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The Impact of Technology on Project Execution & Values

Mar 28, 2022

Digital transformation is a new normal. The pandemic has had an indisputable impact on customer behavior, forcing companies to rethink what needs to change in their business processes—including their products and services, customer engagement and, above all, the capacity of its IT infrastructure to support new business models. Digitalization has become a strong ally for many companies to remain competitive—and technology is now center stage more than ever because the pandemic has changed the way we work and socialize.

But technology itself is not the sole determining factor of an enterprise’s success. Its intensified presence has equipped stakeholders with the right amount of data and intelligence to help them make timely decisions, ones that lead to higher success rates when dealing with change.

Now more than ever, digital transformation has become imperative and is seen—in all its complexity—as an organizational change tool supported by disruptive technologies to help improve company performance and provide a new customer experience. In this context, agility—the ease of adaptation and implementation of new technologies and business strategies—becomes a major organizational challenge.

In this article, we look at this challenge—and at how proper utilization of a wide skill set within the project management discipline can add even more value. We’ll look at a few examples of how technology is changing project delivery in two ways:

  1. Technologies that help with project execution itself (such as collaborative tools).
  2. Technologies that make us rethink how the overall value of the project should be delivered.

Impact of technologies on project execution

1. Agile way of working: Some technologies require an agile way of delivery because prototyping, a fast feedback loop and an incremental approach with an open mindset are key prerequisites for success. [Examples of such technologies are machine learning/artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and advanced analytics.] Agility is further enabled by real-time data availability for decision making, online repositories and cloud solutions.

While agile practices are often presented as an opposite to “classical” project management methods, there are many practical benefits of blending the approaches and introducing agile principles into the project environment. This hybrid approach requires that project managers be open-minded and look for opportunities to combine more approaches for the greater benefit of the project.

2. Virtual leadership: Limited colocation means that in-person techniques need to be re-evaluated to ensure that they still achieve the intended result when conveyed through technology. Engagement (and any attempts at instilling motivation) has to happen through a screen monitor, something that traditional leadership techniques might not adequately address.

Project managers need to learn how to leverage technology to engage their team members, share information efficiently and help people navigate large amounts of incoming data.

3. Collaboration: While it’s hard to replicate an in-person collaboration experience in a digital space, collaboration tools became imperative once the work-from-home model was widely adopted. When thinking about a basic set of collaborative tools for a project, make a list of activities that you expert to perform digitally—and then look for options that provide the most of them in one solution. This will help ensure you don’t get overloaded by having too many tools—and also help you avoid inconsistencies and loss of information while you try to manage wider topics across various tools.

Examples of functionality that might be helpful for any project:

  • Online backlog tracking: Maintain all project activities in one place so you can track progress, assign responsibilities, and prioritize and link documentation.
  • Instant communication: Instantly reach out to colleagues any time we have an idea or need to share important information quickly. Save emails for more formal communication and choose an instant messaging tool instead.
  • Brainstorming, problem solving, group discussion: Share opinions digitally in a group, replicating physical white boards and sticky notes.
  • Documentation and content co-creation: This functionality should be in place regardless of whether we work onsite or from home. Such tools enable users to maintain various forms of information in one place—and update it instantly while automatically tracking previous versions in the background.

Impact of technologies on project values

Technology is not only influencing our way of working; it’s also creating significant differences in how our projects deliver value. Why?

1. Value can’t be delivered without the understanding of technology. Some technologies can deliver on their promises in a slower pace because their implementation requires dealing with legacy systems; physically installed equipment; or building an infrastructure of sensors, connectivity and databases (examples include the Internet of Things and Big Data).

The complex aspects associated with the use of technology require PMs to understand more than just the fundamentals of the project management discipline. They need to have a grasp of the technology itself (know the expert language), but also how to deal with key stakeholders that must have their say (like IT security, compliance or data ethics committees).

2. Technology creates new possibilities to be explored. A deeper knowledge of technologies helps project managers understand how to achieve benefits that were harder to reach in the past. For example:

  • Social media: joint application development sessions, questionnaires and general feedback gathering and interaction is much faster because of technology.
  • Technologies like application programming interfaces enable faster integrations on technical projects and open doors for brand new business models (e.g., open banking).
  • Hiring on projects has become faster due to resume screening tools; an added advantage is removing bias from the process.
  • Automation of routine work authorization schedules through chat bots reduce burnout for project personnel and improve outcomes

The importance of learning: Keeping pace with change
We live in an ever-changing world—and that means our stakeholders are also changing their mindsets. Businesses are also more competitive, and this narrows our pool of resources.

We’ve talked about the importance of understanding technology, but project managers also need to have better team-building skills to succeed in this digitalized business environment. Technical skills can be mastered more quickly than soft skills—changing a mindset is a much bigger challenge (after altering our behavior, it can take many months to see the initial results after building new habits).

Learning must be continuous for every member of the team and, on a scale, the company itself. Awareness of the environment inside and outside of the organization is a key prerequisite for good decision making and prioritization. We cannot stop learning; if a project team decides to use a specific tool, it would be helpful to have one of the team members trained in that particular tool and other team members to acquire at least the basic know how (T-shaping).

One of the often-cited positive impacts of the pandemic is that it has changed our commuting habits. We now have extra time that, for many of us, was previously spent on crowded roadways or subway lines. We must use that time wisely. The blurring of our personal and work spaces has created pressure to learn how to stay focused, and how to deal with new collaboration tools, multiple agendas, work, family, volunteer projects, friends, hobbies—anytime, anywhere, anyhow—in an asynchronous form of communication. Using this time to help learn can ease that stress.

Which technologies should you learn?
By now, the importance of understanding the impact of technologies on companies, economies and your own skill development should be well understood. Yet it may not be clear where to put your focus:

  • Does it make sense to learn a bit about everything?
  • Or to specialize only in areas that are tightly linked to your business area?
  • How can we even predict which technologies will step in, which will fade away and which will become part of the new normal?

There is no easy answer to this. Having a broad overview of the potential impact of technologies on the evolution of industries is important. Where project managers should put their attention is not in niche specialization, but rather understanding how digital transformation projects are done and how project managers can support expert teams to be successful.

Digital business transformation is a continuous long-term effort with many partial deliveries on the way. In the end, all elements approached within it need to fit together like a puzzle. A broader understanding of the context of such change is definitely helpful for any project manager.

Summary: The importance of changemakers
The future of project management is highly promising, as technological innovations are underway and will re-shape our possibilities. We need to pay attention to the constant changes of globalized world in order to invest in the highest-priority projects that that will add value to the business and customer. All of these factors contribute to making companies more competitive and prepared to face the challenges of our new world and ways of working.

Virtually all organizations are undergoing some form of transformation—including how to conduct projects, deal with uncertainties and manage conflicts. To face this transformation, we need to have an agile mindset and focus on these three main pillars—and having a wide project management skill set will help us do that:

  • Stakeholders: Add value by being a great integrator with the interested parties and motivate them to achieve the desired objectives.
  • Customers: Rethink how to provide a new customer experience, one supported by new technologies. We must deliver products and services with more value on a frequent basis through continuous improvement. This means new models of change management based on agility, customer focus, innovation and creativity.
  • The Project Economy: We need people with the skills and capabilities to turn ideas into reality, delivering value to stakeholders through successful project completion, product delivery and alignment with value streams. All of these initiatives must add financial and social value. In this scenario, be a changemaker—a leader who promotes organizational changes and turns ideas into reality (and that means knowing about projects).

Ref: PMI's Projectmanagement.com

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