How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
Data and analytics are at the very core of our purpose; to transform project delivery. As an SME, we recognised at an early stage that the barriers to adoption were huge and that we could only deliver the vision by creating a movement and inspiring others.
By founding the 7,000 member Project Data Analytics Community and co-chairing the Project Data Analytics Task Force, we realised that we could deliver the vision 1,000 times faster through collaboration. Data and analytics are at the heart of every event, campaign, solution, and training that we deliver, from AI-driven bid predictions to health and safety solutions. We live and breathe it.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
It blew them apart. We launched our Project Data Academy in February and a month later the majority of the organisational training leads had been furloughed - they were the ones who secured authorisation for the training. Our pipeline collapsed. But by the end of the year, we had contracts with 25 organisations, including some major blue-chip organisations. We were also able to train furloughed staff and improve their employability.
The majority of discretionary spend disappeared, disrupting consultancy work that we had in train. We had to pivot our consultancy business towards solution development. We focused on developing high-end solutions from machine learning models to apps; our vision remains to share these with the membership of the community.
All community events stopped overnight but, within a week, we were operating fully online. Our community events moved onto Zoom, including the hackathons, opening up a global audience. All of our training also moved online, supported by Slack and bi-weekly drop-in sessions to maintain a sense of community and collaborative working.
But we doubled down on our vision and reached out to others who shared it, with our first meeting of the Project Data Analytics Task Force in June 2020. The white paper was published three months later.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
After four years on our quest, project data analytics is now beginning to gain traction at every level, from professional bodies to the higher tiers of government. We will see a shift in 2021, where project data analytics is no longer optional; it will become a core requirement for every project delivery organisation. This will drive community engagement and training.
Data trusts will gain critical mass as organisations realise that by working together, we can move far quicker. We have a pivotal role in making them happen.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
It is at the core of everything we do. We anticipate expanding our community hackathons in 2021, developing project data analytics solutions for the benefit of all. We aspire to grow the community beyond 10,000 members and amplify their voice. We inspire others and remove the barriers to adoption.
We are also hoping to take on 40 people via the government kick start scheme in 2021, our application for the first 20 is already in. We will use them to help deliver the vision for the Task Force and also democratise project data analytics solutions for the benefit of all via the solutions development workstream that I lead with Alex Robertson from Petrofac.
What has been your path to power?
I have spent nearly 30 years working in project delivery. Mostly multi-billion projects at the high end of the complexity spectrum. I also had the honour of leading a $10 billion PMO and a $1 billion infrastructure project. This experience helped me realise that as a profession, we try hard, but consistently underperform.
In 2016, I spent a year investigating the reasons for project failure. I pulled together 20,000 lessons learned, expecting to apply advanced analytics and find the secret recipe. I was disappointed to discover that the lessons learned were mainly anodyne and biased abstracts that lacked context. We were applying 1970’s methods to capture our experience. It was clear that something had to change. Machine learning provides a capability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed; the answer to our dreams.
But part of the challenge was that project data is of variable quality and often misaligned to our use cases. In 2017, I pivoted Projecting Success to tackle this challenge. I spoke to the NHS and Network Rail at the time and struggled to gain traction - the vision was too bold and aspirational. In late 2017, James Smith and I founded the Project Data Analytics Community. We held our first Project:Hack in 2018, thanks to the support of Sir Robert McAlpine and Microsoft.
In 2019, we collaborated with Sir Robert McAlpine again to found the Construction Data Trust. In 2020, we launched the Project Data Academy and helped to found the Project Data Analytics Task Force.
Now, the path to power isn’t a one-man journey, but a collective of an ever-growing community.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
Building Projecting Success and positioning it at the forefront of transformational, data driven change. The last four years have been the hardest of my life, with hundreds of knock backs. But we are now seeing that the vision we laid out back in 2017 becoming mainstream. The vision has always been to transform the industry rather than focus on narrow commercial interests. It has been difficult to remain true to those principles, but we have succeeded. I am really proud of that.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
To transform how projects are delivered. Oxford University’s analysis of 12,000 major projects highlights that the probability of a project being delivered on time, cost and meeting the benefits outlined in the business case is only 0.5%. The profession has been trying to improve this for decades and can no longer justify nibbling away at it. We need to think differently.
Our mission is to lead the charge on reshaping how we deliver projects by leveraging the vast plume of data that emerges during the delivery phase of a project. Inspiring people to think differently, upskilling them, removing fear/scepticism, removing barriers and developing solutions.
How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?
Data and analytics are core to what we do; from training people on the latest developments in data analytics through to co-leading the Project Data Analytics Task Force. We work hard to provide the glue that brings together a community, industry, government, academia, and the professional bodies. We help to shape the vision and map out a roadmap to the future.
Grant Findlay bought me a book in 2019 called Collaborative Advantage. I’ve always been an advocate of collaboration but this drove home the fact that organisations can compete and collaborate. They are not exclusive. We’ll only realise the high-end capabilities by pooling data for our collective benefit. No single organisation possesses enough of it to be able to work alone.
Rather than 100 organisations developing health and safety data insights separately, we can pool our resources and tackle a full range of challenges and move at a much faster speed. This thinking is central to our vision.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
Inspire people by showing them the art of the possible. Then remove the barriers to delivering it. Train every level of the organisation and supply chain in the fundamentals, but tailored to a project environment, using language and examples they understand. Highlight that we all must start somewhere and the sooner we get going, the quicker data volumes grow and data quality improves. Measure and celebrate success.