How technology is fueling the evolution of project management
Technology has changed our working lives considerably over the years. The same is true of project management methodologies and tools.
Throughout most of my working life I was one of the 98% of people using a PC and Windows, comforted in the knowledge that the remaining 2% were creative people who needed Macs to bring their work to life. When I started my career the only handheld device I possessed was a hairdryer but that was in the days when the thatch on my head justified such an investment. How things have changed! As the thatch diminished so did the dominance of one platform with smartphones and tablets changing the ground rules forever.
Like most people, I spend my time in the office in front of a bank of monitors powered by Windows, yet when I travel or are at home I check for email updates using my smartphone. After dinner, I may go into my study and do some research on my iMac and finally before I head to bed, I pick up my iPad to fire up some music and catch up with what is going on in the world.
Four devices, two platforms, one expectation – no matter where I am in the world, or whatever device I happen to be using, I expect to have access to any information and work I need, when I need it.
I know I am not alone in this – people access information for work and on a personal level from multiple devices and expect to be able to pick up from where they left off from one location to another. This expectation has changed the focus for most software developers from file-based or platform-specific applications to anytime, anywhere, any device architecture.
Project design and delivery
There is no doubt that the rapid pace of change in technology has had a massive impact on all areas of our working life. But for the purpose of this article, I want to focus on its impact on project delivery. During the last 25 years, I have witnessed significant changes in project management methodologies in parallel with the changing technologies. Traditionally, practitioners would follow very formal disciplines such as Prince 2 where everything is planned up front and to the nth degree, but we have also seen a rise in the adoption of the other extreme of Agile with little or no controls.
There are merits to both of these approaches, but we have to face reality. At times, the use of Prince 2 on some smaller projects was the equivalent of deploying a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Equally, I have witnessed poor deployment of Agile project management methodologies resulting in lots of hot air and little in terms of product. The release date was galloping towards the horizon – until it was finally reined in.
However, through chaos, we live and learn. In my opinion, neither extreme works but choosing enough from both provides a real competitive advantage. No matter what methodology you use, getting input from the right people at the right time is essential, and without doubt adequate planning remains crucial for project success.
Personally, I see merit in identifying and in carrying out some high-level planning of the major deliverable (Epics) up front, but much prefer leaving the absolute detail of an Epic until a month in advance of scheduled work. This way, you have a better chance of making the correct decisions and choices relative to the needs of the overall project.
Likewise, I see the value of timelines and Gannt during the project planning stage, but less so during delivery where Kanban and visual Task Boards make it far easier for the teams to engage and keep on top of their work. The challenge, of course, is to find the correct blend of formal and Agile to suit the strengths and weaknesses of your own organization.
No matter what approach you follow, it’s likely that some form of project or task management tool will be deployed. This is where the parallels of changing technology and changing methodology can be drawn.
Take for example, a delivery team based in multiple locations. Historically, to get input from everyone during the planning phase would mean bringing everyone together in one location to plan the project. Technology has eliminated that need. With anytime, any device access in real time, people can add their input to the planning phase of the project from anywhere in the world. That means that project kick-off meetings can happen quicker than they would have 20 years ago.
Another aspect that strikes me about the progress of project delivery tools is that many traditional tools don’t focus heavily on the project planning phase. These tools assume that people know what needs to be done and therefore, think technology only plays a role once people are organizing task lists. For me, the role of technology in project management is that the ideal tool should blend the planning phase with the project delivery phase, as well as provide visual insight into the health of a project from beginning to end.
With technology at our fingertips, project planning and delivery become easier. Planning is easier and quicker because there is no longer a need to have everyone involved physically in one location; during delivery, all team members and stakeholders can track progress and take action where necessary.
Technology has in many ways enhanced all aspects of our lives and has made a massive difference to the way we work and communicate. The ultimate result for anyone working on project delivery should be increased efficiency – with projects delivered on time, on budget and with all stakeholders engaged and fully aware of what is happening at each stage of project delivery.
No doubt the pace of change in both technology and projectand management delivery will continue to evolve. I still find that pace of change exciting and enjoy being part of it – I’m not ready for my next hand-held device to be a cane just yet.
Donald Maciver is a founder of MindGenius Ltd. Prior to that, he founded Gael Ltd. and grew it to be a world leader in Quality, Safety and Risk Management solutions in Aviation, Rail, Healthcare, Life Sciences, Defence and Manufacturing industries. Gael was sold to a UK plc in 2015. Barvas, the latest product from MindGenius, focuses on simplifying project delivery by combining the functions of project planning and execution within a single software product.