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Project Based Innovation: Project Data Manager

"The Project is the Enterprise"--I have been saying this for almost two decades. If you've read my previous articles, I speak to the facts around innovation in the built environment especially with regard to its...

February 19, 2020


"The Project is the Enterprise"--I have been saying this for almost two decades. If you've read my previous articles, I speak to the facts around innovation in the built environment especially with regard to its structural differences. I had a professor once tell me that the industry follows the golden rule: "the person with the gold makes all the rules." The real estate owner/developer is the one with the gold, but I don't really agree that they make all the rules. They make some of the rules, but a challenge is posed by the autonomous nature of the industry and the risk in prescribing means and methods. Enter the role of the Project Data Manager. This is the solution. This is the key role for an efficient and successful project. The problem is that the data manager role does not formally exist on a project. It is a role that is assumed by the most technically strong person on the team. It's like a pick-up basketball game. No one is technically the coach, but you quickly figure out who's in charge. They are typically the best player on the team. With any role, there should be a job description. Here's what the PDM is in charge of:

Project Provisioning (the people): A new project needs to be set up. The PDM tracks the project's vitals such as location, organizational structure, contacts for the entire team, roles on the team, and more. They must own the master database of the project. A large part of this function is change management. Given the turnover in the industry, it is not likely that the same team will be there from the beginning to the end.

Freedom of Choice (the technologies): It is unreasonable for the entire project to work on a single software platform. Every player has their own set of tools. They should have the freedom to use the tools that they are familiar with. One of the biggest failures is when, without providing the proper training, organizations force teams to use a tool that they have never used before. All of the project teams should submit what software tools they are using and how each tool is being used. This should be managed and tracked.

Workflow Creation: We know the people and the technologies; now we have to map the workflow. The Project Data Manager must map all the people and technologies against the workflows. They should be organized into macro and micro workflows. The macro workflows are the ones that are transparent to the entire project team. They are mapped by person/organization, software, message type, and the actual data sets transmitted. The micro workflows are "black boxed." They are classic input <<process>> output. The process of the micro workflow is proprietary to the process owner, yet the data mapping of the input and the output is highly defined.

Integration: This function of the PDM is critical. Now that we know the people, technology, and processes, we need to integrate the systems. This is a massive undertaking. Some of these integrations are easy, and some are hard. The complexity of these integrations are from simple JSON calls to modern platforms to accessing legacy non-cloud platforms. Not to mention desktop applications like Excel. Time to earn that big paycheck of the "D" in PDM. As technology evolves, this will get easier and easier.

Project Closeout: A project has a beginning and an end. However, the team that needs access to information drastically changes once a project is handed over to the owner. The data closeout process includes the security protocols of data access but also the archiving of data and data hygiene procedures. Think about how many FTP (file transfer protocol) sites are sitting out on the internet with project data available to people that should not have it. Additionally, while archiving raw data is important, exporting data to file types that are future proof is critical.

Data Ownership: The project data that exists in the project domain belongs to the owner of the building. This was defined in the macro workflows. The data that exists in the micro workflows belongs to each respective party and was never exposed. The PDM should provide data warehouse access to the project data in perpetuity. They should define what data is available to whom as part of the project provisioning process.

Getting Paid to Innovate: The PDM is an agent of the owner and is thus paid for by the owner from the cap-ex of the project. However, this position is easily justified in a few ways since the project efficiency "de-skills" the owner's supply chain. The architects, engineers, and contractors are more efficient by centralizing the data management role. It allows the firms that are good at the work and mediocre at the technology to participate in a project equally. When I look at the adoption of BIM over the last fifteen years, not all firms had the budget to invest in hiring and learning BIM. In many cases, it was irrelevant to their workflows. A lot of great companies were blocked out of projects due to BIM mandates. If you have read this entire article, the bonus is that R&D tax credits could possibly pay for this entire role with no additional cost to the project. There is a great method of leveraging R&D Tax credits to pay for this.

Want to learn more? Contact me and I would love to discuss.

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