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Disruption demands projects, projects demand diversity

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“I believe that all lives have equal value. That all men and women are created equal. That everyone belongs, That everyone has rights, and everyone has the right to flourish. I believe that when people who are bound by the rules have no role in shaping the rules, moral blind spots become law, and the powerless bear the burden. Those are my beliefs and my values. I believe they are not personal values but universal values...” Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift.

These words reflect a growing movement that should be a priority for the project profession if we want to tackle the ever-changing world and the challenges the future will present.

Diversity of thought will be key to the future of projects. Diversity of thought can only be delivered through diversity in teams, organisations, companies and across our profession. But this isn’t about quotas and affirmative action programmes – the challenge for our industry is to think differently about talent and capability and have a broader definition of ‘what good looks like’. 

The oft quoted statistic that 70 per cent of projects fail is well known. Despite this, many projects continue to do things in the same way. The Association for Project Management’s (APM) Projecting the Future initiative, launched a big discussion about the future of project management as a profession. The increasing ‘projectification’ of work – the ever greater prevalence of ‘the project’ as a unit of organisation for delivering social, business and political outcomes, is a sign that projects are becoming more important. Disruption and the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we live in, demands that we find ways of solving problems quickly – we cannot afford to keep doing things in the same way because the cost of failure will be too high. Projects provide a valuable framework for structuring how we meet the challenge of disruption and the promise of the future.

Projecting the Future identified six challenges including the fourth industrial revolution; climate change and sustainability; future workplace, future skills; demographics and ageing: the 100 year life; the future of mobility and transport; and urbanisation, connectivity and building smart cities.  Value change is also making a difference to how people consider important social and business problems.

‘So what?’ you may ask.  The answer is simple.  The business and social problems that project management and project managers will be called upon to solve in the next decade will be driven, ultimately, by the six themes identified. Problems that may seem innocuous could have these drivers at their core, and it will be increasingly important for project professionals to think and operate in different ways to be able to engage with the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that arises as a consequence of these megatrends.

Innovation will be key to success. To innovate, new ways of thinking and doing will be critical. The consequences for our profession are profound. No longer will a purely technical response be adequate. Project professionals in the very near future may need diverse skills, they will need to be data scientists. They may need to be psychologists. They may need to be diplomats. What is certain is that the demands of project management as we know it, will change. The perspective, insight and experience that project professionals deploy will need to evolve if they are to be capable of being as innovative as we need them to be.

These challenges of the future require different approaches to how we bring together teams as well. The same old sets of skills and experience will no longer be sufficient. Emergent AI promises the automation of simple transactional ‘PMO’ tasks. This will potentially eliminate process driven aspects of project management from the human sphere – who needs a monthly dashboard when you can see earned value in real time, driven by machine learning and AI? This means that project management professionals will need to be capable of engaging in a human centred future.

Diversity is critical to defining and delivering solutions to the problems posed by the megatrends. The challenge for our profession therefore, must be to embrace diversity and put this at the heart of how we envisage project management 4.0.

In my next blog, I’ll be writing about how you can harness diversity and inclusion to build project teams that are diverse and inclusive, and will deliver success.

Gates, Melinda. (2019) The Moment of Lift, Bluebird, London.
Image: LvNL/


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