This recent Discussion was initiated by me, George McLaughlin. I posed the following question:
Have technological advancements in the last 20-50 years materially upgraded the quality of project management?
Over the past four or five decades, there have been many impressive technological advances related to the management of projects. Some advances started (I suppose) with PERT and followed by CPM, mini and micro computers, Primavera, MS Project, Icarus, AutoCAD and so many others. While these tools are highly sophisticated, have they served to upgrade the level of performance in professional project management? Some argue that the tools are more advanced than the abilities of the users. Others see great strides in performance… So, what is your perspective?
In the ensuing commentary, I found valuable insights in the following posts. The first two selections address a general views that technology has advanced (part of my premise).
Pedram Daneshmand • Yes, we have better tools and systems compared to 20 years ago but it does not mean we have better project managers today. There are a couple of reasons:
– Tools are very advanced and do everything these days. But I see many juniors who just know the tool not the basics behind it.
– Tools have improved the technical skills (or Science) of the project management profession which is 30% of the picture, but what about the other 70%: Soft Skills like stakeholder management, communication, team leadership, etc.
Kenrick Dookie • the simple answer to the question is yes it has. Technology has upgraded the quality of project management. The planning and execution of many projects undertaken in the past decades would not have been possible without technology; anyone who have worked on any MEGA project, space programmes and modern industrial facilities would attest to this – their success depend on the proper use of modern technological tools.
Switching to the subject users and operators implementation of the technology, contributors offer commentary from several perspectives.
Japie Cilliers • It is unfortunate indeed that the operators of these tools do not have the logic, reasoning or expertise behind the functions they are performing. Unfortunately this mostly goes unnoticed and such person gets promoted to the next level (every time beyond his level of incompetence (I say incompetence because such person has not had the competence for the lower function in the first place). This lack could, and has on one of our projects, caused severe problems with trust in the project management team. [Snip] Inaccurate forecasted cost to complete is reported and eventually a month or two prior to completion you get the “hockey stick” effect whereby all of a sudden the project completion date moves a couple of months and the project cost shoots through the roof. On the other hand it causes the project manager to lower his guard and trust in these tools to provide him with accurate information to properly manage his project. [Snip]…mistakes are not picked up by the project manager as he “trust” the reports and do not necessarily review them thoroughly. Project Management teams must be selected for their expertise and experience in the management of Projects and not for their abilities to operate the tools of the job.
Chris Nixon • Too often I see the operators are just that “operators” – technicians who are skilled in the use of the tool but its practical application [is a problem].
There is now a real risk that the tools (and their limitations, or limitations of the technicians) drive the outcomes, rather than inputs (even gut feel) from practically experienced professionals. The theoretical outputs too often end up as practical impossibilities on site – then there’s going to be a dispute.
Chris continues •There is a basic principle widely accepted in development projects in third world countries, particularly in respect of appropriate technology, which is very sound. It refers to the sustainability of new technology … and it’s equally applicable in the first world with respect to applying technology.
If first world technology is the 95% solution, but only 30% of the users can use and maintain it, then you are better to adopt an appropriate technology that is the 70% solution that 90% of users can understand, use and maintain.
Technology should be a tool not a toy or a fashion accessory, and if it doesn’t work, or its too complicated for the average user or there are too few qualified users, mechanics then simply put it’s worse than nothing because people place false trust and credibility in it. Something simpler, more reliable is better. I don’t want to count the number of times I have seen new brilliant technology either underused or not used because it’s broken or the skills are not available, in which case settle for what works. If drafting tech cannot produce a usable drawing on AutoCAD, use manual drafting – the product is more important than the tool.
Regarding matching the tools to the requirements, the following comments are important:
Kenrick Dookie •what you are saying [Chris] is accurate; but we should be careful not to generalize when we comment on the value of new technology. It is always selecting the right tool for the job as you indicate. The complexity of the projects is constantly increasing and so is the requirement for appropriate technology. AutoCAD has afforded us the ability to build and construct 3D structures, that cannot be represented in 2D; Clash analysis can be done to determine construction sequencing accurately in large complex structures; most of all, technology has allowed us the ability to work in live environments; we can plan works so accurately and efficiently, even selecting the correct tool and performance ratings, that it can be done without systems having to be shut down. Primavera has afforded us the ability to plan and control projects with tens of thousands of activities from one central location, and get the project status in real time. Stakeholders no longer have to wait until April to get an analysis of what occurred in February.
As a project/construction/contracts/business manager and similar, it is imperative that you evaluate your project team’s skill sets relative to available managerial tools and technology. The project execution planning, including staffing plan and related execution strategy, must reflect the realities of the market place. Rationalize technologies for each project team work according to the resource pool’s skills.
Good luck and have fun with technology implementation.
This M&M blog-discussion based on LinkedIn excerpts is offered to share and stimulate insightful thinking. This is not intended to diminish the complete LinkedIn group discussion.
It is important to note that McLaughlin and McLaughlin [M&M] is not a law firm and is not intending to provide legal advice. M&M is a consulting firm providing (among other services) non-legal expertise in dispute resolution and litigation support. For further information on M&M services, please see www.McLaughlinandMcLaughlin.com.