In the new world of projects we're all leaders now

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Project people, we have a problem. We are pawns in a wider game and unless we raise the noise, we risk falling further and further behind in the technology stakes.

Technology is no magic bullet; it will not solve all of our project ills but just as its role should not be overestimated, nor should it be underestimated.

The world of projects is changing rapidly. We find ourselves in a place where dialogue and ideas are shared in real time, with little or no time for delay or indecision. (If you wait two minutes to reply, that’s two minutes too late!) The world is becoming smaller, too. Projects operate from multiple locations, span different countries, cultures and time zones, and involve ever-larger groups and communities. It is a world without boundaries, where everyone has an opinion – and where everyone wants to be heard. This truly is project management in the collaborative age.

So how do we manage this change? How do we harness traditional and new technologies to involve and engage with project teams and stakeholders? And, more importantly, how do we move to a place where the dissemination of knowledge and experience (what works and what doesn’t) is shared freely between practitioners as we bid to realise the vision of a world in which all projects succeed? 

These and other questions were aired at Project magazine’s first Round Table event held at Microsoft’s offices in central London. The event, chaired by IT specialist and award-winning blogger Elizabeth Harrin, saw software developers and project managers come together to discuss new ideas and new ways of working around the collaborative theme. The general feeling is that there is currently a big disparity between what is necessary and what is available (i.e. the right tools for the right projects).

At the heart of the matter is a culture of fear at a senior level: fear of technology through ignorance, and fear of technology over the ongoing investment required to upgrade software and ensure it is fit for purpose. To illustrate the point perfectly, Richard Gordon from Microsoft reported that some clients were still content to use versions of Microsoft Project dating as far back as 1998! In that time not only has technology moved on but so has the world (and the project environment). So why the delay?

The fear factor is deeply embedded within organisations. The toolmakers talked about their frustrations, of designing fabulous tools to aid the reporting and collaborative process only to be met with a wall of resistance. Project managers talked about the control imposed on them and project teams from above.

It was, agreed unanimously to be, an unhealthy state of affairs.

So how to break the deadlock? Project managers become the innovators and the agents of change. They heed the warning, take up the conversation and do what they do best – they manage change. They act as the lightning rods, channelling the benefits and evangelising about what they’ve heard. They draw attention to new technologies and new ways of working so it becomes impossible to ignore.

Project people, we are nearing a tipping point. Consumers now expect instant, unconstructed information; the Facebook generation is here to stay. To quote another Round Table panellist, we need to move from people who manage, to people who lead. In the new world of projects we’re all leaders now.

Listen here to selected highlights from Project’s Round Table event

Read the full article in the next issue of Project, out early February.

Posted in Project Journal
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Posted by James Simons on 3rd Feb 2012

About the Author
James Simons is publishing manager at APM. He has previously edited APM’s Project magazine for 3+ years and has a background in trade journalism. He has worked in communications and managed both print and digital publications.

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