In the era of Big Data, project managers need a new skillset and mindset.
Before 1998, the word terabyte didn’t exist. In 2007, the first 1 terabyte hard drive was brought to market. By 2020, we expect GE machines to produce 10 to the 6 terabytes per day of information — 1 million times the size of that hard disk. At GE Oil & Gas, we have unprecedented access to information about our technology and networks, from cradle to grave.
But having overcome hurdles to producing and capturing this information is only part of the challenge. Over the period that this Big Data revolution really got underway, the productivity of industrial companies actually declined, from 4 percent between 1990 and 2010, to 1 percent in the following four years.
Much of this comes down to the human factor. Training and skills hadn’t caught up with the level of data available. Put simply: we could get the data, but didn’t know what to do with it.
The key to contemporary project management is making data work for you. This means collecting the information available to you — from machine data, to client feedback, to social media commentary — and using the insights that information provides to create outcomes your customers can benefit from. Where once project managers reported retrospectively — explaining failures — today they must share issues honestly and proactively, seeking to anticipate and address them before they escalate.
This requires a shift in both skills and mindset. Skill — because project managers must be trained to effectively handle, sift, analyze and share the wealth of data available to them. Mindset — because providing customers access to real-time data, honestly discussing issues as they happen and collaborating to address problems require a new level of confidence and bravery from project managers. We have opened the windows and can’t now close them, whatever the weather.
Just as we expect our project managers to adjust to this new reality, we have to provide them the tools to make this possible. From my point of view, these tools must incorporate “hard” technology — like RealTrack, which helps them manage and share data and insight with customers — alongside “soft” skills, addressing real-time problem solving and customer engagement. It is where hard and soft skills and tools meet that a contemporary project managers finds their sweet spot.
Key to this process is leading from the front. I can’t ask my team to be fluent with data, keep up with the news on Twitter, or interact more frequently with the customer, if I am not doing the same. That’s why, when we set up our Project Management Academy, we made sure all training was staffed by leaders — bringing real world, immediately actionable lessons to the table. The world is moving too fast to theorize. We want our project managers to leave the room as agents of immediate change.
This dynamic form of project management is both good business practice and common sense. Shared access to data means more eyes on the issues, making teams better able to anticipate problems, and utilizing all the available expertise to address them. Empowering project managers helps to keep their interest, as well as to develop and retain them. And better-informed project managers — who engage the customer more regularly, tackling problems collaboratively — make it more likely you will retain the customer.
The growth of Big Data is a huge opportunity for us as a project management community — and we are grasping it. It’s time for the #contemporarypm to shine.
(Top GIF: Video courtesy of GE)