Speculative Interactions:
The Harmonogram

03.15.2014

For some, project management is part of a big chunk of their lives. A third actually, and it's called work. And for those people, the future of project management can't get here soon enough.

But the thing about the future is that it always comes through the side door. It never comes banging. If everything's there, it will just seem like a natural progression of things.

And I think everything is already here.

There is a vision.

About a hundred years ago, a man in Poland had drawn the first network diagram, which he called the harmonogram. Besides what's certainly one of the building blocks of project management, Adamiecki — the man in question — had also laid out an overarching principle for the future of project management: harmony.

Working in harmony is what matters, from the importance of creating a good team, to a good coordination and to good tools, he literally wrote the book on the Law of Harmony.

However, harmony is contextual. And Adamiecki's solutions were not. Creating a rhythm, a dynamic and reaching an utopian harmony depends entirely on the specifics of the environment.

Workflows are such a delicate problem of project management that we are only just — a hundred years later — starting to move away from that thinking.

There is a way

The best project management software created transparency, created an ambient in which everybody in the team was aware of each other. Because most of the time, work actually means working with someone. And that's why a process of designing with empathy started to gradually get the interface out of the way and started to focus on what people do best: work with each other.

But most of the time, working with different people means working on multiple projects at different stages. That's a lot of extra information that needs to be managed — notifications, messages, documents, priorities, chats, discussions, events. All, things that can create friction and interrupt concentration.

It's our job, as designers, to manage all that information in such a way that it doesn't seem like a burden. To figure out workflows and design emphatically around them. But if there was a way we could build a system that is sensitive, and react to that information automatically, our job would be a lot easier. And people would communicate easier.

It needs context

If you think about it, in real world conversations, we leave out the context under the assumption that our communication partner knows the context as well. It's the machine’s job to fill in that context. And the only way to do that is to use AI methods.

Ambient awareness is a powerful vision for productivity if it's to be enhanced by a bit of machine intelligence. And I'm not talking about General AI here, I'm talking about a concept that that helped a lot of companies stay on top of the curve and innovate: fractional AI.

When you give existing products and environments “a kind of domesticated, not-very-intelligent artificial intelligence”, how Matt Webb calls it, they effectively become something else. They become part of the future, pushed through the side door by fractional AI.

Things that release

What I'm saying is that we can solve real-world, small, practical problems that users face, but use the big guns of AI to do it.

A system that could automatically align all of that information — documents and discussions — to the context you're in would be a polite system.

Objects that draw attention, create friction. But objects that release, that set the mind free to wonder, objects that are polite, those are the objects that delight, that have a personality.

Time awareness, task awareness, social, cultural and organisational settings, all can be used to semantically infer meaning. To understand intent and respond accordingly.

So now, all that's left is to make the transition from a tool to an intelligent tool: project management software will gradually become a personal assistant, that knows your context and reacts accordingly, removing all obstacles between you and your work.

Giving an environment, like a project management system, contextual awareness is the last step in making a 100 year old vision get as close to reality as possible: people working with other people in complete harmony.

I wanted to see what it would take to put this all together. And to do that, it takes a few things done differently: context awareness, a personalised experience ( it's not the same for everybody ) and adaptive UIs.

All new concepts for productivity tools, all new design challenges.