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?
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?