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How project management can enter a new age

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Project management lies at a critical junction. The profession has become a crucial part of the economy and can only grow in importance. This was the underlying theme of the APM Power of Projects conference held in Manchester last month.

A panel discussion on APM’s Projecting the Future campaign, gave much food for thought on how the profession, with a strong and healthy foundation, needs to adapt in order to thrive.

If you missed the lively discussions in Manchester, then these are the key points you need to know about:

Project management is everywhere

The scope of project management continues to spread across sectors, but the profession needs to define itself more strongly. As project management moves beyond the industries it originated in, it must create a stronger identity as it encompasses new sectors and types of organisations, including SMEs. “We have to differentiate ourselves and be more broadly relatable,” said Tim Banfield, chair of APM’s Projecting the Future Group. The projectification of work means every sector creates the opportunity for a recognised project management function and career path.

We must be more flexible

While project managers like to have certainty, Tim Banfield warned that following a linear path on a project is no longer the reality of the world now. “We need to deal with uncertainty and we need to adapt the way we work,” he said. “It’s about doing what’s appropriate in a particular situation,” not about sticking to prescribed best practice.

Jane Clayson, head of project management at KCOM, said that project management can be viewed by many outside the profession as being bureaucratic and a blocker to getting stuff done. “How do we convince people that it is not just about process but about collaborating?”

Project managers must have a say at board level

Project management must aim to have a place at the very top of an organisation. “It’s about the PM CEO and government departments run by a project manager,” said Tim Banfield. “We should be up there at the top table alongside the financiers and lawyers.”

“We need to be seen to be the people to make things happen, and not just in technology,” he continued. Project management is still seen by many to be a niche profession, “sitting in a basement with the techies with Gantt charts that no one sees. If we want to aspire to be more, we need to move perceptions. It’s about how we position ourselves as a profession and how we are seen and valued more widely.”

Project management needs more support

Project management needs to be given its proper credit within organisations and given more resource, respect and access to training. It’s also about getting the c-suite involved in a two-way dialogue with project professionals, who need to be listened to and valued more by their colleagues in other functions.

“The problem is that people at the top don’t understand project management and it is hampering the ability to deliver projects,” said Jo Stanford, head of corporate portfolio office at Health Education England. “Change is being done really badly because people are not trained how to do it.”

The profession cannot move up the hierarchy without getting senior executives involved in the conversation. It’s no longer good enough for the accidental project manager to be left to stumble along without being given the proper skills and support, nor for people to call themselves project managers when they have not been trained in knowing what a project is or how to carry one out successfully.

Project management needs people skills

Project management can no longer focus on process and technical skills. Instead, it needs to focus on benefits realisation and people skills. Good communication and collaboration are fundamental skills for pulling off a successful project. “The project profession has only really just got started,” said Stuart Forsyth, head of project management at BAE Systems. He said the emphasis now should be on relationship skills, developing emotional intelligence and on leadership. An effective project will be one that has the achieving of outcomes as front of mind throughout its duration.

Check out Tim Banfield's insights into the future of project management and give us your views through APM’s Projecting the Future page.

Brought to you by Project journal.

Image: turbodesign/


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