The future of project management technology

Emerging technologies are set to revolutionize project management. That won’t come as much of a shock to the average reader -- there’s been plenty of media coverage about the extent to which new technology like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will transform industries from the bottom up.

However, people often struggle to isolate the challenges that emerging technologies will solve, and the specific practices they will change -- even within their own industries. There’s a tacit assumption that change will come -- but the 'what', 'how' and 'when' of these seismic shifts remains unclear. Project managers want to tackle the challenges and grasp the opportunities of today’s workplace faster and better than their competitors. It’s vital, therefore, that project managers not only understand the potential of emerging technology, but how to use it to best effect.

The challenge of contemporary project management

As workplaces develop and technology improves, project management offices (PMOs) are increasingly finding that the future of project management is fraught with challenges and opportunities -- in equal measure.

Traditional workplace structures are breaking down. Today’s workforce is more decentralized than ever before; workers are increasingly self-employed and remote, able to work anytime, anywhere.

There are obvious benefits to this. Today’s PMOs can pick from a much wider pool of resources. The workers themselves can quickly adapt to changing circumstances, no matter where they are or what time it is. But the lack of a traditional workplace and office hours also presents real challenges for the project manager that has to coordinate these increasingly self-contained resources into a unified taskforce. Communicating with remote workers over a longer distance will always have its challenges, especially when project managers have to react to fast-moving circumstances in real-time.

Over the next decade, the most successful PMOs will be those that harness the potential of today’s increasingly dynamic workforce whilst effectively managing and containing the challenges it poses. Emerging technology is quickly emerging as the most effective way to achieve this.

Managing today’s challenges -- with tomorrow’s technology

'Emerging technology' refers to any combination of the following:

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Machine Learning
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Alternate Reality
  • Robotics

In reality, 'emerging technologies' as a term is something of a misnomer; suggesting the technology is still in development. In reality, they’re already here. The size and spread of industrial transformation they’ll initiate, however, has yet to fully emerge.

The Internet of Things

IoT technology essentially refers to the way individual devices are becoming increasingly interconnected via the internet. There’s been plenty of talk about ordinary devices like toasters or kettles being controlled remotely by the internet -- but what is the potential for the technology to revolutionize PMOs?

IoT technology will allow PMOs to completely integrate their physical resources like equipment, tools and machinery with their digital infrastructure, creating a network of connected devices that communicate with each other. This will lead to more dynamic and adaptive project management systems, which can collect, analyze, and make decisions based on complex, real time information.

Construction projects, for instance, include vehicles like excavators, drills, and cranes, and other types of specialist equipment, all of which can be fitted with IoT sensors. The system will be able to monitor the condition and status of these components, warning PMOs in advance if they need to maintain or replace their physical resources. Using similar techniques, it’ll also isolate inefficiencies and reduce waste. This is a key part of optimizing the deployment of resources across the entire portfolio of projects a PMO manages.

AI and Machine Learning

AI can be defined as any technology that can make complex or ‘intelligent’ decisions. Machine learning, a specific type of AI, is a process allows technology to analyze enormous datasets, creating rules and recreating its own algorithms based on the trends it identifies. The capabilities of these two technologies often complement one another.

AI and machine learning can help with one of the most pressing challenges in contemporary PMOs -- resource management. Optimizing the deployment and distribution of resources is crucial to getting the maximum value out of projects, and it becomes more and more difficult as projects get more complex.

Machine learning algorithms allow contemporary PMOs to analyze an enormous supply of real-time data, including that which they’ve obtained from IoT-enabled devices. From this, the system can automatically build trends and draw conclusions about the best places to allocate resources.

AI could be used to automate and streamline the day-to-day tasks and processes of project managers, such as resource planning, levelling, and distribution. This simplifies and accelerates the planning and resource management stages, allowing them to focus on strategy-based tasks.

Tomorrow’s project management solutions

As the challenges to 21st century project management get more complex, so too must the technology we use to combat them. While these new solutions are likely to be some of the most important trends to develop over the coming years – it’s by no means exclusive. But there are clear trends across the whole industry. Technology is becoming more integrated, more automated and better able to deal with complex, dynamic challenges. The future of project management belongs to those responsive and adaptive PMOs that will identify and adopt tomorrow’s tech opportunities faster and better than the competition.

Image credit: ASDF_MEDIA / Shutterstock

With over 25 years’ experience in the project management sector, Greg Bailey is Vice President Resource Management at ProSymmetry. He writes about tech trends, with a focus on resource management.

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