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Project management without data and understanding data, is just winging it

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We all know about the statistics around successful project delivery – research by Oxford Said Business school illustrated that  one in 200 major projects delivers within the sanctioned cost, time and benefits envelope. In 1995 Martin Cobb, Treasury Board of Canada, made a statement that became known as Cobb’s paradox: “We know why projects fail, we know how to prevent their failure – so why do they still fail?". Back in 2012, as a profession, we united around APM’s vision for 2020 where this failure is no longer acceptable. We know why projects fail, and yet they continue to do so. The rate of project improvement is not fast enough and governments, enterprises and the public are demanding a step-change”. Over the last 30 years we have struggled to move the dial and will continue to do so unless we think differently.

Although incremental change may deliver some improvement, there is a pressing need for transformational change.

Collectively we have amassed a vast amount of hard-won project delivery experience. The majority of this resides in silos, codified in reports and tacit knowledge. We now have the opportunity to deploy advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence to leverage the rich seam of data (that is otherwise typically created during the life of a project and then discarded at the end) to automate and derive predictive insights that would otherwise have been unimaginable.

There is an opportunity for us to collaborate in our collective interest, moving quicker and further together than alone. Having the confidence to securely pool and share access to information has the potential to develop the volumes, quality and richness of data necessary to drive this change. Underpinned with the appropriate data infrastructure the community can develop and democratise solutions, and create the space for new high end data driven commercial solutions. The Construction Data Trust is one such example where industry is coming together to securely pool data and collaborate to drive up delivery productivity. Government is also beginning to lean into the principles around data trusts which are now a key part of the UK’s National Data Strategy and the collection of project data is now part the Information Management Mandate (formerly the BIM mandate).

There are many more organisations that are moving towards more data driven ways of working:

  • National Highways have a strategy to transition towards data driven project delivery.
  • The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have a strategy in place to transition towards a next generation, data driven PMO.
  • The Environment Agency is embarking on a journey to rethink how it works, centred around data driven project delivery.
  • Network Rail already has a suite of portfolio level dashboards, generating a wide range of insights on performance.

Progress is beginning to accelerate and extending beyond dashboards into end-to-end data pipelines and predictive analytics. It will become more mainstream in 2022 and we envisage that we’ll see examples of transformational change to project delivery begin to emerge in early 2023. Some organisations will accrue an unassailable lead.

In September 2020 we launched the Project Data Analytics Task Force, where a team of approximately 15 senior project professionals united together with a vision to deliver a 10x improvement in delivery performance through project data. It is a community driven initiative to help to move the dial. We recognised that the transition to becoming isn’t always an easy journey to embark on; it can be difficult to know where to start and what good looks like. We have collaborated with APM to develop a Getting Started in Project Data guide to help organisations along this journey. We hope that you find it useful.   

The guide covers the following:

  1. An introduction to project data analytics, including some of the terminology.
  2. An overview of the opportunities available to us. Some will perceive it as a threat, but we prefer to embrace the inevitability of such as a change and use it to spark a transformation in project delivery performance.
  3. Some of the tactical things that you can do to get started.
  4. How to step back and take a strategic approach.
  5. An overview of some of the technology and tools available to us.

We would encourage you to be inquisitive; have an enquiring mind. Consider how project data analytics could impact your organisation, how it affects and what does it mean for you and your team. Embrace the change and prepare for a future that relieves us of the mundane parts of our jobs, whilst opening up a vast array of opportunities. Project data analytics will unlock the potential to transform how we work, how we pre-empt delays and cost overruns, gain a deeper understanding of team and supply chain performance, develop new superpowers to see into the future and so much more.

We are at the start of a revolution in how projects are delivered, more so than we have seen in the last 30 years combined. Hugely exciting times for all of us.

How are you going to get started? Getting Started in Project Data

This blog was co-written by Andy Murray and Martin Paver 

Andy Murray is the Executive Director of the Major Projects Association, prior to which he spent 30 years as a practitioner, consultant and assurer of complex projects and programmes for public, private and third sector organisations both domestically and internationally. He has a focus on project governance, the treatment of inherent project complexity and organisational development of project capability.


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