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Managing projects in a time of change

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I have written elsewhere about 2017 being a year of change. It seems like everywhere I look; things are on the move. Not just in the world of project management but also in the wider world. We appear to be living in one of those periods in which the tectonic plates of history collide. At a political level, the news seems even more outrageous than satire, and I get a feeling that we are skating on ever increasing economically thin ice; consumer confidence is falling, borrowing is rising, the oil price seems fixed at a low price and protectionism is on the rise around the world. 

Technology is changing too, with less reliance on oil and gas, more electric cars, and the emergence of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence threatening professional roles. Organisations that have done well in the past century seem to be fighting for their very survival in disrupted markets. Long-standing high street retailers, telecoms, banking, supermarkets, big pharmaceutical businesses and the gas and oil sector all seem to be struggling to stay afloat. Who knows what the future will hold?

But then as project managers, we should seize the opportunity and embrace change. The world of project management is changing - maybe it is the combination of the APM Chartered status and the launch of the apprentice levy, but it seems to me that project management is becoming the first career of choice for many individuals. Indeed, I talk to more and more young people who are entering project management as a first career. 

So can we predict the future of project management? We are almost at 2020 - to think that until recently that was APM's vision - for a world in which all projects succeed. To me, this feels like an ambition from a much earlier, much more stable time, how the world has changed since 2010 when that strategy was first published. In our turbulent and ever-changing world, failure seems inevitable for those people and organisations that don’t adapt and grow and become increasingly resilient.   

So what will this mean for project managers of the future? Well, to be honest, I am not quite sure where we will end up but here are some ideas for managing projects in turbulent times:

  • Keep a weather eye on the changing context. Changes outside the project could have dramatic effects on your plans. What will Brexit mean for resource availability? Could changes in trade policy in the USA affect your project? Is your sector likely to see significant politically driven change?
  • Keep your key stakeholders close (and your enemies closer). Could external pressures change stakeholder priorities very quickly? Are investors likely to lose confidence if we hit another recession and the banks cannot lower interest rates anymore?
  • Plan in phases, realising benefits as you go. If it is possible, break the project into smaller stages each of which leads to some benefit. This way your project remains flexible to adapt to future changes.
  • Adapt to changes in a flexible but streamline way. As the world becomes more turbulent, change may be imperative but does this should mean that the scope control becomes chaotic?
  • Be realistic in what you can deliver, commit to only what you can deliver while aspiring to more ambitious

Put simply - do the basics well.

I am looking forward to the future, as they say, we live in exciting times. What do you think? Is the world becoming dynamic, how should project managers respond to a changing world?


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  1. Rob Leslie-Carter
    Rob Leslie-Carter 07 August 2017, 03:09 PM

    We collected some interesting thoughts on the Future of Project Management a few months ago - albeit with more of a 2040 horizon