Blockchain and Project Management

By Duncan Cameron

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A simple permissioned ledger can provide immutability, traceability and full audit history for a project.

I’ve recently been engaged in project and commercial management for a complex transformation project.

We all know these types of projects are filled with various challenges, but the one I want to talk about is how information always fragments across the program particularly when working with large, robust teams.

Critical data that is required for reporting and progress tracking tends to scatter like wild fire across different management tools, project members’ brains and (of course) excel spreadsheets. Additionally, assumptions are not always properly managed or tracked, creating hundreds of different data points across the program.

The two key issues I’ve noticed are quite simply:

  1. More work (particularly for your PMO function), and
  2. Commercial uncertainty (re progress tracking, scope, deliverables, burn-down, effort, etc.)

Naturally, this takes up a large amount of time not just during negotiations but also during ramp-up and mobilization. Even on the ground there were still decisions to be made on what tools to use? How will we track activities? What should we use to measure progress? MS project? Excel? Sharepoint? Teams? Slack? Jira? Workflows? HPALM? Dashboards? Kanban boards?

It sounds like I’m just listing off tools ad hoc, but almost all of these tools will appear in some form or another on complex projects. As consultants, we also have a habit of putting all the information we have into beautiful spreadsheets full of macros, formulas and graphs and then presenting it as gospel. Which is great, until the data is out of date and we have a library full of redundant reports from a hundred different sources.

Additionally, the rise of agile and iterative based projects also means that any report or presentation on progress or deliverable tracking very quickly loses its value if it’s not used the day it’s made. A bit like sashimi. Might be delicious while it’s fresh but if you don’t consume it quickly, you’re in for a bad time.

Single source of truth

The simple answer to all this is creating a single source of truth. Enter blockchain. In my view, blockchain can (and should) be the standard for all things single source. A simple permissioned ledger can provide immutability, traceability and full audit history for a project. Furthermore, the transaction types recorded can be anything from settlement payments, milestones, completion of tasks, project goals and resourcing updates.

At a high level, blockchain provides a method of creating networks built on trust. Within a private network, information can be exchanged between companies, clients, vendors and partners effortlessly without the need for manual reconciliations or verification.

In 2017 the Russian government-owned Vnesheconombank (‘VEB’) announced they were planning to implement blockchain within their project management function. When queried about why blockchain, the CEO responded simply that they saw no other feasible platform. If implemented correctly, blockchain can improve quality of governance, minimise bureaucracy and remove multiple inefficient touchpoints for reporting and progress tracking.

On-time and on-budget

The simple mission statement for any Project Manager is usually deliver on-time and on-budget. Blockchain is technically resilient and secure due to tamper-proof consensus algorithms. A blockchain based PM tool should enable Project Managers to support superior operational workflow. By utilising a shared single source of truth that is decentralised will ultimately result in time-saving, removal of manual labour and ultimately less risk. It also does away with multiple project sources and can provide a one-stop shop for all your governance and reporting needs with real-time data.

The future of project management

In establishing and maintaining a permissioned ledger, projects can effortlessly communicate with all participants to define and maintain requirements, scope, budget, deadlines and deliverables that can be verified as transactions. Not to mention the added benefit of smart contracts, such as:

  • Automating payment as soon as your project hits milestones
  • Automatically documenting and capturing slippages in dates
  • Maintaining a real-time log of any risks & issues due to resourcing, dates or deliverable progress.

Additionally, permissioned ledgers can extend to your stakeholders giving them peace of mind that at any time they can understand progress, scope and activities to date via a trustless, immutable ledger (that’s added value).

Final thoughts

Perhaps it’s the immaturity of the technology or the speculative hype that surrounded bitcoin that has hindered the integration of blockchain. If there’s a requirement for a single source of truth, blockchain should always be considered as a potential solution.

They say a weapon is only as a good as the person wielding it. So, all those project managers out there better start reading up on blockchain.

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