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.