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GIS project management: best practices and challenges

January 4, 2024

GIS data is the cornerstone of planning decisions. GIS data helps us understand the relationships between a location and the surrounding environmental and social context. In sectors like utilities, environmental engineering, telecom, and others, GIS project managers use geospatial data to create accurate models and forecast possible risks. Project managers plan and oversee the completion of all major GIS-related projects. They depend on accurate field data to create timelines and allot resources. GIS project management is a complex job, with many moving parts. In addition to creating the overall workflow plan and timeline, the project manager also interacts with clients, oversees the budget, and supervises work teams.

What do project managers do?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) provides standards and resources for its 2.9 million members. PMI says project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations.” A GIS project management lifecycle has several stages. Each is vital to success, and the project manager oversees all of them to guide the project to completion.


In this phase, the project manager crafts the overall strategy and approach, building the framework that will underpin the entire project. The project manager must take everything into account, from zoning and regulatory standards, through design specs, to the availability of resources.


At this point, the project manager creates a detailed plan of work, breaking down all necessary tasks and creating a detailed outline of the workflow process. This outline assigns work, sets milestones, predicts risks, and allocates resources.

Execution phase

During the execution phase, staff complete their assigned tasks under the oversight of the project manager. The project manager supervises the completion of work, checking that all benchmarks are met.

Monitoring and control

Few engineering projects are completed without hitches. The monitoring and control phase allows project managers to ensure those hitches are as seamless as possible. With regular, reliable monitoring, project managers can catch issues as they occur, and adjust the rest of the work plan accordingly.

Project closure

Afterward, when the project has been successfully completed, the project manager reviews feedback. Careful analysis will surface any takeaways with an eye to future improvements.

Worker performing a field inspection using a tablet - GIS Project Management Best Practices and Challenges

GIS project management

Since GIS data is fundamental to major projects, the project manager must be fluent in its collection and use. First, the project manager must identify and prioritize the project objectives. To know how to apply the GIS data properly, the project manager must start by outlining which problem the project aims to solve. What is the desired result?

Next, the project manager decides which kind of spatial data is needed, selecting appropriate attributes, features, and parameters. Following this step, the project manager oversees data collection, digitizes results from other systems, and manages the resulting database. Then they carefully analyze the data and present the findings.

Let’s look at an example. Consider a municipality that wants to improve its water infrastructure. First, the project manager decides on the specific objective, say, replacing the oldest pipes. Secondly, the project manager oversees data gathering, adding attributes and features as needed. In this case, the age of pipes and connections will be of prime importance, along with exact locations. Best practice will have field teams tie photo or video evidence to each pipe location, along with valuable time stamps.

Further to this step, the project manager supervises the data collection process, along with the verification and quality control processes to ensure all the data is accurate. Finally, the project manager analyzes the collected data, to decide which pipes and connections need to be replaced, and in what order.

Meeting the challenges

GIS field projects come with their own hazards. Scope creep, for instance: is the expansion of vision that arises as data rolls in. When coupled with the reality of budget constraints, scope creep can lead to hard choices. Accurate data means those decisions will align as closely as possible with the original objectives.

Cross-team coordination is another issue. Big infrastructure projects require substantial personnel, not all of whom will be working on compatible systems. Additionally, project managers need to be able to communicate progress and results to shareholders along the way.

To fully leverage the numerous applications of GIS data, project managers require a seamless connection. Their data collection must take place on an agnostic platform capable of integrating with email, Esri ArcGIS, SMS, and other legacy programs. Field teams need the ability to connect and update instantly to ensure that everyone is working with the same up-to-the-minute information, facilitating efficient GIS project management.

How Fulcrum figures in

Fulcrum is a SaaS, GIS-first, agnostic data collection platform that standardizes data collection while boosting data reliability. Project managers can customize the data collection process and produce reports tailored to their specific needs. Top-tier integrations with Esri ArcGIS, email, SMS, and other applications mean legacy systems can be harnessed to work together.

Fulcrum allows teams to instantly connect with one another, increasing the impact of spatial data. Updates happen in real-time, so all parties are working with the most recent and accurate information. Project managers can use collected GIS data for highly readable data visualizations, to effectively present information to stakeholders.

To enhance workflow efficiency, project managers must optimize the data collection process. Standardized collection practices ensure data quality, allowing project managers to efficiently allocate resources and stay on top of project timelines and budgets. Fulcrum’s advanced capabilities keep project managers on time, on track, and under budget, making it an indispensable tool for GIS project management.


Are you a project manager looking for a way to optimize GIS data quality? Discover how our technology can help you cut costs while keeping your project running smoothly. Contact a Fulcrum expert today for a free demo.