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Project data analytics: are you ready for disruption?

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The world is going to look very different in the near future. How do you respond? That question, posed by keynote speaker Martin Paver, set the tone for the APM Planning, Monitoring and Control (PMC) SIG Conference 2021, which focused on how best to use technology.

The future is in your hands, said Paver, CEO and founder of Projecting Success. You need to work out what you need to do personally and within your organisation to adapt to a data and analytics-driven world. “It’s a case of respond or be disrupted. That’s where the market is going.”

A mismatch in perception

He cited the Crossrail project as an example of where PMC can disconnect from reality. In 2018, the team presented what seemed like a very impressive plan, backed up with data. Flash forward to today, and a recent report from the new project team via the National Audit Office revealed that there was no plan for completion – a new plan was needed.

“There was a mismatch between the perception of the planning at the time and the next management team, who thought ‘We need to completely replan’. Through a project control lens, it’s very clear that there’s something we need to do to rectify the situation.”

Paver supplemented that with a personal example from one of his early project management roles, working on an engine and gun upgrade for CVR(T) military vehicles. “Now, 30 years from that programme kicking off, we’re in a situation where there’s a massive overspend and the project is not performing. So this is not a one off.”

This isn’t occurring because project professionals don’t know what they’re doing – there are extremely competent people on these programmes. It’s happening due to systematic issues, and we need good project data analytics in order to tackle them, said Paver.

We need to be bolder

Research by Saïd Business School academics Alex Budzier and Bent Flyvbjerg found that just one in 200 projects delivered on time and on budget. “We need to be bolder. We need to think really, really differently.”

Paver was part of a group of project professionals who spoke to the Public Accounts Committee about the importance of project data. He says that the government is now taking note that project data needs to be better utilised on large projects.

He challenged the notion of project control as it stands, adding that it isn’t fit for purpose and doesn’t address the complexities that will occur on almost every project.

We need to understand the art of the possible when it comes to project data, said Paver. He is working on a 100-strong taskforce in collaboration with APM, which is issuing a guide on how to get started with project data.

The market is getting ready

Organisations such as Highways England have embraced a data-first approach to project management. Analytics platforms such as Forecast and nPlan have received significant investment in recent months. All of this points to a shift towards data-led project and programme management. “The market is now getting ready for the next generation of project controls and project delivery.”

What does this mean for the wider project profession? Paver uses the example of how analytics could be used in healthcare. “Imagine that we can pull the data on 40 hospitals. Each of those hospitals can build on the shoulders of those which have gone before, instead of selecting a different supplier per hospital. We know what is predisposed to variance. We know what the technical challenges have been.

“Collaboration becomes key and data-driven project delivery is front and centre. It’s a fundamental premise: by building on those projects that have come before, we drive up productivity and, most importantly, we can drive up delivery confidence.”

This will change the rules of the market. The organisations that can glean insights from past project delivery data will be the ones to win the work. So how can project professionals embrace this to ensure that they remain competitive? Some of it is very simple and could be introduced quickly, but it needs a vision and a strategy in order to implement it properly, Paver said. Digital and data skills will be needed, as will collaboration.

Above all, it’s about ensuring that project professionals can reach their full potential. Get data analytics right and you will be able to predict the future, said Paver. “The world’s changing, project delivery is changing and this is a massively exciting future.”

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