The following is the first installment in a series of blog posts discussing “the new economy”, where the gig worker becomes more prevalent and necessary to successful project management. The thoughts expressed here are by Mark Dean, PhD, Electrical Engineering, Stanford University. A former Vice President in many capacities for IBM, he was also awarded IBM’s prestigious IBM Fellow status for his technical knowledge and accomplishments. He holds more than 40 patents including three of the nine original patents for the personal computer.
Project Management in the Gig-Economy by Mark Dean, Ph.D.
Three major questions exist:
- How do you plan, assign, manage, track, and assess a project and/or multiple activities in an environment where the workforce is made up of independent agents/contractors (e. g. part of the gig-economy with no common association with a single company, organization, or agency)?
- What is required to support project managers ability to assign and complete, in a short period of time (hours to a few days), activities with high variability in scope, location, and specific actions required?
- How do you select and manage independent agents when all you have is a profile that cannot express things like cultural norms, biases, present challenges, existing distractions, work ethics, and other insights you experience when working with someone every day?
Most of the examples of assigning and managing work using a gig-workforce include work assignments that are repetitive or similar in nature, e.g., Uber, Cabify, Lift, Amazon Flex, Airbnb, and Onefinestay. Others are a little more varied in their assigned activities, e.g., Care.com, Fiverr, and TaskRabbit. But few have a system that can support real-time delivery of installation, maintenance, compliance, monitoring and/or survey services for the physical infrastructure (transportation, kiosk, lighting, communications, buildings, IoT, signage, etc.) Given the increasing interest of individuals to gaining access to new opportunities and new income sources, there is a significant need to enable the leveraging of a growing gig-workforce to support more complex services.
Challenges with leveraging the gig-workforce in the delivery of infrastructure services includeâ€“
- Project planning in the face of uncertainty in the available skills to support the project’s activities. A company will need to establish a system to manage a large list of available diverse independent contractors with a broad set of skills and backgrounds to support real-time assignment of resources to a broad set of infrastructure projects.
- Compiling and sustaining a list of skilled independent agents such that project managers can easily identify skills and their availability in real time, especially when the target projects require a wide variety of activities and skills.
- Sustaining a pool of independent agents without any control of their total work commitments and/or guarantees to their willingness to work at any given time. To manage availability issues of gig-workers, the list of independent contractors may need to be 2 to 4 times the number of people needed for the total number of short-term service projects.
- Assigning and tracking an independent agent’s activities, past and planned, while maintaining that agent’s privacy and status as an independent entity. The independent contractor may need to be able to update and share their projected availability (e.g. a real-time calendar that only shows “times of availability” versus “scheduled commitments”.) As jobs are accepted by the independent agent, their “availability calendar” is updated accordingly.
- Delivery of high-quality products and services in an environment where no one has a common culture of high-quality delivery of work items. Over time (i.e., years) and with many assigned activities, a project manager and/or contracting company might be able to establish certain cultural norms and expectations among a pool of independent agents.
A system that supports the real-time assignment and management of infrastructure projects using a gig-workforce will require the following components and capabilities:
- Project workflow creation, tracking, and management with the flexibility to have every element of a project to be assigned 1-to-N entities.
- Assignment and tracking of workflow items to gig-worker and/or independent contractor.
- Real-time analysis of active projects, assigned workforce, and available workforce. This will require integration of data visualization tools to help with real-time decision making.
- Capture and management of data from execution of workflow items (i.e., forms, spreadsheets, pictures, videos, audio recordings, instrument readings, barcodes, QR codes, etc.). Will require integration of database management and content management systems.
- Quality control of workflow results and the ability to establish and manage corrective actions.
- Inventory management (i.e., materials, tools, vehicles, …).
- Customer billing.
- Invoicing of payments to gig-worker and/or independent contractor.
- Project reporting and documentation creation/management.
- Integration of data analysis and data visualization tools to track and identify potential opportunities in improving efficiencies and quality of service in project delivery.
- System APIs to support sharing of content/information across companies.
- Ability to interface with other development, information, and communication systems (i.e., email, databases, social networking, forms, project management, accounting, etc.).
At present I am unaware of a project management system with all the capabilities needed to efficiently handle real-time creation, assignment, and tracking of workflow activities for infrastructure services to a gig-workforce. To support the design, development, testing, deployment, and maintenance of a system as defined above, a disciplined development process will be required with clear documentation of requirements, system architecture, and design. The main question is: “Is the complexity of managing a diverse set of infrastructure services projects using a gig-workforce too high to be supported by a single project management system?” We will be working to answer this question.