The Quantum Computing Race & What It Means For Project Management

Last week, Google claimed ‘quantum supremacy’ with the announcement of its Sycamore chip that completed a complex computation in under three minutes—a computation that would take any other computer 10,000 years to crack.

In January of 2019, IBM released what they considered to be the “first fully-integrated commercial quantum computer”. 

IBM Quantum Computing Scientists Hanhee Paik (left) and Sarah Sheldon (right) examine the hardware inside an open dilution fridge at the IBM Q Lab at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, NY. Source: IBM Research.

We’re seeing dozens of quantum computing startups and businesses pop up. We’re watching as corporations and governments invest millions of dollars into quantum computing, an industry projected to reach $2.6 billion in the next ten years.

chart showing aggreegate revenues for quantum computers
Aggregate Revenues for Quantum Computers: By Type of Revenues ($Millions). Source: Inside Quantum Technology,

Quantum computing is a big deal, but for how profoundly it could impact the way we live and work, most of us know relatively little about it. This game-changing tech could disrupt industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to energy, banking, and security. 

It’s hard to wrap our heads around how quantum computing will impact each of our respective industries in the next decade, but let’s try.

In this article, you’ll learn some quantum computing basics (if such a thing exists) and then we’ll think about how to prepare ourselves for future opportunities that this technology will produce. Specifically, we’ll look at the effects that applications of quantum computing could have on our industry, in project management.

What is quantum computing? 

Here’s quantum computing explained in a simple way: it’s a really fast computer. 

To be more elaborate, quantum computing is a form of processing information that uses the laws of quantum mechanics—the mechanics behind tiny particles like atoms, electrons, and photons. 

Conventional computers operate with 1s and 0s—lots and lots of them in a long string of bits. 

On the other hand, quantum computers run on a different kind of bit, called a qubit. These bits don’t behave like the 1s and 0s we’ve grown accustomed to. Because of the phenomena of superposition and entanglement, the informational bits in quantum computers are basically supercharged—they can offer the information of a 1, a 0, and a superposition of both of those.

quantum computing technology
NIST physicists used this apparatus to coax atoms into swapping energy back and forth, a technique that may simplify information processing in a quantum computer. Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology.

TL;DR: Quantum computers, instead of feeding on binary digits,  feed on tiny quantum particles, which by some miracle of physics can be in multiple states all at once. 

Why does quantum computing matter?

Beyond being mind-blowing, quantum mechanics can revolutionize processes, technologies, and entire industries. 

To name a few:

Quantum computing is being explored as a way to exponentially increase the speed of information delivery, process information faster, and optimize highly complex processes and flows in many different applications. 

What quantum computing means for the project management industry

Quantum computing will have massive impacts on our world, but there are certainly more pressing trends affecting the project management industry today. A lot of the commercial applications of quantum computing are still a little ways off. Still, it’s not outlandish to assume that we’ll start to see applications of quantum computing affecting the project management field over the next decade.

This is a hot industry that is gaining momentum fast—for example, the Quantum hardware startup IonQ, who just last week secured $55 million in funding is examining quantum technologies for aircraft simulation, among other applications. We’ve also seen Quantum Benchmark highlighted in recent news for licensing their True-Q™ software to Google’s Quantum AI lab after the latter announced ‘quantum supremacy’ in a milestone moment last week.

Here are a few ways that project managers can expect to see it influencing the PM field:

  1. Complex project planning

Quantum computers are great at solving optimization problems, as they can handle an unfathomably large amount of data all at once. Expect to see project analysis and planning solutions that can effortlessly juggle an array of complex project planning factors.

2. Save $ on operations—more spend on projects?

The tools we use to make decisions require computing power. But quantum computers may be able to perform these types of calculations much more efficiently than traditional computing systems, so we can expect that the IT and operations side of the equation will benefit from lower costs of computing. Will this open the gates for higher spend on project work in organizations? If it does, we can expect to see a greater demand for skilled PMs. 

3. Projects on quantum-related technologies

There’s no truly commercial quantum computer out there yet—not one that can outperform a traditional computer in every capacity, at least. 

But expect to see a growing number of projects working on emerging quantum technologies, such as sensors, key encryption, actuators, simulators, annealers, clouds, and even open sourced software that exploits quantum computation. 

A great place to stay up to date on these emerging technologies is Inside Quantum Technology site.

What Are Your Quantum 5-Year Forecasts For Project Management?

Project managers are experts at thinking of all possible outcomes and anticipating the future. So I’ll put this question to all of you: What do you think quantum computing will bring to the project management industry in the next 5 years? 

Share this story and comment with your thoughts on this world-shaping technology and how it will affect our industry. 

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