When Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta, some relished the news—while others took it with a grain of salt.
That’s no surprise: Skepticism is typically a byproduct of any innovation. People were doubtful when they had to start moving to the web—and later on, when they moved to mobile (these days, we can barely function without our mobiles, which seemed implausible 15 years ago).
This is also true with project and portfolio management. As managers, we should first try to understand what a change is about. More importantly, it is important to understand how it might affect our modus operandi. As with any change process, it will have pros and cons.
So, as we embrace the metaverse, let’s try to come to grips with what the future holds for us. If Meta holds up its end of the bargain, we might be in for another paradigm shift in how we manage projects.
While we have yet to see how a new, simulated digital reality will play out in terms of combining various aspects of social media, online games, blockchain technology, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), the company is putting out feelers about its future products.
Some people have already tested the company’s professional version of the metaverse, which is still in the works. Others have been publishing their deliberations on what to expect. I have reviewed these carefully—and based on my experience, I offer my take on some of the advantages and disadvantages of the potential changes…
Addressing Physical Limitations of Virtual Projects
Spurred by the pandemic and its impact, many organizations have opted for remote work. Zoom calls have become a natural part of our routine, and some companies took it further by setting up virtual project management teams—feeding off the preceding experiences of matrix management across teams and countries.
But for many, virtual project management teams are struggling due to physical limitations related to communication, coordination and shared understanding.
Meta’s immersive three-dimensional virtual world (VW) is intended to address these challenges by merging the physical and digital worlds. In much anticipated virtual world projects (VWPs), avatars—our digital representations—will come together to work, coordinate and manage. Through Oculus, Meta has put out Quest 2, a self-contained virtual reality headset that gamers are already using.
This all provides cues about how project managers will be entering and participating in VWPs. By creating in-world artifacts, VWP team members will have access to note cars containing project requirements, brainstormed ideas, and other resources throughout the life of the project. The VW should also make it easier to share all the requisite information, data and tools within the VWP team.
Can you envision yourself thriving in this kind of environment?
Data Sharing and Coordination
It’s a safe assumption to suggest that with virtual world technology, there’s a lot that project and portfolio management teams will gain in terms of more effective data sharing. VWP teams won’t need an extra hour or day to dig something up or to find the right person to share a missing piece of the puzzle—it should all be one click away.
This should result in improved coordination and collaboration. Hence, I would argue we can expect a positive correlation between an increased use of VW tools and improved management and operational efficiencies.
Ample Opportunities for Learning
The metaverse is likely to provide ample opportunities for iterative learning. Agile organizations should appreciate technology-driven learning tools, which will become ever-more efficient through VR and AR.
In theory, the virtual world’s communication, rendering and interaction capabilities should allow users to mix and merge communication techniques to produce real-time, three-dimensional visual artifacts for learning. These capabilities should also reduce reliance on traditional text-based or verbal communication to share lessons and build shared understanding.
In addition, there’s so much untapped potential for researchers to explore. The experience of producing COVID-19 vaccines in record time shows how technology can accelerate research and development.
Is It Going to Be Safe, Cost-Effective & Ethically Justified?
Still, we need some answers. While Meta is still grappling with the production process, we do not know how cost-effective it will be for organizations to jump on the bandwagon. For the innovation to be truly successful, it has to be made available on a massive scale.
Many organizations might doubt the safety and security of VW tools and resources. Can the metaverse guarantee data security? Are organizations assured that sensitive data will not be compromised? Meta does not necessarily have the best track record in acting on potentially harmful content. The company will need to clear the air before it hits the market with its new products.
Does It Really Replace Face-To-Face Communication?
It’s yet to be seen, but many people agree that no matter how advanced AI or VW roles become, there’s always a need for face-to-face communication. I think the best way of conceptualizing the metaverse is not as a substitute for human interaction; rather, it must be viewed as a great aid. As social animals, we still need to see people’s emotions and body language (including knee-jerk reactions). Let’s not leave it all just to avatars!
Whether we like it or not, we are on our way to seeing more of our project and portfolio management functions transposed to the virtual world. Does it bode well for project and portfolio managers? Yes and no.
As with any other innovation, the point is not about total acceptance or total denial. We must conduct a sound assessment of all the pros and cons—and strike a balance to make it work. We need to embrace the change and make the most of it without losing sight of the associated risks.
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Ref: PMI's Projectmanagement.com