New technologies, shifting business needs, flexible delivery approaches and the move to The Project Economy—all of these things are changing the profession of project management. And that shift is only going to accelerate in 2020.
In a recent episode of Projectified with hosts Tegan Jones and Stephen Maye, project and program management leaders shared their thoughts on emerging trends in the world of projects. Here are some edited highlights:
“I believe the future’s really bright for project and program managers,” said Narasimha Acharya, assistant director in the client technology practice at Ernst & Young in Atlanta. “But the role, the knowledge, the experience that we need to be successful is, of course, changing. And it will continue to change.”
But Palladino said we shouldn’t get overwhelmed by the pace of change and what it may or may not bring down the road. Instead, we should practice curiosity in the here and now. And an agile mindset helps, starting with the question: “What’s that one little thing we can do to improve what we’re doing?”
“And if we can build that [curiosity] into our lives, we build that into the way that we work, we incrementally keep looking for different opportunities to improve and discover new ideas and different ways of working,” Palladino said.
Developing a habit of curiosity can help you prepare for what’s ahead. And as things change, project managers will need new skills, including how they use data, said Fernando Antonio Oliveira, the E2 program director for Embraer in São José dos Campos, Brazil.
“We see a lot of change in the way we treat data, the way we collect data, the way we understand how the project or program is going,” Oliveira said. This data-centric approach is driven in large part by artificial intelligence (AI) and other tools that can help project managers better anticipate and prevent risks, rather than reacting to them after they happen, he added.
Kaustuv Bagchi, head of India operations for oil and gas offshore projects for LT Hydrocarbon Engineering in Mumbai, India, said he hopes disruptive technology like AI will help new project managers be more efficient and allow them to focus on different skills.
“Earlier the focus was on knowledge and experience; now…we have technology to support project management to an extent that experience is getting digitized, so the focus is going to be moving from knowledge to application of technology, and application of knowledge, and constant innovation.”
As a new generation enters the workplace, new approaches and ways of thinking are changing and challenging traditional project management approaches as well.
Olivier Schmitt, CEO of The Project Group France SAS in Lyon, said he sees organizations struggling to integrate those new points of view.
“The conflict at the moment in [many] organizations is it’s moving very fast at the delivery level, and it’s still very conservative at the top management level, which makes a real problem in decision-making.”
No doubt, it’s going to be a vastly different world for the next generation of project leaders. In addition to becoming comfortable with new technologies, we also will need to be OK with ambiguity, Palladino said.
“Life isn’t crisp and clear, the future’s not crisp and clear,” he said. “We’re going to have to deal with those ambiguities, and we have to figure out a way to change our thinking that it’s not just about finding the right answer, it’s finding an answer, and that’s okay, let’s develop it. Let’s further explore it and improve it and continually enhance it.”
Handling ambiguity is clearly a needed skill—and Maye noted that Deloitte recently found that leading through complexity and ambiguity was the top skill needed for today’s (and tomorrow’s) leaders.
What do you think?
Would we ask the New York Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster, or to play the Ninth Symphony and the Seventh Symphony at the same time — you know, to be more productive? No, of course not.
But how often are project teams expected to juggle multiple roles and assignments, and to do so in unrealistic timeframes?
Doing things faster — and often at the same time — has become a way of life for working professionals (not to mention moms, students, and anyone else trying to cope with modern life). Project managers and their team members are no exception.
There you are, responding to dozens of emails before 8 a.m., simultaneously fielding random calls, updating information for three projects, and on your way to a status meeting, which you will leave early to attend another meeting about something else, while having a conversation in the hallway … deep breath, you are truly a mover and shaker. Or maybe you’re just moving and shaking?
In the digital age, we're taking productivity and efficiency to new levels, but it’s not always a badge of honor. At the least, we need to consider what productivity really means. It seems "faster" or "leaner" are the favored definition these days. I'm afraid that outlook is leading to a lot of high-speed crashes.
We’re losing touch with equally important factors like craft, care, culture and quality — never mind the value of finding pride in our work.
Tim Jackson, a professor at the University of Surrey and author of Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, says there are many work sectors where “chasing productivity doesn’t make sense at all,” and that “certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention.” Attention!
Jackson cites a number of examples: teachers teaching ever bigger classes at the expense of actually educating students ... nurses stretched to the breaking point who are losing empathy for their patients. To take his point further, he writes, “What would be gained by asking the New York Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster and faster each year?”
To that question, I’ll add: And what is to be gained by asking project teams to hurry up and deliver “results” that do not, in the end, deliver real value? "Fail fast" is one thing. Fail because you're rushing for no good reason is quite another.
More studies show plainly that this 24/7 full-throttle approach to work (and to life) is destructive and diminishing — to mental and physical well-being, and to our ability to be strategic and innovate.
In the sound and fury of this "faster, faster" management/economic model, we need to mix in a few “wait a minute” moments to question all this hyper-productivity. Because doing more with less, or doing it faster, is often just doing it worse. And who has time for that?