The Major Projects Association supports the newly formed Project Data Analytics Task Force.  The Project Data Analytics Task Force comprises 12 leaders from across industry, government, academia and professional institutions. It has thrown down a gauntlet to use data analytics to tackle poor project performance and achieve a 10 fold performance improvement within 5 years. To find out why and how you can get involved, read on.

If there was ever a time to up the project management game, it is now!

Leading up to the current decade, individuals and organisations were already facing an accelerated pace of change brought on by digital transformation, urgency of action on climate change and ageing populations, and various shifts on geo-politics. Fast forward to 2020 and Governments, NGOs and thinktanks around the world are predicting seismic change when we emerge from the depressed levels of economic activity caused by the pandemic. There is a general consensus that the recovery will be investment-led and will require organisations to reimagine their business or operating models. Or put another way, the recovery is dependent on new capital assets being commissioned and businesses embarking on significant change/transformation – essentially it is dependent on project performance.

Unfortunately, when you measure project performance against the triple objectives of benefits, time and budget, repeated studies show it is unacceptably and embarrassingly low – some as low as 0.5% (that’s just 1 in 200 projects succeeding).  If we ever needed an upturn in capability and performance it is now.

Advances in data analytics can help us improve learning lessons and make better project decisions, but there are several obstacles

There are lots of reasons why projects are difficult and performance is poor.  When I scan the back catalogue of journals and studies over the 30 years that I have been involved in projects, there is one overarching conclusion that I make: we are not very good at learning lessons.

I tried to nudge the profession’s ability to learn lessons when I led the authoring team for the 2009 version of PRINCE2.  We introduced the learning from experience principle – and importantly we characterised it as a pull rather than push responsibility.  That is, it is everyone’s duty to seek relevant lessons and apply them to their own project. I knew then that was easier said than done, as even with a “pull” mindset, learning lessons requires access to good data and the ability to intelligently process that data to gain applicable insight.

The challenge with access to data is that whilst projects generate huge quantities of it, the data tends to be held in silos – whether that is in within functional areas of an organisation or across client/contractor boundaries. There simply isn’t a single collective data source for many projects. This is the inherent curse of the temporary nature of projects.

If we consider access to good data, rather than just access to data, we have further challenges: firstly there’s a lot of variability on units of measure; secondly data may be incomplete or limited to dashboard/report content; and lastly it is often manipulated or adjusted. This makes it difficult to compare like for like.

Moving on from data and thinking about analytics, the challenge of data-analysis is on the one hand that project professionals are lacking in data literacy and on the other hand data scientists are lacking in project literacy. Furthermore, a lot of analytical tools and practice are optimised for operational or business-as-usual activities. So on an individual practitioner or project basis we have an additional inherent curse of long cycle times for feedback/improvement loops. However, although every project is unique, there are high degrees of similarity at a functional and process level (this was the topic of one of our seminars in January 2020). We can use data science to identify, prioritise and leverage these similarities so that every practitioner and everyone’s project can learn from the hundreds or thousands of others where there is an element of equivalence. There’s much to gain from optimising our practices and making informed decisions based on data analytics

The Vision

The reason the Task Force has been established is because the world of projects has been slow to embrace the world of data analytics compared with other management disciplines such as marketing, finance and HR.  Step changes in management practices do not happen by chance – they require a force to overcome the inertia of the status quo and direction to ensure the changes are genuinely for the better.  The Task Force believes this requires an industry led approach to unite the project community and the data science community around a common purpose.  It requires project professionals to look up from the Gantt chart and see the possibilities and the data scientists/analysts to turn their attention from other management disciplines to the world of projects. And, most importantly it requires organisations to democratise and pool their data.

The Task Force has set an ambition seize the immense opportunities enabled by project data and the power of analytical tools to deliver a 10-fold improvement on project performance within 5 years (or from 1 in 200 to 1 in 20 projects meeting their triple objectives of benefits, cost and time).  This vision and a supporting business case are set out in a white-paper published on 30th September 2020.

To achieve this ambition the vision covers eight interconnected areas:

  1. Establish a pipeline of innovation challenges and opportunity
  2. Democratise data driven solutions
  3. Enhance data skills for all project professions
  4. Evidence the potential through research
  5. Agree data quality and standards
  6. Facilitate data access to a growing project data community
  7. Leverage the broad and active community of practice
  8. Drive coherent collaboration across sectors

What can the Major Projects Association and our members do?

Major projects by their very nature create significant amounts of data and their very complexity makes them even harder for project management practices to be evaluated and improved.  The members of the Major Projects Association are very aware that for every great project it only takes one poor one to undo investor and stakeholder confidence, which is why we support this initiative to use data to transform project performance through the interaction of our members.

The Project Data Analytics Task Force comprises 12 leaders from across industry, government, academia and professional institutions.  Several of the Association’s members are already leading on Task Force workstreams  – Said Business School, UCL, Environment Agency, Heathrow, Sir Robert McAlpine and BAe Systems – and several others are involved in workstream activities themselves.  As the Association’s exec director I’ve agreed to lead on the engagement workstream – brining parties together to collaborate.

For the Task Force to work as envisaged we need more people involved in the eight areas  that support the vision (e.g. skills, data quality, data access) and more project organisations to offer up projects and data to explore, trial and demonstrate the improvements which are possible.  If you are interested in helping with the Project Data Analytics Task Force or simply want to know more then get in touch.

It’s time to catch up, collaborate and collectively pick up the performance gauntlet. Together we will go further than if we act alone.

Andy Murray, Exec Director, Major Projects Association