The best capital project managers know that a company’s most important competitive advantage is its people, not its technology
So why is it that when investment slows, the people are the first to go?
And why is this still true now, in the middle of a skilled labor shortage that has been ominously referred to as a “retirement tsunami” and a “demographic labor cliff?”
During a slowdown, project managers shouldn’t have to choose between paying for a software license and keeping a skilled project professional. Executives should be able to leverage downtime to build skills and expand project experience. Because now, more than ever, your people are your competitive advantage.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when a new piece of software could give you an advantage in the marketplace. This is no longer the case. As Nicholas Carr wrote in his controversial 2003 Harvard Business Review essay about the diminishing value of information technology: “The core functions of IT are … costs of doing business that must be paid by all but provides distinction to none.”
Responding to Carr, New York Times technology writer Steve Lohr made the message even clearer. “The value is not in the bits and bytes, but up a few levels in the minds of the skilled businesspeople using the tools,” Lohr wrote. “Large chunks of the technology may be commoditizing, but how you use it isn’t. That is where competitive advantage resides.”
It is difficult to keep people on the payroll when the industry is in an economic trench. Investment in capital projects depends on many interconnected factors, from the price of raw material and energy demand to changing national and international trade policies. When the market sinks and capital investment ebbs, executives in asset-intensive industries have to cut something.
Many believe that the obvious place to start is by cutting people who aren’t actively producing.
We believe that training people to manage capital projects is such a Herculean task that a high-performing team should be kept together at all costs. Your people and your team distinguish you from your competitors in a meaningful way. They are your best competitive advantage: Highly skilled, fully trained, entirely unique and yours alone.
By contrast, your information technology is a commodity. It’s absolutely essential to remain competitive, but it doesn’t give you a strategic advantage because everybody has it. Here’s Nicholas Carr again: “Any resource essential to competitiveness but inconsequential to strategic advantage carries more risk than reward.”
We believe in reducing the cost of IT infrastructure as much as possible, while simultaneously increasing its reliability in an effort to mitigate risk. This allows you to spend your capital on your real competitive advantage: your people.
The solution, then, is not more IT, but better IT: Tools that are intelligent enough to capture knowledge and put it to use to support and mentor new hires. This happens through carefully designed artificial intelligence, which is the basis of TCON™.
Capital project management is not a Sisyphean task. You are not doomed for eternity to start from scratch each time you need to build a team that can deliver a complex project.
You can reject the prevailing wisdom that says successful project management depends on “tools” and “best practices.” Reject the belief that capital projects will forever struggle with low productivity because each project is different and dependent on an unpredictable workforce.
Adopt instead the belief that people – their skills and competence – are your true competitive advantage. Keep them through the tough times, invest in them, and when the good times return you can capitalize on their experience through the power of accountability, alignment, and transparency.
Concord® Project Technologies’ T-CON Platform gives you the unprecedented ability to shape clear levels of accountability and to enable transparency around and across the project team. Contact us today.