There was some very encouraging news in the Pulse of the Profession® report released earlier this year by Project Management Institute. Organizations around the globe significantly reduced the money they waste on their initiatives — by about 20 percent, or $25 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs in 2016, compared to the year before.
As a measure of success, the bottom-line is a decent place to start. It’s hard to argue against eliminating waste and redundancy. But cost is only one measure. As organizations focus on efficiency, they can’t lose sight of other definitions of success, from the traditional — scope and schedule — to the most important measure of all: Did a project achieve the desired benefits?
“Champion” organizations, as described by PMI, not only complete 80 percent or more of their projects on time and on budget, they meet the original goals and business intent as well. They have high benefits realization maturity compared to “underperformers” that have success rates of only 33 percent.
So how do champion organizations do it, and what can we learn from them? That’s the purpose of a new offering from PMI called Pulse at Work: Practitioner’s Guide. These guides will serve as companion pieces to the Pulse of the Profession research, bringing practical, applicable value to the data by connecting the findings to the day-to-day work of project management practitioners.
The most recent Pulse at Work guide identifies three key success factors exhibited in champion organizations: 1) project management practitioners are seen as strategic partners within the organization; 2) they connect strategy and action; and 3) they embrace agile approaches.
And here’s where the Pulse at Work gets to work, diving deeper into the success factors to ask project professionals how they achieve these often elusive aims.
For example, when it comes to connecting strategy to action, benefits realization management is essential. That means creating clear requirements and a vision for your projects, yes. But it also means that “project leaders must look beyond simply technical aspects of the project, and incorporate a more holistic viewpoint of the organization’s strategy and business goals.”
Karen Chovan, PMP, advises her peers to “take a look at the project scope that’s been defined and see where it aligns with other strategies within the organization. By asking a few questions during the initiation phase, you can find out whether the project will contribute to more than one strategy and include those things within the scope and requirements gathering for that project.”
On the subject of embracing agile, the Pulse at Work report notes the 2017 Pulse findings that 71 percent of organizations are now using agile approaches for their projects “sometimes or more often.” Significantly, 55 percent of champion organizations frequently use agile compared to 24 percent of underperformers.
“Using agile approaches, frameworks and thinking enabled us to do far more in the same timeframe and with the same money than was originally expected,” says Lawrence Cooper, PMI-ACP, CPM, PMP. “The importance of putting the customer first, doing only the most valuable things, demonstrating value often, and having highly motivated and engaged teams can’t be overstated. Instead of an IT project to procure and implement a learning management product, it became a business project where we implemented learning management, which has another level of business value.”
Exploring the trend further, one in five projects now incorporates a hybrid approach, applying elements of agile, waterfall or other methods, according to the report. In other words, there isn’t one formula for project success today. Increasingly, successful organizations and their PMOs are supporting blended or customized approaches that best meet each project’s particular needs.
Hearing from our peers about what is (and isn’t) working in the project trenches will always resonate more robustly than data alone. The Pulse at Work guides promise to serve a much-needed role in connecting the research to your real-world challenges. I’m looking forward to learning from and sharing this valuable work.
Let’s cut to the chase: you’ve made a good career choice.
The demand for project management practitioners is growing dramatically as organizations worldwide seek people who can implement strategic initiatives, drive change and deliver innovation. By 2027, employers will need more than 87 million individuals in project management-oriented roles, according to the recently released report Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017-2027, conducted for PMI by the Anderson Economic Group.
Among the catalysts for this global demand are attrition rates, including seasoned project management professionals retiring from the workforce, and a significant increase in demand for project talent in rapidly developing economies such as China and India.
And Uncle Sam wants you too: the report forecasts that the number of project management jobs in the United States alone will grow about 30 percent in the next 10 years, adding on average more than 210,000 new positions each year in project-oriented industries. (The largest percentage increase is expected in the health care sector at 17 percent.)
That’s an extraordinarily positive career outlook for skilled project professionals, particularly as we are inundated with other reports about how artificial intelligence and machine learning will shake up many industries over the same time span. Of course, AI initiatives also require project talent! And while some project management functions aren’t immune, the collaborative interactions and creative decision-making that define successful project teams won’t ever be easily automated.
Yes, the project management future’s bright — but not enough to wear shades and overlook the “talent” part of this report. Organizations, now and in the future, need practitioners with a mix of competencies that combine technical and leadership skills with strategic and business acumen.
What are you doing to improve your job outlook? Certification is a fundamental start, of course, and it’s a smart investment — salaries of practitioners with the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification are 20 percent higher on average than those without a PMP, according to the ninth and most recent edition of PMI’s biennial salary report.
But your development and learning shouldn’t stop after certification. More than ever, the pace of technological change requires project management professionals to continuously improve and expand their skill sets. That includes becoming conversant in emerging business trends, exploring agile approaches, finding mentors and joining peer networks who can support your journey.
The project management field is booming, and it’s creating a talent gap that will be growing even wider over the next ten years. That makes you valuable right now. Take steps to ensure it makes you even more valuable in the future.
Good project managers are almost always good communicators. Without direct authority over many of the people who impact their projects, they instead develop techniques to engage, persuade and motivate them, from team specialists to executive sponsors.
They don't just tell these people to do something and walk away; they don't say "pretty please," either. They engage and convince. They rally individuals around the reasons behind the particular "ask" or task. They clarify a project's goals, its desired benefits, the overall strategic mission.
In other words, they influence as much as they manage.
This is why I prefer project leader to project manager when referencing the role. Because influence is a huge part of effective leadership, whether it's coming from the C-suite or the project trenches.
Unfortunately, many of today's leaders have mistaken beliefs about what it means to be influential, according to Stacey Hanke, author of the new book Influence Redefined. Hanke says the prevailing influence paradigm is outdated and ineffective, and technological advances only make it more challenging to influence others.
The good news is that influence is a skill that can be developed by anyone through consistent feedback, practice and accountability, Hanke says. Though she often addresses executives in her book, her advice is just as valuable for project leaders and team members. As she notes at the outset: Influence does not come with a title.
With that in mind, here are some of Hanke's takeaways on influence:
1. Every interaction matters. Every presentation, conversation, impromptu meeting, email, text, or phone call is a representation of who you are and determines how others experience you. Each interaction is a representation of your personal brand and establishes your reputation. And your reputation drives your influence.
2. Video or audio record yourself speaking. This reveals the sometimes painful truth of what your team members and stakeholders see and hear when you speak. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses as a communicator in order to improve your ability to influence.
3. Focus outward rather than inward. Too often we focus on what we want rather than what others need. Find common ground. Go beyond what you want to accomplish and put your energy into how you might help them. Have a two-way interaction rather than a monologue.
4. Cut to the chase. Identify the most critical information someone will need to know in order to take the action you want them to take. Plan, prepare and practice before you ask. Don't waste their time. Cover the critical information first and follow up with supporting material.
5. Consistency is key. Inconsistency leads to a lack of trust. If people don’t trust you, they won’t act on your recommendations or follow your lead. Trust is where influence ultimately occurs.
What are your thoughts on the role of influence in managing projects? Have you struggled with it? Have you improved, and how?
Artificial Intelligence is in the news every day — actually it’s in our lives every day, from driving apps and email filters to the ways we shop, network and learn. Yes, smart machines and robots are already here, and yet it’s quite evident we’re only just getting to know them. That’s scary … exciting … and, for most of us, probably a combination of both.
So here we are on ProjectManagement.com, and I’m wondering — what does AI mean to the project management profession?
Gartner recently offered its latest analysis on the impact that AI will have on business strategy and human employment, predicting that by 2022, “smart machines and robots may replace highly trained professionals in tasks within medicine, law and IT.” Really? Please go on…
"The economics of AI and machine learning will lead to many tasks performed by professionals today becoming low-cost utilities," says Stephen Prentice, vice president and Gartner Fellow. "AI's effects on different industries will force the enterprise to adjust its business strategy. Many competitive, high-margin industries will become more like utilities as AI turns complex work into a metered service that the enterprise pays for, like electricity."
Apart from being conduits of (team) energy (and strategic effort), are project managers “like electricity”? And is project management a future low-cost “utility”?
Gartner qualifies that “the effects that AI will have on the enterprise will depend on industry, business, organization and customers.” Prentice cites the example of “a lawyer who undergoes a long, expensive period of education and training. Any enterprise that hires lawyers must pay salary and benefits big enough to compensate for this training for each successive lawyer it hires. On the other hand, a smart machine that substitutes for a lawyer also requires a long, expensive period of training. But after the first smart machine, the enterprise can add as many other smart machines as it wants for little extra cost.”
Can you do that with project managers? Isn’t each project a unique endeavor? (For that matter, isn’t each trial, client, judge and jury?)
The Gartner report does address the benefits of AI technology versus human interaction and decision-making — “while AI will hit employment numbers in some industries, many others will benefit as AI and automation handle routine and repetitive tasks, leaving more time for the existing workforce to … handle more challenging aspects of the role, and even ease stress levels in some high-pressure environments.”
"Ultimately, AI and humans will differentiate themselves from each other," says Prentice. "AI is most successful in addressing problems that are reasonably well-defined and narrow in scope, whereas humans excel at defining problems that need to be solved and at solving complex problems. They bring a wide range of knowledge and skill to bear and can work through problems in various ways. They can collaborate with one another, and when situations change significantly, humans can adjust."
Sounds like project managers to me!
The Gartner report continues — CIOs should “develop a plan for achieving the right balance of AI and human skills. Too much AI-driven automation could leave the enterprise less flexible and less able to adjust to a changing competitive landscape. This approach will also help reassure employees about where and how AI will be used in the organization.”
Are these discussions happening in your organization? If you don’t know, you should probably start asking. If they are happening, you should start participating. Because you want to be part of an organization that doesn’t see project management as a utility, and that demonstrably values your very human role in its success — now, and in the scary, exciting future.