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by Mike DePrisco, Vice president, Global Experience & Solutions, Project Management Institute
Industry View from
Project Management Institute’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession® report Ahead of the Curve: Forging a Future-Focused Culture sheds insight on how organisations and individuals can seize the advantage
More than 10 per cent of corporate investment is wasted due to poor project performance, and organisations that dismiss project management as a strategic competency show a sharply raised level of project failure.
To be efficient and effective in how work gets done, Project Management Institute (PMI) believes that organisations must rethink fundamental questions such as “Why are we doing this?” and “How should we organise work?” The 2020 Pulse report focuses on a new way of doing business and delivering value that will enable success in a rapidly changing world: The Project Economy.
Organisations that are fit for the future adopt new ways of working that allow them to thrive during rapid change. Change happens through projects. These are no longer separate from operations. Instead they are central to how problems are solved and value gets delivered to customers and stakeholders. Projects disrupt and innovate. In many ways, the organisation is its projects – incorporating many skillsets, executed through different approaches, but focused unwaveringly on delivering financial and societal value. This is what PMI calls The Project Economy.
We are living through a time of extraordinary change driven by new technologies. Organisational leaders are faced with complex issues and must reimagine the nature of work and how it gets done. To succeed in The Project Economy, organisations must be built around innovation and agility. For more than half of the organisations surveyed for Pulse, this means building a culture that is receptive to change.
Being open to change means being better able to address uncertainty and deliver results. It also means that organisations must learn quickly and pivot to what’s next so they can be best positioned for the future. For many organisations, this “start-up” approach is a cultural step-change. It’s essential though. Fuelled by massive shifts in technology, change is accelerating. Most leaders realise this. And according to PMI’s research, the key factors for achieving success are organisational agility (35 per cent of respondents), investing in the right technologies (32 per cent) and securing relevant skills (31 per cent).
Organisations are investing heavily in technology: according to Pulse, the top areas for medium-term investment are technology (49 per cent of respondents) and digitalisation (44 per cent). Project managers must be able to manage and leverage the benefits this technology delivers to organisations. PMI describes this ability as a project manager’s “technology quotient”, and TQ is becoming ever more important. As well as having the TQ to use digital tools, project managers must feel comfortable with technology, able to ask the right questions and look in the right places for opportunities and problems.
New technologies such as machine learning, augmented reality and social robotics are disrupting markets. Project professionals must be able to maximise the opportunities those technologies bring. They must be able to pick technologies that can transform projects and interpret data to be able to evaluate and measure the risks they present. And they need to be keenly aware of emerging technologies – such as quantum computing, brain-computer interfaces, and pico-technology – that could bring further massive disruption.
It’s not just about technology leadership though. Project managers must also be skilled leaders of people, building teams with different competencies from different parts of an organisation, and displaying empathy for their fears and ambitions. They must be highly effective communicators, with well-honed skills of persuasion.
Business skills are important too. Understanding how to ensure projects contribute to organisational goals is key. In fact, developing business skills to support projects was rated a high priority by 58 per cent of organisations in the Pulse research.
Increasingly, these “softer” skills of leadership and business acumen will be essential qualities for project managers, while more routine tasks such as progress-chasing and reporting will be automated.
What really counts, though, is the customer. Pulse data shows that 70 per cent of organisations prioritise creating a culture centred on delivering customer value. Finding a customer’s pain points and knowing what they value is critical. And one significant way forward here is “design thinking”.
In some ways, design thinking is an old concept. But today’s project manager, with new digital tools for collaborative working, document sharing and ideation management, can ensure that customers are delighted throughout the journey.
Design thinking, used by nearly six out of ten organisations (59 per cent), focuses on people. It starts by empathising with customers and the people who serve customers. It’s about researching the answer to a simple question: “How can we help?” The next stage is analysing the research and defining the current state of the market – the needs that people have and the problems they face. Next comes ideation, where assumptions are challenged and new ideas for solutions are generated. The fourth stage is building prototypes of potential solutions and the final stage is testing these with the target audience so that the best solutions can be identified and rolled out to the market.
Design thinking, in other words, is about innovation. It’s about the creation of viable new solutions to commercial challenges. And it’s up to the project manager to ensure that those solutions truly are viable.
In a time of rapid change, professional project management is a business imperative. Mike DePrisco, Vice President, Global Experience and Solutions at PMI, puts it like this: “Organisations are increasingly looking to project leaders to help them turn ideas into reality. That means mixing traditional skills with emerging ones. Project professionals must understand automation and design thinking. But they won’t get far without people skills.”
Today’s project managers use a mix of technical, leadership, business and digital skills to ensure organisations are agile and maximise the opportunities from changing technologies. Most importantly, they are advocates for the customer. And it is because of this role that project managers are key players in the drive for organisational success.
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