The Next Big Game-Changer in Project and Portfolio Management?
When Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta, it did not go unnoticed. Some relished the news while others took it with a grain of salt. Well, skepticism is a usual by-product of any innovation. People were doubtful when they had to start moving from their desktops to the web. Later on, they moved from the web to their mobiles. These days we can barely function without our mobiles, which seemed implausible ten years ago. This goes well with project and portfolio management.
As project and portfolio managers, we should first try to understand what the change is about. More importantly, it is important to understand how it might affect our modus operandi. As with any change process, it will have pros and cons. So, as we embrace the Metaverse, let’s try to come to grips with what the future holds for us. If Facebook holds up its end of the bargain, we might be up for another paradigm shift in how we manage projects.
While we are yet to see how a new, simulated digital reality will play out in terms of combining various aspects of social media, online games, blockchain technology, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), the company is putting out feelers about its future products. Some people have already tested Facebook’s professional version of the Metaverse, which is still in the works. Others have been publishing their deliberations on what’s to expect. I have reviewed these carefully. Based on my experience, I offer my take on what the advantages and disadvantages of the change could be.
Addressing physical limitations of virtual projects
Spurred by the pandemic and its impact, many organizations have opted for remote work. Zoom calls have become a natural part of our routine. Some took it further by setting up virtual project management teams feeding off the preceding experiences of matrix management across teams and countries. But for many, virtual project management teams are struggling due to physical limitations related to communication, coordination, and shared understanding.
Facebook’s immersive three-dimensional virtual world (VW) is intended to address these challenges by merging the physical and digital worlds. In much anticipated virtual world projects (VWPs), avatars – our digital representations – will come together to work, coordinate, and manage. Through Oculus , Facebook has put out Quest 2, a self-contained virtual reality headset, which gamers are already enjoying. It provides cues about how we’ll be entering and participating in VWPs.
By creating in-world artifacts, the VWP team members will have access to note cars containing project requirements, brainstormed ideas, and other resources throughout the life of the project. The VW should also make it easier to share all the requisite information, data, and tools within the VWP team.
Data sharing and coordination
I think it would be a safe assumption to suggest that with the VW technology, there’s a lot project and portfolio management teams will gain in terms of a more effective sharing of data. VWP teams won’t need an extra hour or day to dig something up or to find the right person to share a missing piece of the puzzle. It should all be one click away.
This should have a bearing on improved coordination and collaboration. Hence, I would argue we can expect a positive correlation between an increased use of VW tools and improved management and operational efficiencies.
Ample opportunities for learning
The Metaverse is likely to provide ample opportunities for iterative learning. Agile organizations would appreciate technology-driven e-learning tools that will become ever more efficient through VR and AR tools.
In theory, the VW’s communication, rendering, and interaction capabilities should allow users to mix and merge communication techniques to produce real-time, three-dimensional visual artifacts for learning. These capabilities should also reduce reliance on traditional text-based or verbal communication to share lessons and build shared understanding.
In addition, there’s so much untapped potential for researchers to explore. The experience of producing COVID-19 vaccines in record times shows how technology-based research can accelerate research & development.
Is it going to be safe, cost-effective, or ethically justified?
Still, there needs some answers. While Facebook is still grappling with the production process, we do not know how cost-effective it will be for organizations to jump on the bandwagon. For the innovation to be truly successful, it has to be made available on a massive scale.
Many organizations might cast doubt on the safety and security of the VW tools and resources. Can the Metaverse guarantee data security? Are organizations assured that sensitive data will not be compromised? Facebook does not necessarily have a great track record in acting on harmful content.
Some U.S. senators went so far as to accuse the company of putting “astronomical profits before people.” A number of company employees were also frustrated by Facebook’s failure to acknowledge the harm it caused or to mitigate their impact. These are important considerations. In this case, the company will need to clear the air before it hits the market with its new products.
Does it really replace or beat face-to-face communication?
This is yet to be seen, but many people agree that no matter how advanced AI or VW rolls become, there’s always a need for face-to-face communication. I think the best way of conceptualizing the Metaverse is not one that sees it as a substitute for human interaction. Rather, it must be viewed as a great aid. As social animals, we’d still need to see people’s emotions, body language, or knee-jerk reactions. Let’s not just leave it to all to avatars.
Whether we like it or not, we are on our way to seeing more of our project and portfolio management transposed to the virtual world. Does it bode well for project and portfolio managers? Yes and no. As with any other innovation, the point is not about total acceptance or total denial. The point is about a sound assessment of all the pros and cons and striking a balance to make it work. As Robert Browning, a 19th century English poet and playwright, famously noted, “…a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Therefore, we should definitely embrace the change and make the most of it without losing sight of any associated risks or downsides.