What does AI and data mean for the project profession?

5 Mar 2020 12:24 PM

Blog posted by: John McGlynn, 04 March 2020.

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Big data, machine learning, data mining, data trusts and the Internet of Things (IoT) … a common list of concepts that would be potential subjects for most thought leadership pieces; but what do they actually mean for project professionals, organisations and the project profession at large?

The opportunities afforded to individuals and organisations employing AI, data and analytics are far reaching. They can include

Benefits from this would include giving organisations better insights into their data, improving project ‘success’ and delivering more efficiency. The use of data will also create more realistic forecasts and push down the cost of project delivery; whilst aiding productivity improvements by ensuring that projects are right first time.

AI, data and analytics are already being used by project professionals in the form of software tools; and taking advantage of new technologies will help the project profession progress into a digital and virtual world. However, whilst AI, data and analytics offer a host of opportunities, there are significant challenges for organisations to overcome including: inconsistency around data formats and data quality, and trust in data quality, with even greater effort required to clean the data in order to be used.

Then there are issues around sharing and publishing data in terms of who owns the data along with: commercial sensitivities and Intellectual Property (IP); security and access control to the data; and handling personal data in terms of GDPR whilst ensuring this is anonymised. In addition, there is the need to raise awareness and understanding at executive level to encourage buy-in whilst ensuring that your organisation has the skills and competences to use data and AI effectively.

Despite the focus big data has, until recently the discussion has been led by and aimed at those already steeped in IT and digital culture. A search for articles relating to big data’s use in project management returns mostly results that discuss project management for IT projects. Many academic institutions promote their services for analysing data in order to lead organisational change. By doing this they also harness big data, but the exemplar projects are overwhelmingly in the digital realm with a few related to other sectors such finance and banking.

As we undergo a shift in technology globally, project professionals are the change makers who must embrace and understand its importance. The Association for Project Management (APM) have long recognised the importance of utilising data to aide project delivery. By bringing together a range of partnership organisations including fellow professional bodies, government departments, funding providers and thought leaders in the field we seek to explore how APM can support the project profession on its data journey.

There is a huge variation of knowledge and understanding within the subject area across individuals and organisations. We are currently at the start of this process exploring potential options; whatever initiatives we select we hope to raise awareness and understanding through research and talks, a sharing of expertise, helping to set standards and guidance; ultimately leading to better delivery of projects.

In 2017 APM undertook a collaborative study with Arup and UCL on the Future of Project Management (FoPM) and this has been built upon more recently by the Projecting the Future challenge paper The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Data, Automation and AI. And we want to continue to bring together academics, students and project practitioners at events such as the APM Midlands Research Symposium at Loughborough University on AI, data and analytics.

Last year we also awarded funding to three Research studies which seek to explore questions such as Can AI learn to be a professional project manager? (University of Manchester), How to leverage big data knowledge mitigation in complex project (University of Southampton) and Leveraging the value of lessons learnt through the power of intelligent agents (University of Sheffield).

AI, data and analytics is an extremely important area that all of us are affected by. We want to facilitate discussion and encourage professionals to share their knowledge to further the project profession. As we progress on this voyage of discovery, we will endeavour to involve our members, giving up to date information on how you might get involved in shaping this work. If you or your organisation are currently involved in the use of AI, data and analytics in terms of project delivery and are willing to share case studies around its impact we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via research@apm.org.uk.

About the Author

John McGlynn, board chair

John is a Director at Atkins, a member of the SNC Lavalin Group, and one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies known for its breadth and depth of expertise in responding to the most technically challenging and time critical projects. He has 30 years experience in delivering projects in Europe and the Middle East and the last decade he specialised in complex acquisition programmes. He is a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of three institutions the IET, CIPS, APM and is an APM Registered Project Professional (RPP).

John became a trustee of APM in 2014 and was elected Chair in November 2016. He has been instrumental in leading APM through the award of the Royal Charter and developing APM’s new strategy, Inspiring Positive Change.