Project Return

How has technology changed project management?

November 9th , 2020

Before getting into the blog, let us applaud the contributions of a rare breed of professionals – the project managers who are there for all seasons!

International Project Management (IPM) Day is observed each year on the first Thursday in November – to recognize the hard work, dedication, and often unappreciated efforts of project managers who ensure successful delivery of projects worldwide.

Now for a TOMA (top of the mind awareness) question!

What comes to your mind the moment you hear the word Project Management?

Please be honest! ????

I am aware that your responses may differ based on your profile and experience.

Most of you may be thinking of the Project Management Software or Project Management Tools that you currently use in your organization. Depending on your ‘experience’, it could trigger a wave of emotions – heaven, hell, or somewhere between! I will reserve it for another day.

  • For those aiming to move up the ladder, it could be project management certifications.
  • If you are a geek, you might be thinking of Project Management Technology.
  • Further, if you are on cloud nine (in a lighter vein), then it could be Cloud-based Project Management.
  • If you work on some ‘complex’ stuff, then it could be Advanced Project Management.

You see, just the two words ‘project management’ is enough to stir the hornets’ nest.

Now for a quiz question!

What is common to water purifiers, artificial limbs, telemedicine, ear thermometer, satellite TV, rocket fuel, GPS, laptop computers, smoke detectors, 3D & virtual reality, commercial aircraft, and unmanned military aircraft?

Are you thinking? (Please do not skip to the next few lines)

Now, maybe wondering – these are different products, and what could be common to them? (Stay on this line please)

Did that blow your brain’s fuse away?

Let me reveal it to you! 

What if I said - not just those products, but about 1600 of them!

Yes, about 1600 inventions arose as byproducts of just one project – NASA’s Apollo Mission!

Now for some serious stuff.

Of late, there are debates about the impact of technology on project management. There are the ‘old-timers’ who believe (and rightly so) that project management has its roots in construction, engineering, and the second world war! We will get to that later.

If there was one significant moment that changed project management, it was undoubtedly NASA’s Apollo Mission, 1961-69.

Roger D Launius, former historian at NASA quoted,

“It may be that the most lasting legacy of Apollo was human: an improved understanding of how to plan, coordinate, and monitor the myriad technical activities that were the building blocks of Apollo.”

Back to our debate.

Looking at it with a different pair of lenses, may not be appropriate to view the impact of technology on project management! It was never meant to be.

To an extent, while it is common sense that technology has made an impact on project management, we also need to clearly understand the word ‘project.’

Projects do not exist by themselves. Organizations, customers, and other stakeholders need products, services, or results – these are delivered via a structured approach called projects.

Over the past 75 years, project management dimensions have significantly evolved. But nothing has changed project management as the way technology has. Today, project management related conversations, conferences, seminars, or online forums would be in a state of the void without project management software, project management tools, and project management technology.

In parallel, project managers – the torchbearers of project management have transformed too!

Let us now do a deep dive into the various dimensions of project management and compare how they worked before and after the advent of technology. One aspect must be clear – it is not that technology did not exist earlier; it is just that the advancements are happening at a rapid pace than before akin to Moore’s Law.

There are many advancements in the world of technology. I would restrict to just a few of them from an impact perspective and these are:

  • The Internet

The internet has changed our lives – professional and personal like no other! Many interactions that required people to meet or discuss over a phone can be done via the internet. To this extent, many activities in project management have disappeared or become purely transactional!

  • Computing Devices

The rise and rise of computers, laptops, smartphones, and storage servers have pushed life literally at your fingertips.

  • Digitization

The ability to create documents in a digital format altered the way organizations interacted and documented discussions and contracts. Along with digitization is the ability to affix digital signatures with appropriate security.

  • Video Conferencing

The ability to see and interact with someone who is thousands of miles away has altered the course of businesses.

For this blog, I would prefer to use the PMBOK Guide published by PMI (USA) as a framework for project management. The PMBOK Guide (Sixth Edition) constructs project management as:

  • Five Process Groups – Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring & Control, and Closure
  • Ten Knowledge Areas – Scope, Schedule, Resources, Costs, Quality, Communication, Procurement, Risks, Stakeholders, and Integration

Let us start with Pre-Sales and Project Initiation.

Performing Organizations (Product Vendors/Service Providers) had a difficult time finding out potential customers, creating proposals with multiple revisions, and finally getting a contract. They had to invest in large marketing and sales teams to accomplish deals. With variations of the internet, getting your voice heard by potential customers is relatively easy (not to forget its challenges). With advanced websites, the process of Request for Information (RFI) has disappeared. The internet and digitization have given firepower to the process of Request for Proposals, Proposal creation, and Contract finalization – these can be accomplished digitally with all available data security – at the comfort of your office.

Imagine how difficult it would have been to get approval for a product business case worth a million dollars. The teams would have to spend sleepless nights creating, reviewing, and cross-checking all the information and the accompanying numbers. I am sure some of you may have pulled hairs (and lost many) trying to justify your idea. By the way, your job description did not mention those levels of frustration! Today, digital solutions make it easy to create business cases and allow management to decide in a fraction of the time compared to what it used to take earlier!

What about Project Planning?

Project planning is one area where technology has driven efficiency and productivity at the same time. The complexity of projects undertaken by organizations has multiplied manifold. Planning these projects involved different dimensions and I go back to the PMBOK Guide.

Visualize if you had no project management software or project management tool for a complex project (for example drug development) with global teams, vendors, and government approvals involved. How easy would it be to:

  • Elicit and gather detailed customer requirements, categorize, and prioritize them
  • Document a detailed scope along with a clear work breakdown structure (WBS), WBS dictionary
  • Estimate effort and duration
  • Allocate and optimize resources including leveling
  • Estimate project costs – direct, indirect, fixed, variable, and sunk
  • Define quality objectives and metrics
  • Identify risks and assess them qualitatively and quantitatively (expected monetary value and sensitivity analysis)
  • Create response plans along with ownership
  • Plan procurement with vendors – types of the contract along with terms and conditions
  • Gather and plan stakeholder reporting
  • Define project governance and approval mechanisms

Can you visualize your project schedule with your critical path? And without a project management software?

What about schedule compression through crashing or fast-tracking techniques? And without a project management tool?

How long do you think it would have taken?

To put things in perspective, I had spent a week just to create a schedule on a project (over a decade ago) with about 4500-line items using a leading project scheduling tool at that time.

I want you to pause, imagine, and reflect on the impact of technology on our projects!

How complex and time-consuming this process would have been for a project like the World Trade Center design and construction! It would have taken reams of paper, thousands of hours of effort of hundreds of team members – to create, check, review, and seek approval for just the plan. Besides, there would be a ton of supporting documentation, specifications, drawings, et al – mindboggling even to think now.

Would you have the confidence and courage to lead and work on those kinds of projects without the aid of technology?

Today, with advanced project planning & scheduling software solutions, large complex projects can be planned in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, the use of digital communication makes it possible to bring stakeholders from across the globe in a jiffy!

Project execution and tracking would be a nightmare! (maybe daymare as well)

With teams working on different aspects of the project from multiple locations, tracking the project progress would give any seasoned project manager jitters! Imagine the stress and anxiety involved:

  • In understanding and validating the progress of deliverables and work packages
  • To accurately report the extent of project progress – schedule, quality, costs, etc.
  • Reviewing project change requests, performing a meticulous impact analysis, and gaining approval for a steering committee or a change control board – not for the faint-hearted project managers!
  • Working with vendors to ensure they deliver their products and services – and integrating this into the main project stream is no less than a miracle!
  • Managing multiple baselines and versions of scope, schedule, costs, quality – not to forget the detailed documentation, drawings, specifications, etc. These are extremely easy, thanks to cloud-based project management tools.

Pharmaceutical and life science projects involve the creation and management of ‘dossiers’ as prescribed US FDA and similar agencies worldwide. It would be a herculean task to accomplish just this without the adoption of project management technologies.

Again, without advanced project management tools, project teams may need three times, five times, or more to deliver these projects.

Time to close the project, right? 

Complex projects cannot be closed in a matter of days. The process of closure involves:

  • Deliverable acceptance by the customer
  • Administrative closure – documentation, archival, reference files, emails, et al
  • Financial closure – billing documents, supporting vouchers, invoices, payments, claims, etc.
  • Legal closure – contract related, transfer of liability, and others

Ensuring data integrity, data security, and access control is critical in today’s technology age. This is made easy through highly secure and cloud-based project management tools.

The project closure phase could take months even after the project is ‘technically’ closed. Today, with the support of technology, closure is accomplished faster and more important – to the comfort of both the parties involved. In fact, with better project management techniques, closure happens in a planned manner from the execution phase itself – avoids all the heartburns later.

What about project leadership?

When managing complex and large-scale projects without the support of technology, the biggest fallout is the lack of focused leadership. When the project manager is struggling and juggling with scope, schedule, resources, costs, risks, quality, and others, the focus is more to ensure that the project finishes as per committed timelines. In this process, project managers may find it difficult and exhausting to focus on higher leadership dimensions such as:

  • Motivating and interpersonal skills

Project managers would find it difficult to ensure that they regularly interact with team members with the sole objective of understanding and motivating their teams.

  • Influencing skills

Since project managers focus on managing scope, schedule, and costs, they may not have the bandwidth to review influencing skills – rather they resort to command and control, which may not work in all situations.

  • Conflict management

Again, due to limited time, project managers end up resolving conflicts usually through ‘forcing’ or ‘directing’ rather than exploring alternates such as collaborating, problem-solving, compromise, or smoothing – the situation may just not warrant them.

  • Communication

Communication with stakeholders is severely impacted. Project managers usually focus on communication that the top bosses need and not so much with other stakeholders such as the team. The team members may feel isolated and cut-off and would work on the project without adequate ‘passion.’ In today’s language, the team members would be ‘less engaged.’

With advanced project management technology available such as social platforms, messaging applications, and video calling, it is easy to ‘connect’ and stay ‘engaged’ with stakeholders – top management, customer, vendor, team members, and end-users. Project managers not only manage projects but also address the aspirational dimensions of their teams.

To summarize:

  • Numerous projects have been undertaken and would continue to be undertaken to develop new technologies.
  • Project management has become efficient, productive, and faster complemented by technologies.
  • Organizations and leaders can aspire to go for great projects with the support of technologies
  • Project professionals need to embrace technologies if they are to stay relevant
  • Managers should not lose sight of – leadership and the human touch that technologies cannot be designed for!

TouchBase is an industry-leading advanced project management software that:

  • Incorporates the latest project management technologies and,
  • Supports cloud-based project management

Give it a look. You would be glad you did.


Name of Author


Srikanth PV comes with two decades of global corporate and consulting background across industries with diverse roles including Strategy, Leadership, and Management.

Currently, Srikanth is Head, PPM Content Management at ProductDossier focused on content management strategy aimed to empower customers create and enhance value through its flagship digital solution - TouchBase. Srikanth is also a former member of the Board of Directors of PMI Bangalore Chapter. View his detailed profile on LinkedIn at https://in.linkedin.com/in/srikanthpv-ppm



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