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Why we need a Project Data Analytics Task Force




In 2017 we met with people from the NHS and Network Rail to discuss the challenge of learning from experience and how advanced data analytics holds the key. I then developed a paper with Dr Stephen Duffield that summarised our research into 20,000 lessons lesson; we concluded that the process just doesn’t work. We take the complexity of a project and boil the experience down into a few trite paragraphs that are often statements of the obvious. Even today, a recent paper from Grant Mills et al highlights that “the industry as a whole is failing to learn from known failures“.

We saw then that the market wasn’t ready. The ideas were too conceptual and we couldn’t evidence the benefits of such an approach. Organisations are also too busy wrestling with today’s demands to look too far into the future. But we knew that recent developments in data science and analytics holds the key. Machine learning is all about ‘learning from experience’, so why not train a computer to assess where things are likely to go astray rather than expecting a project manager to pre-empt every possible eventuality.

We recognised that the starting point was to raise awareness. So in Dec 2017 we founded the Project Data Analytics meetup, which has since expanded to >6,000 members. This has provided the foundation for a movement. People who share a vision to leverage project data analytics to transform how we deliver projects. People who share ideas and all support each other.

But we realised that people often didn’t have the confidence to get into project data analytics. Project professionals often saw it as a bit techy and data professionals couldn’t get hold of data. So we worked with Sir Robert McAlpine to mobilise Project Hack. A community hackathon that brings people together to solve real industry facing problems. We will soon be on our 7th and will have >100 attendees.

But that wasn’t enough, so we developed the Project Data Academy. An apprenticeship based scheme to help inspire people, remove barriers to implementation and to up skill them in the latest developments across the industry. We are creating practitioners to provide the horsepower to deliver the vision and transform how we deliver projects.

Change was building, but it was too slow. COVID created additional emphasis to accelerate adoption and to drive up the certainty of project delivery. Society can no longer tolerate the economic consequences of poor project performance.

But the problem with project data analytics is, it doesn’t fit the established model. It reaches across current professional bodies. Roles don’t yet exist and the community are wrestling with whether to develop centralised teams or upskill existing talent. We don’t have career pathways; nor do we have agreement on what these roles should look like. We lack consistency in our data, we don’t have standards or the ontologies and taxonomies to underpin them. We lack data and the infrastructure to facilitate access. We see people developing similar solutions, dashboards, apps, insights, repeating the same work within thousands of separate silos. Most of this involves the configuration of existing tools and applications rather than the creation of unique intellectual property. But we could achieve so much more if we could pool these resources.

So we reached out to a cadre of senior people we had met over the last 3 years who have a clear passion and commitment to the benefits presented by project data analytics. People who are willing to put their shoulder behind a shared vision and a commitment to make things happen. People who represent multiple sectors, public and private, small and large companies, project and data professionals. In June 2020 we held our first meeting and the Project Data Analytics Task Force was forged. By mid July we had agreed a White Paper, with a vision to facilitate a 10x improvement in project performance, underpinned by 6 key work streams. We were really proud to be one of the lead authors for this paper and even prouder to be elected as the Co-Chair of the Task Force. We now have the foundation for a mission. We set the launch date for 30 September, when we will help to clarify the vision and release the White Paper.

In parallel, we have been working with Sir Robert McAlpine, Microsoft, the Open Data Institute and BPE Solicitors to mobilise a Construction Data Trust. A vehicle that will help to securely pool data across construction companies and enable them to solve shared challenges. Productivity and health and safety to begin with, then expanding into other areas from risk to sustainability. Our vision is to leverage the hack and the apprenticeship to develop solutions that we can democratise for the benefit of all. This drives up data quality, data quality, integration and accelerates the rate of adoption. We move quicker together than alone.

The journey hasn’t been an easy one. More snakes than ladders. A couple of occasions when the company was on the brink, but we are absolutely delighted that the vision that we shared in a meetup venue in Dec 2017 is now becoming a reality. It is a vision that will transform how we deliver projects, save billions and enable us to deliver more roads, hospitals, energy plants and transformation projects with greater delivery confidence. It will also create thousands of new jobs.

Imagine a future where, by the end of 2021 we have >200 apprentices attending a hackathon, working on shared industry challenges. Creating solutions that can be democratised for the benefit of all. This will attract a prize fund of thousands and encourage hundreds of data professionals and students to get involved. We provide access to data that is securely pooled within data trusts. We work with the Task Force to create standards, prioritise use cases and put this firmly on the agenda of every project delivery based organisation. We create an unstoppable movement.

How cool would that be?

Martin Paver is the CEO and Founder of Projecting Success, a consultancy that specialises in leveraging project data to transform project delivery; from high end strategic consultancy through to apprentice training. He has led a $1bn megaproject and a multi $billion portfolio office. He is the founder of the Project Data Analytics community, comprising ~6,000 members who share a passion for leveraging the exhaust plume of project data.  He regularly blogs and presents at international conferences, helping to ignite the professional imagination and inspire change. He is also the co-chair of the Project Data Analytics Task Force and is helping to lead the charge for disruptive change. 



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