As the value of project management is increasingly recognised in both the private and public sectors, what are the emerging global trends crucial to project delivery?
1. DEDICATED PROJECT MANAGEMENT OFFICE
The days of the amateur are over. This is the era of the specialist project manager. Dan Young, director at P2 Consulting, is a keen student of this transformation. “This summer, London had its first ever project management office (PMO) summit. That’s somewhat of a watershed moment in the rise of the PMO. Roll back a decade and audit reports would mention lack of risk management, control, methods and structures, but no mention of PMO,” he says.
“Nowadays, an audit, assessing a business or trying to ascertain the likely success of a major transformation, will regularly poke and prod the PMO capability. The first question being, do you have one? The second, how well is it functioning?” It’s a big change.
Richard Goold, partner at business transformation consultancy Moorhouse, says the rise of the PMO is because the job is so tough. “Experience really characterises the very best project managers as it is their experience that brings with it the many reference points which can ensure their success and ultimately the success of the projects or programmes they lead,” he says. “More and more organisations have developed a level of in-house project portfolio management capability in recognition that the need for these skills is unlikely to go away.”
2. CROWDSOURCING IDEAS
Project managers are masters of co-ordinating contributions from various sources. The most extreme version of mass-participation is crowdsourcing, which is becoming more popular due to new software tools. For example, Wazoku Idea Spotlight is as software-as-a-service which allows organisations to create a central hub for ideas, innovation and feedback. Users include Aviva, Oxford University and Anglian Water. Waitrose uses Wazoku to capture ideas from its 60,000 employees.
Stuart Eames, operational improvement manager at Waitrose, says: “The success of our Partner Ideas scheme goes to show that sometimes the truly great innovations can be as simple as making small changes to the tasks you do every day, rather than the big ideas which transform everything. By engaging our partners with the right platform and process, we’ve managed to achieve significant productivity and financial savings.”
3. BIG DATA
For all the hype, big data is still an emerging technology. In a nutshell, algorithms search for patterns in pools of data too large for humans to sift through by hand. Supermarkets use
big data to determine the optimum price of bread, airlines use it to calculate the likely number of no-shows so they can overbook flights. Now project managers are using big data for tasks such as cost projections and discovering hidden correlations in project management.
Alex McMullan, field chief technology officer of Pure Storage, which provides flash storage for big data activities, reports: “I’ve seen many project managers use big data techniques, text analytics, numerical correlations and frequency analysis in order to identify the best times to plan milestones or schedule maintenance.”
His tip? Get good at handling the huge quantities of data. “Data virtualisation products from leading firms, such as Cisco (Composite), IBM or Denodo, can basically integrate multiple sources into one pool and deliver a 40,000ft helicopter view for a project manager, and in turn project managers can get a better understanding on the gaps that need to be filled.” This could be the biggest trend of the lot.
4. MOVE TO AGILE
For some project managers this is a little old hat. Agile? Doesn’t everyone do that now? Well, no they don’t. But they may soon. Agile is getting more and more popular as a method of project management.
Agile was born in the software world. It values speed over perfection, and relies on quick fixes and iterations over getting it right first time.
At Ordnance Survey, the nation’s map-maker, agile is gaining ground. Darren Thorp, agile delivery manager, says: “Without doubt the buzzword of the last few years has been agile. Agile software delivery has gained much popularity due to the need for faster and more responsive cycle times, and the move towards a less contractual and more collaborative way of working between the technology teams and the business.”
His advice is to use it as one tool among many. “Too many PMOs hang their hat on a single method and attempting to fit the work to the method, optimising the process over optimising delivery,” he says. “For project management to remain relevant, they need to become adaptable and prove their value in facilitating delivery on a variety of projects using a variety of approaches.”
5. END OF E-MAIL
What’s wrong with e-mail? It’s too messy. After ten replies between three people or more the conversation string can stretch for six feet. It’s hard to invite newcomers; hard to manage access. E-mails can go to the wrong person. As for editing documents via e-mail correspondence, it resembles ping pong.
Project managers are giving the thumbs down to e-mail. In its place come dedicated tools such as Slack, Yammer and Salesforce Chatter. A lesser-known, but highly regarded, tool is Flowdock. Software house Powered Now adopted Flowdock after founder and chief executive Benjamin Dyer realised 90 per cent of e-mails were internal.
He says: “The solution was Flowdock, a unified business-wide chat and inbox. I think it’s fair to say it has changed our lives. Flowdock is our central hub. We have separate chatrooms for engineering, sales, marketing and even a room entitled Coffee Machine for just chewing the fat. A lot of jokes and images tend to get posted there.
“Each room also has its own e-mail address. This means a lot of the transactional mail – customer support requests, new user registrations, et cetera – can be stored in a central place, viewable by everyone rather than in individual in-boxes.”
6. ENTREPRENEURIAL PROJECT MANAGERS
The image of project management is a little stuffy. Almost bureaucratic. And boy is this wrong. The modern project manager faces a staggering array of challenges. These demand someone who can really think of their feet like an entrepreneur.
The global consultancy CEB has studied this shift. CEB practice manager Matt McWha points out that 60 per cent of IT PMOs report an increase in demands that come from outside of any formal planning cycle. His work shows how demand for intelligent staff capable of improvising when the unexpected occurs from other departments is leaving PMOs short of the talent needed.
“PMOs are struggling to attract and retain entrepreneurial talent,” says Mr McWha. “CEB data shows the proportion of project managers classed as ‘entrepreneurial’ in a company’s typical talent pool has decreased from 30 per cent in 2012 to 26 per cent in 2013. Other corporate functions, especially HR and finance, are also fighting for this talent.”
His advice? “Companies need to position project management career paths as a good platform for building the skills and experiences needed for success in different leadership positions,” he says.
In Las Vegas, gamblers are known to faint at the slots because they can’t leave for refreshment. Games designers refine casino machines to be as addictive as crack cocaine – and as financially ruinous. Gamification takes the same logic – rewards, points and pay-outs – to make mundane tasks equally enjoyable. Call centres uses gamification to give rewards to agents. They win bonus points for handling a high level of calls per hour. It works.
But can gamification work in project management? There are advocates. Paul Cackett, chief executive of Playth1ng and founder of collaboration tool Clear.as, says: “I’m sure that in the next three years we’ll start to see more research done between organisations globally with incentives to take part.
“Think of a scenario in science where research is necessary to solve world problems. For example, someone researching drought-resistant plants might know everything there is to know about biology, but not how the greenhouse technology could help him to replicate scenarios. They could invite technologists in the fields of engineering, aviation – sectors where heat exchange is well understood – to contribute in return for revenue on the eventual developed product.”
This approach works in other fields – project management may be next.