Project management and virtual reality – does that go together?

Projects around virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) are already being carried out with common project management tools. Today, we ask conversely how project management can benefit from the integration of this technology.

About the terms

The starting point of the following exemplary representations is a person going to the supermarket for shopping.

In mixed reality, the shopper wears glasses on the inside of which a computer projects the user’s shopping list. For example, in such a way that the user gets the impression that the shopping list is written on the wall of the supermarket. Here, reality is enriched with virtual information.

In augmented reality, the name refers to applications that are experienced via VR glasses or a head-mounted display (HMD) and which, for example, transmit the sound of a door intercom to the headphones when the grocery delivery man rings the doorbell. Here, virtuality is enriched with real information.

In virtual reality (VR), one refers to applications that are experienced through VR goggles or an HMD and exist purely virtually. The entire genre of semi-virtual and virtual realities cannot do without programmers and software engineers. It is therefore logical that the interfaces to project management lie first in agile project management. After all, agile comes from IT.

History and development

1968 – “The Sword of Damocles”.

While his program “Sketchpad” can only be connected to the topic of virtual reality via several corners, Ivan Sutherland created the first Head Mounted Display (HMD) in 1968 together with his student Bob Sproul (*1945). The HMD was so heavy that it could not be carried by a human being and had to be installed under the ceiling with the help of a frame. A wireframe cube with an edge length of about five centimeters floating in space was the first object to be displayed in virtual reality.

1982 – Virtual Reality is mentioned for the first time

As always, it is of course difficult to find the exact origin, or birth, of a term. However, it can be assumed that the term Virtual Reality appeared in its meaning for the first time in the 1982 novel “The Judas Mandala” by Damien Francis Broderick (*22.04.1944). In the same year, the Disney-produced film “Tron” was released. Two years later, in 1984, the groundbreaking novel “Cybermancer” prepares more and more people for the possibility of virtual reality.

1999 and 2003 – What is the Matrix?

The Matrix movie trilogy is released. The sci-fi film thrilled millions of moviegoers, thanks to its revolutionary special effects, but also because of its haunting subject matter. The reality in which we live is questioned – and the idea of a matrix in which people are kept became a frightening scenario. In the reality of Matrix’s story, people’s bodies lie unconscious in tanks and are mentally connected to the Matrix, a computer-simulated world.

2016 – It begins

A whole range of new games for the various virtual reality headsets are unveiled for the first time at the E3 game show. Sony announces an exact release date for their own Playstation VR: October 13, 2016. With a price of €399, the headset is significantly below the prices of HTC and Oculus, which come up with costs of €899 and €699, respectively. Microsoft also joins the ranks: The company wants to bring virtual reality to the Xbox with Project Scorpio.

Today: The practical approach

Up to this point, virtual reality has mainly been discussed in the entertainment sector. How should we imagine the concrete integration of virtual reality into project management? It starts with the development of the corresponding software. The site bytewood.de describes what a virtual reality project costs in general. That means more precisely: what costs the company will incur before using it in project management:

“In order to understand how the costs, arise, it is important to know who all is involved in such a project. We like to compare virtual reality with app projects, as it is a tangible concept for most. This is because, like an app project, several specialists from different disciplines are involved in the implementation of a virtual reality application. Each of them is needed to guarantee a professional product.”

Designers, graphic artists, and programmers are named.

“Due to the planning implementation and especially also the extensive testing of a VR project, usually at least three months are calculated from start to completion. A proper virtual reality application can simply not be produced quickly and easily in a week.”

Of course, there are also the costs of the hardware. This is because, depending on which glasses are chosen, costs of between around €250 and €1,500 are incurred.

“Projects in the virtual reality field can vary greatly. There are many factors that play a role in this answer; accordingly, it is difficult to answer. For example, what are the client’s requirements, how quickly must the project be completed, and on which platform should the VR be released. These are all questions that need to be answered beforehand. Now, if you take all these factors into account, you can roughly say that a virtual reality project starts at around €15,000 and is open to the top. For that, you get a high-quality product and don’t have to worry that the project won’t meet your expectations in the end.”

Integration and application in project management

Below we highlight some areas where the application of semi-virtual and virtual reality in project management is useful.

Visualization and test room in one

Many companies are very familiar with computer-aided design (CAD) programs. These CAD formats can be incorporated into virtual reality software (https://www.scan2cad.com/cad/cad-in-virtual-reality/). This creates three-dimensional spaces in which one can view the machine, part, or construction project in a walk-through. One can make spatial comparisons and insert and try out changes on the spot without the worry of wasting materials or fear of making mistakes.

As a project manager, this makes it possible to visualize construction projects or training situations in advance. This allows recommendations for action to be made and consequences to be better assessed. Stakeholders can have results explained in the room, which makes it possible to concretize their ideas, expectations and wishes.

You may already be familiar with the basic principle from the virtual walk-through. In its simplest form, the walk-through can be found as a 360° VR tour. Nowadays, such images and videos can already be created with a cell phone. Virtual 360° tours can almost completely replace a complete website by embedding contact forms, PDF files, videos, and other media.

Always everything at hand

Imagine walking from meeting to meeting and getting your information directly on your glasses. Which questions are still open, where are they on schedule, which stakeholder is easy, which one is problematic? If a name slips their mind, it can be faded in.

Their project assistance can forward short feedbacks, intermediate statuses and calls directly to their glasses. Another factor that speaks not only for the glasses, but also for a tech-savvy project assistant: What project assistants must be able to do today.

While they are currently still unrealistic for everyday use due to their size, mixed reality glasses (keyword: Google Glasses) could do exactly the above right now.

HR and training

The IT of the company is to be expanded in all areas and one wonders in HR how future-oriented models in further education can take place in cooperation with IT? Think of virtual reality as an educational opportunity both for new knowledge and for securing know-how.

From 2017 to 2019, the “ARSuL” project researched how skilled workers can be made fit more quickly for the demands of the increasingly complex world of heating technology. One possible solution: augmented reality. This involves adding important information or digital objects to the environment when looking through data glasses.

For example, the tradesman can see on the display all the manual operations for an upcoming maintenance job in chronological order. At the same time, an experienced foreman can give tips to his younger colleague on site from his office by having the image transmitted from the camera glasses.

In this way, the system supports the skilled craftsman in the future in learning or training work processes – and gives him direct feedback on his actions. “The diverse support possibilities of ARSuL are not yet even foreseeable,” says Oliver Gremm, Head of Product Marketing at Vaillant Europe. “However, a wide variety of questions still need to be clarified before the system is ready for series production.”

These include how to ensure unimpeded data reception in basements or areas without broadband Internet access. “This is especially true in rural areas, where coverage for cellular data does not always meet requirements,” Gremm said. That’s why the developers were also working on an offline variant of ARSuL. In this case, the data from the installed heaters is stored on the camera glasses before being used by the customer and is thus available to the tradesman even without a network connection.

Advantages and disadvantages

According to a February 2021 survey by Worldwide Business Research and Librestream, 61 percent of executives see AR technologies and solutions as critical to their strategy.

The survey, commissioned by Librestream and conducted by WBR, consisted of phone interviews with 100 executives from services companies in industries such as heavy engineering, manufacturing, aerospace, energy, automotive, medical, food and beverage and more, all based in the United States.

The survey results suggest an increasing pace of AR technology adoption, with 56% reporting growing applications. Most respondents expect AR investments to increase by up to 60% over the next year, making it clear that AR solutions are an important part of the business fabric. Librestream’s user growth supports these findings; from 2019 to 2020, the company saw over 838% growth in customer licenses, indicating expanded use across all business units and use cases.

However, hurdles to development remain. The survey uncovered critical factors to overcome when developing an AR strategy in an organization. These included obtaining and implementing technician feedback (53%), management to scale AR technologies after a pilot (50%) and change management/training (45%).

Conclusion

Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality systems will have a significant impact on the way we work in the future. We have now highlighted some application areas for project management. Further visions for the future will follow.

Would you like to combine your project with virtual reality applications? Contact us today.

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