The oil and gas industry is facing complex multiple challenges which, at their most extreme, threaten the existence of some companies within the sector. To overcome these challenges and not merely survive but thrive in this ever-changing environment, the oil and gas industry needs to fundamentally rethink the way that it does business. The industry needs to find every way possible to do more to deliver more value for customers, enhancing productivity across the board.

And there is a lot to do. Despite a number of individual and sector initiatives, the productivity of industrial companies actually declined between 1990 and 2010. In an age of $100 oil, the industry might have been able to accept, if not like, this fact. Today it can do neither. Enhancing productivity is, and must be, everyone’s priority.

GE has been working to address this from all angles. It is incumbent on the company to support the oil and gas industry in embracing its digital future, driving meaningful change from data-driven insights across assets, operations and enterprises.

An often underacknowledged industry productivity enhancement is through a fundamental rethink of the way in which projects are managed. GE calls this new approach contemporary project management. This comprises three discrete but interdependent shifts: a shift in skills, a shift in mindset and a shift in tools. Together these can drive significant productivity gains across the sector.

Making the data work
There are more data available to project managers than ever before. By 2020 GE machines alone are expected to produce 106 terabytes of information per day—1 million times the size of the 1-terabyte hard drive first brought to the market less than 10 years ago. The pace of change is exponential.

Fundamental to contemporary project management is finding efficient yet powerful ways to make this plethora of data work for the company and for its customers. This means collecting the information available—from machine data to client feedback to social media commentary—and using the holistic insights that are now available to create meaningful outcomes for customers. Where once project managers reported retrospectively, explaining past failures, access to comprehensive data and insights means they can and must share issues honestly and proactively, seeking to anticipate and address them before they can escalate.

This is a significant change for today’s project managers, requiring a shift in skills and mindset. Project managers must be trained to effectively handle, sift, analyze and share the wealth of data available to them. And a mindset change is necessary because providing access to real-time data, honestly discussing issues as they happen and collaborating to address problems requires a new level of confidence and bravery from project managers. As one colleague said, “We have opened the windows, and now we can’t close them, whatever the weather.”

Just as project managers need to adjust to this new reality, they need to be provided with the tools to make this possible. These tools must incorporate both “hard” technology to help them manage and share data and insights with customers quickly and easily and “soft” skills, focused on developing real-time problem-solving and customer engagement expertise.

Customers first
One important tool in GE’s contemporary project management toolbox is FastWorks. Built by GE and Eric Reis based on his Lean Startup principles, it commits GE teams to a constant customer-first ethos, providing a set of tools and principles that incorporate the thinking of external entrepreneurs to help them work in a simpler and better way. Through early collaboration, testing and learning with customers, the project managers are able to understand their needs quickly while assuming minimal risk. A fivepoint belief statement summarizes the FastWorks approach: Customers determine success, stay lean to go fast, learn and adapt to win, empower and inspire each other, and deliver results in an uncertain world. The result is that the company can deliver better outcomes to its customers faster.

Recently, FastWorks was leveraged to launch the NovaLT16 16.5MW gas turbine, which will provide 37% mechanical efficiency and raise the standards for efficiency and reliability. It was produced in just 30 months, cutting the normal development time by more than 50%.

Key to exemplifying leadership in this space is the Project Management Academy, where all training is staffed by executives from within the business. These leaders are tasked with bringing real-world, immediately actionable lessons to the table while honestly sharing some of the challenges they have faced on the road to becoming contemporary project managers. All of these sessions emphasize that the world is moving too fast to solely theorize. These managers need to leave the room as inspired agents of immediate change.

The changes wrought by a commitment to this dynamic form of project management are delivering demonstrable outcomes, showing that this is not only good business practice but common sense. Shared access to data means more eyes on the issues, making teams better able to anticipate problems and utilizing all of the available expertise to effectively address them. Empowering project managers helps to keep their interest so as to develop and ultimately retain and grow them. And better informed project managers who engage the customer more regularly, tackling problems collaboratively and sharing their full breadth of knowledge and skill more frequently, make long-term customer retention and growth more likely.