by Cyndee Miller
Will 2021 truly be the year of epic charcuterie? Or maybe it’s the citizen care pod? Searching for The Next Big Thing has sent me down many an internet rabbit hole. And truth be told, the ROI is often not great. So in the spirit of uber efficiency, I present PMI’s latest report: Megatrends 2021. It has the scoop on the big trends, but it’s also specifically curated for project leaders so you can see how these tectonic shifts are actually playing out across projects.
“We know the world changed significantly in 2020, but our research confirmed the long-term impact of how these trends are changing how the world does business,” said PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara. “There is virtually no industry and no geography that is untouched by the five megatrends outlined in this report. From COVID-19 to the climate crisis to the mainstream use of AI, these forces are driving change across sectors, requiring leaders to embrace new ways of thinking and working. As changemakers in their organizations and communities, project leaders are in a unique position to tackle these challenges and embrace new possibilities.”
Without further ado, here are the 5 big megatrends you should be watching:
No doubt, this one’s pretty obvious. The health impact alone is staggering: More than 2.3 million people have died as of early February. But it’s also the way that the virus has exposed deep systemic inequalities in income, wealth, employment, healthcare access and digital access that's forcing companies to rethink and reinvent.
Megatrend in action: Learning Passport
“The world of education got knocked 30 years ahead overnight,” said Mac Glovinsky, program manager at UNICEF. With schools in more than 190 countries closed, he and his team worked with Microsoft, the University of Cambridge and Dubai Cares to quickly expand an existing digital platform that would meet the pandemic-fueled demands of stuck-at-home students in underprivileged areas.
Again, this one shouldn’t be a big shocker, but the pandemic put it front and center—and made it abundantly clear that we’re running out of time. Perhaps the biggest existential threat humanity has ever faced, the climate crisis can be mitigated only with ambitious, innovative initiatives—and the project talent to make those plans reality.
Megatrend in action: Stella McCartney
The ecoluxe designer began testing out a new tool from Google Cloud that uses data analytics and machine learning to give brands a more comprehensive view of their supply chain. For sustainability-driven McCartney, the project is an opportunity to lead the notoriously wasteful fashion industry in better measuring the impacts of its raw material sourcing on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity.
I’m old enough to remember a time—and it wasn’t that long ago—when organizations taking a stand on social issues was considered bad business or strictly the province of more “progressive” companies. The massive global protests of 2020—the latest in a decade of large-scale protests covering a whole host of societal issues—changed all that. Silence is no longer an option—and change is a question of when, not if.
Megatrend in action: Bandages for All
As discussions over diversity and inclusion dominated, leaders of Johnson & Johnson’s Band-Aid brand released a new line of bandages representing non-white skin tones. It was actually a retread of a previous project—that happened to be in lock-step with consumer sentiment growing louder by the day. The century-old brand had previously released a range of bandages in multiple skin tones in 2005, but discontinued them three years later. Smaller companies had tried to fill the gap, but the new project is a powerful statement from a major consumer brand.
Emerging markets have rocketed onto the global stage. But these up-and-comers need serious infrastructure and education investments to avoid being mired in middle-income status—and to help their large, young populations find decent work. That’s where project leaders can really make a difference.
Megatrend in action: UN Office for Project Services
To move the needle in emerging markets, the organization invests in a range of projects, from improving irrigation in drought-stricken countries to improving internet access. “Every project is different but they all follow the same logic: create sustainable opportunities in the community to generate revenue and reduce poverty,” said Farhad Abdollahyan, head of the org’s project management office.
AI is now table stakes for many companies. Even my Yves Saint Laurent lipstick will soon use AI to deliver a bespoke hue just for moi. While that’s lovely, the seamless integration of algorithms into peoples’ daily lives means encoded opinions don’t get noticed, let alone questioned. To combat bias being built into AI, project leaders need to double down on building diverse teams and including different POVs and perspectives.
Megatrend in action: BigUp.AI
Leaders at UK global creative agency AnalogFolk saw how language could affect how people are perceived—and that women often choose wording that makes them sound passive. So the agency developed its BigUp.AI tool that uses natural language processing and machine learning to analyze blocks of text and offer users more powerful wording.
The world is only beginning to ponder the post-pandemic reality, but there’s no doubt these five megatrends will dominate The Project Economy. And it’s up to project leaders and changemakers to be up on emerging developments so they can find business opportunities—and make the world a better place.
How are you seeing these trends manifest on your projects?