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Looking back on future projections

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Last week I managed to read the seventh and final paper of the Association for Project Management’s (APM) excellent Projecting the Future thought leadership series, the first of which was published in June 2019. The final paper summarised the key topics covered in previous papers, and stressed the need for the project profession to become more adaptive due to our increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where traditional project management approaches won’t always be effective (something that particularly resonates considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic).

The paper advocated several recommendations to ensure the profession is equipped to shape this new adaptive future. These included ensuring the profession builds a new talent pipeline, has greater project boardroom presence, and encouraging professionals to develop new meta-competencies, including resilience, which I often feel is overlooked in traditional project management theory and textbooks. In fact, my APM award win in 2016 was based on how well I demonstrated resilience to overcome significant challenges and successfully turned around a distressed multimillion-pound complex signalling project. No matter how well planned your project is, it will inevitably face adversity at some stage, so a key attribute is how you adapt to lead your team out of this.

Another key theme discussed in the Projecting the Future series focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution driven by increasing adoption of new technologies. This is something APM has focused on more recently in the Project Data Analytics Pathfinder research report. Although uptake rates across industries are rapidly growing, my industry (construction) has been slower to grasp such technologies. The opportunities to add significant value are clearly limitless, from automating and expediting time consuming reporting processes we undertake, to using big data to improve estimating, planning, etc, to the use of robotics to improve physical on-site installation works.

Other themes in the series include climate change and its impacts, as well as related opportunities promoting 'clean growth' such as renewable energies, nuclear power, etc. The paper also stressed the importance of project professionals in tackling climate change by driving sustainable project management. In my industry I believe we can do even more to embed sustainability considerations when delivering construction projects. For example, we can ensure sustainability objectives are included in client remits, project requirements and contracts to reinforce the growing awareness among our stakeholders and supply-chains where social and environmental sustainability performance is still not viewed with the same importance as safety.  

Other papers discussed future global mobility/transport challenges, such as congestion which is costing the UK alone £40bn, the ageing population and their changing transport/mobility requirements, etc, and subsequent opportunities to tackle these challenges. This included: Connected Automated Vehicles, integrated transport links, and even Elon Musk’s proposed future of transport – the Hyperloop. Encouragingly the paper advocates that projects are critical to overcoming many of our future mobility challenges – something I personally contributed towards during my time delivering rail infrastructure schemes with Network Rail.

For example the massive half a billion-pound upgrade of King’s Cross station completed in 2012 (which increased capacity of a key train terminal for travellers to and from the North of Britain, as well as people travelling to the London Olympics held that year). Other projects included the Cornwall Capacity Enhancement Scheme, where we provided the trackside infrastructure to facilitate several additional daily train services running from Plymouth to Penzance from 2018, a highly successful initiative which has brought many economic, social and environmental benefits to Cornwall (through boosting tourism, opening up new business opportunities, and helping take people out of cars and back onto trains when travelling to the region avoiding the heavily congested A30 during the summer months).

The urbanisation paper highlighted how 68 per cent of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. This brings many challenges that technology and adaptability will be key to helping overcome like smart technology solutions to help tackle growing urban issues such as air quality, pollution, noise levels and crime.

Another paper explored changing demographics driven by a growing global population where many countries have ageing societies. This has implications for the economy, and asset and wealth distributions among different demographic groups. Project management is fundamental to deliver transformative/change projects to reform health, social, housing and transport requirements.

Changing global demographics also influence another paper: The future of work and skills. It highlighted the growing UK employee/r skills shortages, which traditionally focused on hard skills but will need to shift more towards soft skills. Emotional intelligence, collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and other interpersonal skills should supplement the technical skills project professionals focus on, as well as the need to upskill due to the digital disruption from the advent of the AI led fourth industrial revolution.

This paper also discussed other drivers of work and skills changes including:

  • Evolving Western work and business models (which now focus more on stakeholder and staff value creation rather than solely profit generation)
  • Growing diversity and inclusion in organisations/teams
  • Increasing life expectancy
  • Greater projectisation of organisations’ works
  • The rise of the ‘gig economy’

Excitingly from my perspective, the paper advocates that infrastructure and construction offer great opportunities to develop many of these future skills - something the recent National Infrastructure Strategy may help to address.

The world has drastically changed since life before the COVID-19 pandemic; it shows few signs of going back to the way it was – we’ve all evolved. The Projecting the Future papers stand strong as guidance for us to explore challenges and opportunities facing our exciting and growing profession. What has changed for you as you step onwards in the future of project management? How are you preparing for the future of our profession that’s already here?

The Projecting the Future papers addressed challenges that we need to handle and if you have yet to read any of them, I strongly urge you to get ahead, download the papers now and stimulate further thought and discussion on how you’ll become an adaptive project professional.

Explore the Projecting the Future papers here


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