Workflow management software – the project manager’s crystal ball?

Have you ever thought how great it would be to be able to accurately predict project problems before they occur? You’d be able to take pre-emptive action and get your project completed more efficiently and effectively. But, then again, that would require a crystal ball, and no one has one of those, right?

Project management is rapidly adapting the way it analyses and learns from project workflow experiences, and the construction industry is leading the way in how project managers and work teams are planning workflow. This is reducing delays in project completion, decreasing costs, and boosting reputations.

It’s all thanks to cloud-based workflow management software, which is turning out to be the crystal ball all project managers wish they had.

What causes project delays?

There are two types of delays to projects, and both incur costs in time, money and reputation:

  • Excusable delays cannot be avoided, but are thankfully few and far between – for example, terrorist attacks, social unrest, and natural disasters.
  • Inexcusable delays include: issues with planning and scheduling; problems with procurement; subcontractors; delayed submission or clearance of documents; etc.

I should perhaps mention delays caused by the customer, which would come under the heading of ‘excusable delays’, but this falls in the realm of customer management.

The traditional way of managing projects and reducing costly delays is for project managers, customers, project teams, and other project stakeholders to document experiences, capture data, ask questions, record lessons to be learned, and then ensure that every member learns from these lessons. This is the why, what and how of learning lessons in PRINCE2 project management.

By its very nature, this learning process, while necessary, is a reactive one. There is a time lag between event and correction – by which time, the effects of any delay in workflow could already be having a knock-on effect. This is where workflow management software is proving to be a gamechanger.

High tech – building a new future for project management in construction

I’ve been watching developments in the construction industry for some time. It is one of the areas of project management that are most plagued by delays.

What I’ve seen is that innovative, high-tech solutions are being increasingly employed to allow real-time access to essential project information. Putting such software solutions in the cloud enables anyone, anywhere, to see the current state and take proactive action to correct before it becomes a wider issue.

Project IQ

One such solution is Project IQ, a new piece of software developed by Autodesk and currently undergoing field testing. This collects project-wide data, and allows contractors to identify and manage on-site risks. The real-time nature of data dissemination enables contractors and subcontractors to take corrective action before it is needed, thus smoothing workflow and leading to more efficient working patterns.

Artificial intelligence at work

IQ (and other software applications like it) doesn’t simply rely on manual inputs. While these software applications benefit from a huge range of project inputs from linked devices in the hands of project managers, team leaders, contractors and subcontractors, the best are also capable of pulling in data from other sources such as drones, wearables, and digital fabrication.

This mine of information can then be analysed automatically, and used to inform where and with whom the project manager should be working most. He or she will be better informed as to current project risks, and which project teams of subcontractors are most at risk.

This artificial intelligence should help project managers to monitor performance and improve project schedules. While the project managers must continue to have difficult conversations with subcontractors, these conversations will be better informed and conducted with greater speed – reducing risks and knock-on effects of project delays, which may not otherwise have been tackled in a timely fashion.

In addition, this type of software learns from project experience – in a similar way to which PRINCE2 ensures that project stakeholders learn from their experiences.

Inputs – the real challenge for the industry

AI software relies on the quality of its inputs. These applications certainly have the ability to learn and increase their effectiveness. Key to this is ensuring that all users know how to use the system, and input accurate data. It’s essential that users are trained correctly. Understanding how they work with the software is what makes the system effective. This may be the biggest challenge facing the industry as it increases the use of high-tech applications to become more efficient on every project.