A Brave New PM World

On my drive back to Utah from a week in Seattle, I had a great call with fellow Microsoft MVP Treb Gatte (@tgatte), who is an expert on Project Server and PowerBI. We were talking about the evolution of the project manager role, and the wide-open opportunity for business intelligence solutions in this enterprise solution category. I shared with him some of my experiences, which really began back in the mid-1990’s when, as a young project manager at Pacific Bell in the San Francisco East Bay (San Ramon, then Pleasanton, specifically), I was tasked with documenting and building out our internal-facing project management organization (PMO), which led me to taking over much of our shared services organization’s intranet. In those early days of the web, I did my best to create automated process diagrams and workflows based on our PMO methodology and templates, and spent many hours in CorelDraw (oh yeah, good times) creating images, and learning HTML so that I could piece together a functional site that allowed team members to quickly find and use the appropriate templates and support documents depending on the stage of the methodology. The site may have been ugly and slow by today’s standards, but it was a masterpiece back then.

Brave New WorldDuring this time, I began to realize how difficult it was to track project data at the portfolio-level, and began looking at alternative solutions that could better automate the PMO. After leaving Pacific Bell Wireless and moving to NorthPoint Communications, one of the first DSL companies, I became responsible for some of the project management tools – and the massive datasets behind them. At one point, I had two data analysts on my team that spent a good portion of their time slicing and dicing the data, trying to figure out how to optimize our project planning efforts to improve delivery time and use our resources more efficiently. After NorthPoint, I worked for a couple other startups and then started my own consulting company, and focused a great detail on project and portfolio management….and eventually took over a Project Server deployment, which was my entry into the world of SharePoint.

What I learned throughout these various PM activities was how every company sought after the coveted reports and data that these portfolio management solutions promised, and yet ALL of the companies I worked with failed to make the necessary cultural changes to ensure accurate data was input into the system. And therein lies the problem with project management tools: the human factor.

As I shared these thoughts, Treb mentioned that he had written an article for the CIO Magazine blog on this exact topic, and has now re-published his post on his Tumble Road Blog – check out his updated post The Augmented Project Manager.

It’s always nice to have your experiences and perspective validated by the experiences of others, and Treb does a great job of laying out these same issues with tracking and managing humans through project management solutions. And where the conversation went next was the logical next step in project management: machine-learning and artificial intelligence, thus taking much of the human out of the process, and getting us closer to that vision of project reporting and analysis tools to help us understand how and where our deployment methodologies can be optimized, and our limited resources better allocated.

I do not believe that the Project Manager role goes away, nor do I believe every aspect of reporting and analysis can be automated. However, we are at the dawn of a new world of tracking. Think about it:

  • We have a social graph that understands who we are (demographics, psychographics, usage patterns, network connections, system and data permissions, personal preferences, etc)
  • Our enterprise applications are able to track real-time activity and engagement metrics (personal analytics from Delve, web analytics, app data)
  • Machine-learning and artificial intelligence are improving the more data they take in, and understanding the habits and patterns of our work

The future of project management will not be a wrestling-match with Project Server, and a weekly cracking-of-the-whip to get employees to complete their timecards. The system will track activities, goals, and deliverables automatically, providing a real-time dashboard of estimated project completion time (and success) based on current and past behaviors, comparisons of similar projects and tasks by other teams, and by analyzing the wealth of data that is publicly-available (intentionally or not). Treb and I agreed that the future Project Manager will need to be skilled in data analysis, as well as traditional management skills.

I think it’s all very exciting. We are truly at the dawn of a new PM world, and there are opportunities everywhere.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and fractional-CMO for revealit.io, tyGraph, and Extranet User Manager.