In the next five years, the world will see more projects than ever. The reconstruction of the economy after the devastating global pandemic crisis will be unprecedented. According to McKinsey, governments announced $10 trillion in reconstruction funds in the first two months of the crisis, which is three times more than the response to the 2008–09 financial crisis.
We’re talking about millions of projects, which will need millions of project managers. This is confirmation of the ‘project economy’, a term I conceived in 2018.
Despite this positive outlook, five significant disruptions will put at stake the project management profession that we have come to know over the past 40 years. We should consider these signals as an urgent call for much-needed changes in our practices and competencies (after all, it’s a small price to pay for the unique opportunity that the project management profession has to lead us into the future).
1. The end of job descriptions, the start of project roles
The move from a world driven by efficiency to one driven by change will have enormous consequences in terms of strategy, culture, organisational structures, competencies and compensation. More and more work will be carried out through projects. The Richards Group is one of the largest independently owned ad agencies in the US. Stan Richards, its founder and CEO, removed almost all of its management layers and job titles, leaving only that of the project manager. This is not an exception. Today, most employees don’t work on what their job descriptions state; they work on changing priorities, strategic initiatives and delivering value. They’re actually working on projects.
2. From project managers to strategy implementation professionals
My latest research for the Harvard Business Review Project Management Handbook clearly shows that senior leaders see project management as a core competency. However, project managers will need to learn new skills. For example, they will need to start facilitating ideation and using design thinking techniques to ensure that the best ideas are chosen and developed into projects that generate value through the right project management approaches. To help project managers, scrum masters and managers to make this step change, we developed the first global online Strategy Implementation Professional certification, together with APMG International.
3. Expanding our toolkit
It is not waterfall or agile; it is both and more. Many of us grew up implementing project management methodologies with the idea that one size fits all. This means all projects will need to follow the same methodology, life cycle, templates – first waterfall, then agile methods. Today, we know that this is wrong; you cannot have just one method to address all the projects in your organisation. You should be able to apply one method or different techniques simultaneously.
4. The project management office: transform now or game over
PMOs are designed for hierarchies, reporting to the CIO, CFO or CEO. However, hierarchies are structures of the past. Today, most organisations look for more agile settings, with fewer management layers, promoting project-based work and self-managed teams. PMOs need to change urgently. First, PMOs must move to cover strategy and transform into strategy implementation offices. Second, we must develop agile PMOs, temporary entities that will assist in traditional and agile projects. Once the project is over, the PMO should transition into running, operating or selling what the project has produced and delivered.
5. Artificial intelligence will disrupt project management
We have to embrace technology now. According to Gartner, 80 per cent of the project management taskS will be taken over by artifical intelligence by 2030. Most projects are managed with Microsoft Project, software launched in 1987. Project portfolio management tools offer more advanced features but are far from being applications that benefit from the latest technologies. Soon we will start seeing algorithms that can predict the success rates of projects, validate a project’s scope and automatically design a project plan in minutes. Losing a significant part of our current tasks might be scary for many, yet it is a vast opportunity to switch our focus to more value-added activities.
Finally, I want to share a global challenge for our project management community. Today, about 70 per cent of projects fail to deliver their objectives. Considering that every year approximately $48 trillion is invested in projects, we fail to deliver trillions of benefits, value and impact. What if we commit to doing much better? If we increase our success ratio from 30 per cent to 60 per cent, we would be adding to the world approximately the GDP of China in extra benefit, year after year.
A version of this blog appears in the spring 2021 edition of Project journal, an exclusive benefit for APM members. Antonio also spoke to The APM Podcast in March about why and how project management and project managers need to become more strategic if they are to innovate. The podcast is free to stream on all major streaming platforms.