I currently see project delivery professionals working at two ends of the project delivery spectrum. One end is where traditional project professionals sit. At the other end is a new breed of project professionals who are proficient in the world of data.
Organisations such as National Highways have declared an intent to transition towards data driven project delivery. Their projects create a wealth of data, that until recently, has remained largely untapped. Their Digital by Default programme is helping to tackle this by creating the infrastructure to address the challenge. Jacobs has published its strategy, with data and culture at its heart. Others are on the journey.
The challenge for all of us, as project professionals, is how do we respond?
I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who believed that an approach centred around data would ruin a more relationship driven approach that they had spent years nurturing. I’ve also had discussions with project controllers who have a firm belief that by staying plugged into the construction workforce and having conversations, they really understand what is going on. There is a perception that a data centric approach would ruin this. But will it?
I’ll never advocate that we should all sit in our offices, waiting for the next pearl of wisdom from the latest AI algorithm to arrive in our inbox. But I do believe that data has a huge role to play in lifting some of the fog of project delivery.
I used to be project lead for a $1Bn project. I had a large project controls team and for me, they were there for compliance reasons, to keep the seniors happy. They spent a lot of time reporting what had happened and very little time anticipating what would happen. I often imagine how different my role would have been if I had a stream of data and insights that enabled me to make real time decisions. I could have had the evidence to challenge some of the fundamentals. But it was always a battle of opinions, with the most senior person’s opinion winning the day. If I had access to the data from all projects in the portfolio, I could have evidenced the assertions that I strongly believed in. But there was a gung-ho culture that irrespective of past performance, next week will be different. It wasn’t.
We are at a major crossroads for our profession. Those people who continue with a traditional approach, maybe supplemented by dashboards or those who become data enabled. They use data and apps to secure insights that would otherwise have been unimaginable. Data that helps to facilitate and shape conversations. People who extract themselves from the burdens of repetitive work and leverage advanced data analytics to reinvent how they work, pushing themselves up the value chain. Providing the bandwidth to perform the analytics that enable us to pre-empt the fires and put most of them out before they start.
Take risk managers as an example. Do we need more people who can help us to manage the process or do we need people who use data from past projects to inform us what is likely to go wrong, why and how bad it could be if we ignore it. Evidence based. Hundreds of papers have been written on how human bias can make us blind to many of these risks, many of them are entirely foreseeable. But we need the evidence to challenge these biases.
To me, it looks and feels like we are creating a very different role. A project delivery domain expert, with data enabled superpowers. As data volumes build, I anticipate that these people will significantly outperform their peers. If I went back to the world of leading megaprojects, this would be one of my first hires.
If they can evidence the value that they have added through data, they also have the ability to negotiate their worth to the organisation.
We are entering a new era. How will you get ready for it?
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