Data-driven project management in clear language

Having published eight academic books, Professor Mario Vanhoucke knows what he is doing with The Data-Driven Project Manager. The only difference is that, this time, his new book is written in the form of a novel.

Meet Emily Reed

Resourceful, problem-solving, with a real affinity for figures, that’s Emily Reed for you. As a young project manager, she is responsible for the construction of a new tennis stadium at GlobalConstruct. She is also completely convinced that data should form the basis for all decisions. That’s handy, because Jacob Mitchell, CEO, wants to introduce a new project-management method and encourages Emily and her colleagues to immerse themselves in the data, looking for better ways to arm the organisation and the project against unexpected obstacles.

In professional literature, data-driven project management is also known as integrated project management and monitoring, or dynamic planning. That’s what this book is about. All the quantitative aspects of project management are covered in detail: time management, cost control, scope management, planning, risk analysis, project follow-up and earned value management, but told through the story of an organisation that is making the switch from traditional to data-based project management.


Storytelling may be trendy in marketing circles these days, but Mario has been convinced for a long time that it works: “After 20 years of academic research, consultancy and teaching all around the world, I have learnt that everyone has their own way of understanding things. A joke that will have the audience in stitches in China may not necessarily work as well in Belgium. An explanation that convinces one group may miss the mark with another. My story brings these years of experience together and is therefore the greatest common denominator for what works. That’s also why I wasn’t able to write it until now.”

All the dialogues are taken from real life, just like the characters: the technician who only looks at the figures and data, and goes so fast that no one can keep up with him, the opponent who is absolutely not interested in a data-driven approach, the colleague who does want to understand it all but is struggling so far and so on. “For each character I could name ten people that I have met over the years. All their different perspectives are covered in the story. That was a conscious choice. I can say how best to approach something, but there will always be those who look at it differently and who have their reasons for doing things another way.”

Gut instinct up for discussion

Mario doesn’t want to suggest that the use of data is the be all and end all. “Data analysis can help to solve problems but, most importantly, it puts our gut instinct up for discussion. Cognitive psychology has shown us that our intuition is usually wrong. Think of Daniel Kahneman’s masterpiece: Thinking fast and slow. Risk analysis is an important aspect of project management - a reason why it is better not to be led by your intuition. So an important lesson from the book is: first the data, then the feeling. You can still decide to ignore the results of the data analysis, but this should be done consciously and, if you have a good reason for your choice, I don’t have a problem with it. In that sense, this book is aimed primarily at doubters and at project managers who want to combine the two: data analysis and management on the basis of a gut instinct.”

Something for everyone

“For anyone who is already convinced that it’s best to base risk analysis and project management on data, as I am, the book will mainly act as a reference for various project-management and analysis techniques, or an interesting novel,” Mario smiles.

That being said, the reader will find an extensive overview of all the academic sources the book is based on in the last chapter. “Sometimes things are simplified in the story, for clarity, and academics will notice that - I admit that too. But if you are interested in the details, you will find links to all the relevant papers there. So even those who are already sold can learn something new. This time, it was my intention to make complex technical processes accessible to a wider audience. So far, my research has mainly reached my own circle of academic insiders.”

Big data? Good data!

“You know,” he says, “these days everyone is talking about big data, but it’s not always clear exactly what they mean by that. ‘Tell us what we should be doing will all this data,’ they ask me. I explain that in this book. I say that it’s not so much about data as such, but about what you do with it. Data should support decisions. Algorithms don’t take decisions, people do that. By using data well, you can not only see whether you are right or wrong but, most importantly, where there is room for improvement.”

Further reading
The Data-Driven Project Manager, A Statistical Battle Against Project Obstacles is published by Apress. You can also order the book on Amazon
Discover also the complete overview of all the author’s books about project management and decision making.

& Rankings

Equis Association of MBAs AACSB Financial Times