By Cyndee Miller
It was about a year ago that the whispers started. Pundits, clients, SMEs, futurists—they all seemed to be hinting that a recession was brewing. At first, I shrugged it off. Things were looking pretty darn good.
But at some point, the old Spidey Sense kicked in. Maybe it was all those surveys. In PwC’s Global CEO Survey released last January, nearly one-third of the world’s head honchos said they expected a decline in global economic growth. That was a record-breaking jump in pessimism over the previous year’s 5 percent. And then last month in the U.S., more than half of the CFOs in a Duke University survey said they believed the country will be in an economic recession by the end of 2020.
Fear not, project professionals. The PM Network® 2020 Jobs Report identified what it takes to get ahead, recession or not. The big takeaway: Organizations know that the future of work is built on projects. And that’s going to take people solving a variety of problems—in industries big and small, and across all regions around the globe.
One of the biggest issues? Executive search and leadership consultants say it’s “actualizing digital transformation”—you know, making sure companies actually get something out of all that money they’re pouring into tech.
That opens up a whole lot of career opportunities for project professionals. IT, for example, is “a great fit for project managers who welcome change and want to grow and develop alongside new technologies,” says Rekik Asefa, manager, IT project management division, Awash International Bank, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The push for innovation has spread into more traditional sectors, too—construction and financial services, for instance—which could spell career opportunities for future-minded project managers. And a few emerging industries—e.g., micromobility, cannabis—hold a lot of promise in the new decade.
No matter what sector you’re in (or plan to go into), the demand for people skills will only grow.
“In a world where complexity is growing and data is overflowing, there’s a real demand for project managers who are great at communicating, filtering data and passing the right information along to stakeholders and team members,” says Francesco Bellifemine, director of IT operations and product developments, healthcare and smart cities division, Exprivia, Molfetta, Italy.
Yet demographic shifts may require a change in approach. “As the youth population increases, so will the number of young people who are entering the job market and becoming project stakeholders,” said Richard Magu, PMP, regional project management office manager, Software Group, Nairobi, Kenya. “So project managers will need to change their leadership styles to become more like project coaches.”
One last observation: As the talk of recession grows louder, so has the buzz around empathy emerging as the latest leadership superskill. At a time of overstretched teams, fast-paced change and sky-high ambitions, companies need project professionals who can really understand what a team member is feeling and experiencing—and how that affects their work.
What are you seeing out there? What do you think is the top skill project leaders need to get ahead in the new year?
By Cyndee Miller
Everybody deserves a little attention now and again—some small sign that someone out there is actually paying attention to what they’re saying.
And for companies, there’s a payoff to focusing on the people at the receiving end of their projects and products: A 2018 analysis by Forrester and IBM found that applying design thinking over a three-year span can boost an organization’s portfolio profit by US$18.6 million and trim project budgets by US$20.6 million.
Alas, that’s not always how it works in the real world. “The most common mistake I see is when teams already have the solution fixed in mind before they even talk with their customers,” says Juliano Muniz, PMP, program manager at Poly in São Paulo, Brazil.
But projects can’t really deliver benefits unless they satisfy customer wants, needs and expectations. Look no further than 2019 PMO of the Year winner Fannie Mae. After the 2008 housing market crash, U.S. homeownership was on the decline. Part of the issue: all that cryptic government-speak that’s par for the course in the highly regulated mortgage market. Looking to build a more user-friendly experience, the mortgage buyer’s EPMO rolled out Ask Poli, a chatbot that pulls from thousands of pages of dense policy material to answer lender questions in plain English.
In the healthcare industry, patient feedback might be just what the doctor ordered. At Metro North Hospital and Health Service in Brisbane, Australia, CIO Russell Hart sat in on an appointment to observe firsthand how the patient and the clinician interact with ICT systems. He got a big dose of reality, witnessing that the physician had to constantly switch back and forth among different screens and apps to access and discuss the patient’s various lab results.
"The patient struggled to follow as the physician kept clicking between different screens," Mr. Hart told PM Network®. So he expanded the project’s scope to consolidate info into one interface.
And then there’s my personal favorite: Dolce & Gabbana. Rather than adopting identical project specs for each of its locations, the Italian couture label collaborates with different architects to create a bespoke environment that speaks to the local fashionistas. For its boutique in Rome, Italy, for example, the company transformed a 16th-century palazzo into an homage to the Sistine Chapel—complete with Gregorian chants and a 4-minute animation of undulating Roman gods and cherubs. The result? An immersive digital experience that’s as over-the-top as the luxe label itself—and just what its fashion-forward customers crave.
How are you incorporating design thinking and customer-centricity into your projects?
By Cyndee Miller
We’ve all done it, made a call based on some bias we might not even be aware of. And no, you are not some magical unicorn exception. We’ve all fallen victim to those pesky cognitive assumptions that can influence the way we approach our work, not to mention the end result of that work.
Take groupthink. You know the drill: Some person—typically someone with an especially commanding air—speaks up first, with conviction, and suddenly the rest of the team is sinking in their chairs.
So how do you break the spell? Make it a point to encourage every team member to raise their considerations “so you don’t have one or two people creating the whole project narrative,” says Manuel Salero Coca, managing director, PIN Technologies, Mexico City, Mexico.
Groupthink isn’t the only trouble spot. You’ve also got success bias, attribution bias, confirmation bias. It’s a lot. So we went to the experts and compiled loads of tips for building the best bias defense in the November issue of PM Network®.
You’ll also get the inside scoop on the 2019 Project of the Year Award winner. Driven by a mission to aim higher, Brazil’s Embraer did something drastic: It disrupted itself. With its new E190-E2 line, Embraer designed, developed and delivered a family of next-gen commercial jets—faster than any aviation company before it.
I went on-site to interview some of the project leaders at Embraer HQ in São José dos Campos, Brazil. And I must say this is impressive stuff. So if you appreciate stellar project management, you might want to check it out. But maybe I’m biased…
Let me know what you think—what’s the top tip you picked up from this issue?
By Cyndee Miller
Bob Geldof was not happy. It was 1985. It was Live Aid. And he was trying to raise money to fight famine in Africa. So in between glorious sets by the likes of Queen and David Bowie, the Boomtown Rats frontman would come on pleading for money.
It worked. Using one of the largest satellite setups of all time, the U.K./U.S. megaconcert ultimately raised US$127 million—and changed everything we knew about global philanthropy. Perhaps Sir Geldof should have pursued his Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification? It’s impressive nonetheless—and definitely worthy of its status as one of PMI’s 50 most influential projects of the past 50 years.
What else made the list? See for yourself, in a special October edition of PM Network®.
And then come back here and tell us what you think of the picks.
There’s a whole lot of data out there. That’s all well and good, but it does leave us with one small problem: There’s not enough brainpower to turn all that information into sound decisions.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning and all that other disruptive tech we hear so much about could be the antidote to the data deluge. But that’s been the mantra for an awfully long time. So PM Network® asked three project leaders to weigh in on where AI really stands… and where it could go.
It’s not about robots helping us choose what to wear or what to order from the market (although that is pretty cool). For project teams, it’s more about the potential to process loads of data to reveal relationships, identify risks and predict outcomes.
“AI can then derive patterns … that we can use to make better-educated estimates, like whether you’ll finish a project on time,” says Audrius Zujus, founder and CEO of Aresi Labs.
AI can also help plug the holes left by human nature, says Geetha Gopal, PMP, assistant manager, product owner, bot services and projects at Daimler South East Asia. “Ultimately, data-driven decision making will help project managers to look beyond common intuitive biases.”
AI has its limits, however.
“People misuse the terms ‘AI’ or ‘machine learning’ as if they’re magic that can do anything we want,” says Bruno Rafael de Carvalho Santos, CAPM, PMP, project manager at the Sedimentary Geology Laboratory and Coppetec Foundation. Spoiler alert: They can’t. Not yet.
Still, things are moving pretty fast. Over the next three years, project leaders expect the share of projects they manage using AI will increase from 23 percent to 37 percent, according to PMI’s 2019 AI Innovators: Cracking the Code on Project Performance report.
What does that mean for careers? Will AI will replace human project managers? Not likely—although it may change their role. “Machine learning tools and automation will free people from tedious, repetitive activities so they can focus on strategic activities,” says Ms. Gopal.
It’s admittedly easy to get caught up in the swirl of negative news about technology. Some of this stuff is legitimately scary. But harnessed in the right way, tech can also help project managers achieve amazing things. Case in point: The same issue of PM Network covers how next-gen tech is helping teams map plans to restore the nearly destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral. A 3D laser scan of the historic structure has generated documentation that can tell teams the precise curves of a flying buttress or the original thickness of support beams that might need to be replaced.
That’s how we should be using tech. But are we?