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By Cyndee Miller
When it comes to the all-important push for digital transformation, the education sector would no doubt have received a failing grade—until COVID forced some serious change.
Over 1 billion children across at least 185 countries were impacted by school closure mandates aimed to contain the spread of the virus last year, according to the World Economic Forum. Schools and government leaders around the world scrambled to implement remote education programs. Yet while some were able to quickly shift, many economically and technologically challenged groups were left with limited options. And project leaders were challenged to flash forward to the future of learning.
“We got thrown 30 years ahead in about a day,” said Mac Glovinsky, principal global program manager at UNICEF in New York. “When you get thrown 30 years into the future overnight, things are pretty messy. It can be unclear. But I do think that we’re already seeing success emerge and that we’ll have some incredible examples moving forward,” he said in a December episode of Projectified® podcast.
Glovinsky and his Learning Passport team were one of those “incredible examples.” Number 3 on PMI’s list of Most Influential Projects of 2020, the edtech tool delivers best-in-class digital learning experiences to individuals without internet connection. But even with the tech upgrade, Glovinksy still sees a need for human interaction and support.
“When you introduce things like simulation content, HTML5-based stuff— where the learner is moving the actual things around the screen and there’s more of a two-way interaction—it can be bewildering if there are not people involved,” he said. “And [when you look at] those kids in the Upper East Side in Manhattan versus a kid in very rural Sierra Leone, the difference there is all those people helping that kid on the Upper East Side utilize the technology and the content for its maximum benefit.”
As COVID restrictions have been shifted—and lifted—around the globe, so too has the approach of project leaders. Yet even with an increasing number of schools reopening, it’s become clear that the flurry of language apps, virtual tutoring, videoconferencing tools and online learning software will continue to transform education. The proof is in the payout: The edtech market is expected to more than double between 2019 and 2025, reaching US$404 billion, according to Holon IQ.
“There’s this wave of innovation happening in edtech that’s been accelerated by COVID-19,” said Jamie Beaumont, managing director at Lego Ventures in London. The venture investment arm of the Lego brand, it backs promising education startups, and Beaumont told PM Networkhe’s seeing a sharp uptick in the number of companies focusing on new ways to teach 21st century skills, including collaboration, communication and creative thinking.
Project teams are also reimagining how students access education and how teachers can introduce technology into the flow of learning. Case in point: the initiatives launched at British edtech startup Eedi. The organization developed a digital math assessment that uses AI tools to determine why a student gets a question wrong. If a student misunderstands the problem, it could lead to a lesson on terminology or language, but if they don’t know how to complete the equation, it would require a different response, explained Ben Caulfield, COO of Eedi.
“Understanding why a student gets the questions wrong leads to the right intervention,” he told PM Network. This solution makes better use of the teacher’s time and results in a more personalized learning environment—whether the student is at school or at home.
But the most brilliant and interactive edtech in the world won’t mean much if students can’t access the content, navigate the tools or understand the information presented. To get that right, teams need meaningful end-user feedback. And they should also be considering the full gamut of stakeholders: students, teachers, administrators and parents, said Sean D’Arcy, vice president of school and home for live game-based learning platform Kahoot in Oslo, Norway.
Project leaders must also navigate complicated ethical questions at the intersection of education and tech: The UK government, for example, was forced to ditch its AI grading system after it spurred nationwide protests. Roughly 40 percent of the grades awarded fell below teacher predictions—with the biggest victims being students with high grades from less-advantaged schools.
How much edtech will grow remains an open question. While the social good of helping students spurred project activity during the pandemic, the market will ultimately determine which edtech tools have a lasting influence, says Caulfield.
And as with most pandemic pivots, the future may lie in some sort of blended solution, with teachers and schools using lower-cost digital tools to make time spent with students more impactful.
“Teachers create interest and accountability in learning, and that won’t go away,” Caulfield said. “The companies with projects that combine virtual content with human engagement will be the ones that succeed.”
Of course, it’s wasn’t just kids that were tapping into edtech. Even PMI has had to pivot its educational offerings, joining forces with Pearson VUE to begin offering an online option for taking the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification exam.
How did you and your teams take advantage virtual education and training?
By Cyndee Miller
I’m headed back to my office for the first time in six months—taking the train and maybe even collaborating with my team IRL. I’m not going to lie. It feels really, really strange. Like most companies, mine is opting for hybrid: three days in, two days working from home.
It’s looking like the next norm—and it’s not hard to see why. A study from HR consulting firm Mercer found 94 percent of U.S. employers reported productivity was the same as or even higher than it was before the pandemic. And employees—now accustomed to the flexibility—are less likely to compromise. A March Boston Consulting Group survey found that 89 percent of workers from across 190 countries said they’d prefer a job that allows them to work from home at least occasionally. Yet that same study found that only 1 in 4 workers would switch to a completely remote model if they could.
“A lot of companies underestimate the power of workplace,” said Kahn Yoon, director of international projects at global workplace design firm M Moser Associates in Singapore.
“Whilst I’ve enjoyed working from home to a degree, once I started coming back, I also realized how much I missed having collaboration with colleagues and having those innovation moments,” he told Projectified®.
Okay, so clearly Yoon isn’t alone. Most people want to spend at least some time in the office. But what does that actual physical space look like?
As we wrote about in PM Network, at first the focus was on “pandemic resistant” offices. Salon Alper Derinbogaz, for example, revealed plans for a single-story office building connected by open-air and semi-covered walkways and terraces—perfect for outdoor meetings.
Guallart Architects took pandemic-proofing to the next level with its proposed Self-Sufficient City in Beijing. The project aims to eliminate any disruption to daily life in the case of future lockdowns by designing and building a mixed-use community with supercharged amenities, like a communal greenhouse for food production, solar-paneled roofs to produce energy, an on-site co-working office and 3D printers and rapid prototyping machines to produce everyday goods.
They’re super interesting concepts, but what about the good old offices many people are heading back to right now? To safely transition from the home-office back to the office-office, leaders will have to reboot their thinking about how to work—but also the purpose, role and design of the workspace. And that requires lots of pilot projects, lots of iteration—and probably saying good riddance to the once ubiquitous open office plan. (As someone who did serious time in one of those arrangements, I will not mourn its loss.)
“It’s really time to rethink the open plan,” said Todd Heiser, principal and co-managing director of Gensler’s Chicago office. “For as long as I’ve been doing this, individual workstations have become more open with ever-increasing density, and I think as we return, these spaces really need to flip. Meetings need to happen more in the open, and focused work probably needs to be reconsidered,” he said on Projectified®.
Even Google is rethinking its famously open offices. The New York Times dubbed one of the concepts as “Ikea meets Lego,” creating team “pods” with chairs, desks, whiteboards and storage units on casters that can be arranged—and rearranged—however the group sees fit. The company is also trying out a new meeting room called Campfire that intersperses in-person attendees with very large displays of virtual participants in a circle. It sounds weirder than it looks and could actually help remote team members feel like they’re part of the action.
For its Working from Home, Working from Work project, architecture firm Woods Bagot proposed keeping employees remote for “solo activities” and saved the office for team activities. That makes sense to me. Because let’s face it, brainstorming on a Zoom call is … rough. For Kahn, that means “more meeting spaces, more open collaboration spaces—because you always rely on serendipitous discussions that spark a bit of that innovation.”
But he also acknowledged that offices are going to have to compete with work from home. So along with boosting collaboration by tricking out the office with the right technology, companies would be wise to invest in biophilia so you “don’t feel like you’re in a big sort of a factory of desks.” Uh, yeah, that just doesn’t seem like an effective way to foster that kind of innovation we all keep saying we need more of.
Will hybrid teams working in hybrid offices be business as usual in the future? How are you help reimagine your office as an incubator for new ideas?
By Cyndee Miller
It’s Earth Day and this year’s event comes with an even greater level of urgency—and action. Two-thirds of people say climate change is a “global emergency,” per a survey by United Nations. And some high-profile government and business leaders are stepping up. The United States rejoined the Paris climate agreement, and after unveiling its bold Green Deal in 2019, the European Union announced yesterday it’s increasing the number of companies required to publish environmental and social data. On the business side, General Motors proclaimed it plans an all-electric vehicle future by 2035 and BASF is sharing its map to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. While acknowledging Asian companies have lagged on investing in environment, social and governance efforts, Loh Boon Chye, chief executive of the Singapore Exchange, called 2020 an “inflection point.”
Of course, turning that sort of big thinking into reality requires an exceptional mix of capital, commitment, creativity—and projects.
Consider this your whirlwind tour:
As you might expect, there’s been serious action on the renewable energy front. Some are small-but-smart efforts, like the Spanish city of Seville launching a biogas pilot, turning its abundance of oranges into the power ingredient for clean energy at one of its wastewater treatment plants. And some are larger. Campos del Sol, number 43 on PMI’s Most Influential Projects 2020 list, is a US$320 million solar plant under construction in Chile. At full capacity, the 382-megawatt installation will generate enough energy per year to help slash annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 900,000 metric tons. That’s the same as taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road for a year—and could put the country a whole lot closer to meeting its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Project leaders are also mobilizing to reimagine urban development in more eco-friendly ways. Danish design studio C.F. Møller Architects is working on Storkeengen. What’s especially interesting about this project is that it balances needs on three fronts: urban planning to satisfy the city’s expansion needs, climate-change adaptation to help mitigate the impact of flooding and nature conservation to stabilize the local ecosystem.
Another approach that’s gaining traction is nature-based solutions, which promote climate resilience in urban areas by tapping into nature itself. One example is CityAdapt, a project by the United Nations Environment Programme. In El Salvador, the group reduced surface runoff from a coffee plantation, which can cause erosion and flooding in the ecosystem. Here, too, the project wasn’t just a good move for the local environment, it also improved coffee productivity, meeting local business needs. (For more on that one, check out the Projectified interview with Leyla Zelaya, the national coordinator for the CityAdapt project in San Salvador, El Salvador.)
A core piece of any urban development is mobility, and project leaders are making big, bold moves here as well. One of the biggest changes: bike and pedestrian paths—and lots of them.
Even fashion, not exactly known for its high sustainability cred, is coming around. Ecoluxe designer Stella McCartney is working with Google on a pilot project using data analytics and machine learning to give brands a more comprehensive view of their supply chain, with the goal to better measure the impacts of its raw material sourcing on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity. It’s not just the posh designers, either. Fast-fashion giant H&M launched Looop, billed as the world’s first in-store garment-to-garment recycling system. And footwear giant Nike is embedding sustainability into its product development projects. Look no further than Space Hippie, a line of eco-friendly sneakers made from yarns containing at least 85 percent rPoly made of recycled plastic water bottles, T-shirts and yarn scraps.
We can’t talk about Earth Day without mentioning some of the amazing projects to protect and preserve the plants and animals that we share our planet with. (They also happen to be some of my very favorite projects to follow.)
Case in point: Elephant World Cultural Courtyard, a sanctuary designed to bring the Kui people and their elephants back to their homeland in northeast Thailand. Launched in collaboration between the Surin Provincial Administrative Organization and architecture firm Bangkok Project Studio, the space spans 8,130 square meters (87,510 square feet) and includes a programming space, elephant hospital, temple, graveyard for elephants and museum dedicated to showcasing the Kui culture.
The need for these kinds of projects has only been accelerated by the climate crisis. When wildfires consumed half of Kangaroo Island, they decimated one of the world’s most iconic biodiversity hubs. Tens of thousands of creatures—from kangaroos to cockatoos—were left stranded in a barren wasteland without food, water or shelter. As the smoke cleared, rescue teams raced in to launch the Kangaroo Island Recovery, number 11 on our list of Most Influential Projects of 2020. Now the team is out to minimize the impact of future bushfires by planning buffer zones, fire breaks and small-scale ecological burnoffs. “If we can protect lots of small patches, it gives these threatened species a greater chance to survive a bushfire in the future,” says Pat Hodgens, a fauna ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.
Last year around this time, I wrote about prospects for a green economic recovery: With the right investments in the right projects led by the right people, we can conquer the coronavirus, rebuild our fragile economy and protect our planet—all at once. Now I had no idea we’d still be in that same situation, but I still believe that’s the path forward.
And on Earth Day this year, it’s worth considering how project leaders can step up and take responsibility for delivering a more sustainable future.
By Cyndee Miller
No one could have possibly made it through this pandemic unchanged—as a person or as a professional. Existing skills have been put to the test and new ones were developed along the way. Sometimes it was something relatively simple like mastering the mute button. Other times, it was a gamechanger, like learning no-code and developing an app or two.
The basic idea? To move forward, we all had to let go of business as usual. That includes letting go of the antiquated notion that somehow you can pursue breakthrough innovation without a massive flameout every now and then. It happens. It’s how you respond that matters.
“Failure is the best teacher,” said Wladimir Klitschko, PhD, as he opened PMXPO, the latest in PMI’s Virtual Experience Series. An Olympian gold medalist at age 20, the heavyweight boxing champion has consistently used his losses an opportunity to learn.
These days, he’s an author and business leader—and was more than ready to go a few rounds on overcoming challenges to transformation with PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara. “I love challenges. I eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s my food for thought, for life, for energy, for everything,” Klitschko said.
He outlined four principles for transformation: focus, ability, coordination and endurance. And through his Klitschko Foundation, he’s driving that message home to young people: “The more they learn, the more secure they’ll feel,” he said. “The more knowledge they have, the better they’ll execute their plan.”
Part of that knowledge base will no doubt be linked to emerging tech. But digitalization was created by people to simplify life, Klitschko said, and we shouldn’t forget the human side of technology.
That means developing technology that actually delivers value. And one of the emerging ways of doing that is through citizen development, using low-code/no-code platforms to build apps without software expertise—and to do it significantly faster and at a fraction of the cost.
It’s like when your boss says: Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. Well, citizen development “allows you to bring an actual solution,” said PMI’s Chief Strategy & Growth Officer Dave Garrett.
Citizen development isn’t new, but much like agile 10-15 years ago, it’s been held back by concerns about maintaining control and transparency. That’s changing as more organizations adopt low-code/no-code strategies and establish greater governance.
Let the citizen development revolution begin.
“In the past we had users in spreadsheets working in an isolated fashion,” said Manpower Group’s Eric van Antwerpen. “With maturity, we’ve seen it evolve into more of a treasure box than Pandora’s box.”
Some of this comes down to the basic rule of supply and demand: “I believe everyone needs to learn to code, but it’s not going to happen,” said Microsoft cloud advocate Dona Sarkar. Citizen development is a way to empower teams to get to the business problem—with guardrails.
It’s a future of work that will require hyper-collaboration. The next generation of citizen development “isn’t just citizen developers work over here and professional, traditional coders work over here,” said Sarkar. There will be fusion developer teams, in which citizen developers work on front-end things while traditional developers work with IT teams.
The widespread adoption of low-code/no code is also helping companies uncover hidden potential in their employees, said Qrew Technologies’ Stefan Quartemont. “The future of citizen development is building strong teams and engaging in rapid problem solving.”
Citizen development needs to deliver. And as with any innovation, the path to ROI is loaded with roadblocks.
So what will it take for project leaders to put up a good fight when faced with inevitable challenges? A little patience and some ingenuity, said Prashara.
“There’s hope for a more united future everywhere, but we’ll need to be incredibly patient and find new ways of working to help us become better at what we do,” he said.
How are you exploring innovation and new ways of working?
By Cyndee Miller
We’ve been mired in the COVID muck for more than a year now. The toll on our physical and mental health can’t be understated, but we’ve also seen how it’s fundamentally altered the world of work. And even as more vaccine shots make their way into more arms, some regions and sectors will continue to feel the effects well into 2021. Yet all that uncertainty doesn’t mean project leaders are lacking job opportunities, especially as companies start to see a light.
When asked about their outlook on the global economy, 76 percent of CEOs said they believe it will improve during the next 12 months, according to PwC. This is big: That’s nearly 20 percentage points greater than the previous record high for optimism. The ManpowerGroup Q2 employment outlook survey echoed the sentiment, with 77 percent of companies expecting to return to pre-pandemic hiring levels by end of the year.
Still, the PM Network 2021 Jobs Report reveals that prospects may vary greatly by region:
Africa: After surviving its worst economic recession in half a century, Africa is projected to recover in 2021, with GDP projected to grow by 3.4 percent, according to the African Development Bank Group. But the tension between managing costs and pushing for innovation and growth can be difficult to navigate for project leaders—and their careers. “You have companies that have strategies for the new normal and related innovation investments,” says Ernesto Spruyt, founder of Tunga.io, a company in Kampala, Uganda dedicated to providing tech jobs to young Africans. “But you also have companies who try to sit it out and wait for things to go back to normal. I think the latter ones, in the end, will not prevail.”
Middle East: The pandemic’s economic toll has been exacerbated by the collapse in the price of oil, wreaking financial havoc. The lingering risks from the coronavirus and low demand for oil is ratcheting up the need for the region to diversify its economy. “The pandemic raises the importance of innovation and R&D,” says Nahlah Alyamani, PMI-RMP, PMP, PgMP, planning lead for the Eastern hub, Health Holding Co., Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Europe: Fears of a so-called third wave of COVID cases across Europe is dousing hope for a return to job market normalcy. While the economic pain varies and hiring may not have fully rebounded, look to jobs in knowledge-intensive sectors, like financial services and telecom. And there’s no denying the mass move to ecommerce. “I have noticed a huge spike for project managers in the digital space because of the pandemic,” says Luiz Andre Dias, PMP, PgMP, head of portfolio management transformation, DWP Digital, Newcastle, England. “Many digital projects have been accelerated and require a larger number of resources.”
United States: It wasn’t pretty: The world’s top economy saw the worst economic contraction in its history during the second quarter of 2020. But by March of this year, the Federal Reserve was predicting GDP would increase 6.5 percent—a sharp jump from the 4.2 percent forecast made just in December. As in so many economies, the project action was driven around companies strengthening their online infrastructure and offerings to meet consumer demand, says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago. And that means they’re on the prowl for project talent with serious digital chops.
Latin America: One of the last regions to be hit by the pandemic, Latin America is likely to also be one of the last to exit, according to S&P Global. While economic fates vary across the region, a proven track record with managing virtual teams, leading digital transformations or change management can all set candidates apart in an otherwise crowded talent pool, says Gustavo Pastrana, PMP, senior manager in global banking software, Diebold Nixdorf, Mexico City, Mexico.
China: It was the country’s slowest expansion in decades—but it was still the only major economy to grow in 2020. “China’s job market as a whole has basically returned to normal,” said Frank Fu, founder and chairman of Shanghai Changeway Management Consulting Co., Shanghai. Project leaders looking for new opportunities should check out healthcare, insurance and online education.
India: While India’s unemployment surged during the pandemic, numbers are turning around. The country’s growing digital economy is bolstering job opportunities, with online retail and last-mile delivery services seeing an ongoing spike in 2021, and insurance and healthcare maintaining an organic growth in demand. “This is a period of radical change for businesses as new definitions of work, agility and project management emerge,” says Vidhya Abhijith, PMP, a Future 50 leader and co-founder of Codewave Technologies, Bengaluru. “Organizations are embracing a future work environment that looks like a thriving social network, with smaller groups of people connected online and moving ideas into reality.”
With such great flux across sectors and geographic regions, some project leaders are looking for safety and sticking with their current companies. But others are considering new opportunities in a time of massive change.
Project leaders need to examine their personal appetites for risk, says Lindsay Scott, co-founder of Arras People, a U.K. recruiting firm focused on project talent. “People are seeing different pockets of opportunity that wouldn’t have been existing right now if we’d not had this year of a pandemic,” she told Projectified on a jobs outlook episode. “If you’re more inclined to take a few more risks, perhaps now really is the right time.”
How are you balancing risk and opportunity as you map out your 2021 career plan?