’t have to be a data expert to get involved.
Hackathons are one way that people with all levels of data expertise can get involved in creating new products and developing their hard and soft skills. At a Hackathon, you can work with others to develop an idea, prototype it, and present it to a panel of judges. You don't need to have any coding skills or experience working with data to participate in a Hackathon – all you need is an idea and the willingness to learn.
Misconception #2 - It will be hard to network
There's a perception that people are zoned in at Hackathons and don't want to be disturbed. For that reason, networking may seem daunting. We have built Project:Hack, to encourage a balance of developing and networking. From providing food and refreshments in a vast space to supporting water cooler conversations. All aimed at attracting a balance of diverse people to participate, observe and start discussions. Networking at a hackathon doesn't need to be daunting. Here are our tips :
- Talk to as many people as possible. The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to find someone with similar interests.
- Don't be afraid to approach people you don't know. Hackathons are all about meeting new people and making connections.
- Be prepared to talk about your project. People will be interested in what you're working on, so be ready to explain it briefly.
Now for some FAQs and common concerns from our community…
What if I don't know anyone in my team?
When it comes to Hackathons, one of the best things you can do is work with people you don't know. This is because it allows you to learn new skills and to meet new people who can help you in your career. Here are a few tips on making the most out of working with people you don't know at a Hackathon.
- Don't be afraid to introduce yourself and ask questions. Hackathons are all about collaboration, so it's important that you take the time to get to know the people you're working with.
- Be open-minded and willing to try new things. One of the great things about working with people you don't know is that they may have different skill sets than you.
I'm a student, is this event just for professionals?
Each year we see plenty of students participate and excel at the Hackathon! It's an industry-focused event whether you are a seasoned professional or you are just starting your career.
The value of having both students and professionals at the event is that it allows you to meet key decision-makers within the industry, and in turn, it allows them to meet new talent. The event offers students the chance to impress clients across the industry and maybe even meet their future employers!
I'm not very competitive.
For those that are nervous about competing, the Hackathons are all about learning. It familiarises you with how people work in this space, the tools they use, the skillsets at play and more. We have also catered to those who just want to observe and network. Check out our observer tickets.
We hope this has helped clear up some common misconceptions and questions about the Hackathon. It really is an event for anyone interested in project data, and we look forward to seeing you all there on the 28th and 29th of November!
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