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Projecting the Future: what next?

Overlooking City

As the new year beckons, Tim Banfield looks at what lies ahead for APM’s Projecting the Future initiative.

When we launched Projecting the Future in the summer of 2019 as a ‘big conversation’ on the future of the project profession, we set out to explore a wide range of trends shaping the years ahead for all us in project management. As 2021 approaches, it’s a time of change and transition across the economy – and for Projecting the Future itself.

We never claimed to have a crystal ball that could have forecast the pandemic that has transformed so many people’s working circumstances during 2020. But we did point out that the world was increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA): highly networked, susceptible to rapid change, and increasingly defined by complexity or chaos. As the year closes, the truth of that is plain for all to see – and even as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, that dynamic will remain. Whatever ‘normal’ looks like after coronavirus, it will still be defined by continual change, often unpredictable and at breathtaking speed.

As 2021 approaches, we can be optimistic about the health crisis, with enormous projects set to swing into action to deliver large-scale vaccination programmes across the UK and around the world. But as the recent spending review from Chancellor Rishi Sunak made clear, the economic bounceback will take much longer. The UK is expected to take until at least until 2022 to recover the ground it lost in 2020. And that’s without, at the time of writing, any certainty about the final shape of Brexit, the content of any trade deal, and the consequences for the economy.

So throughout the period ahead, the role of project professionals will be absolutely vital. We will all have to step up, whatever your work. You might be involved in rolling out those vaccines or responding to the wider challenges to our health and other public services. Maybe you are involved in delivering the major infrastructure projects that are needed for our long-term prosperity. Or perhaps you are helping businesses to transform and innovate as the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution become more and more widespread, or as organisations take the steps that are urgently needed to transition to zero carbon.

Given the scale of the challenges and opportunities we face, project management cannot be a mere afterthought. As the Chancellor said in his Spending Review statement and the launch of the national infrastructure strategy (NIS): “Projects must have real impact. This is about funding the infrastructure of everyday life”. The NIS rightly acknowledges the importance of delivering this professionally and effectively.

We all need to make the case that project management is integral to the strategic success of organisations and should be part of shaping that strategy. We will need to keep our focus on the end users of projects, remain responsive to changing contexts and requirements, and be adept at managing complex stakeholder networks to deliver benefits.

With that approach, project professionals will be at the heart of shaping change right across the economy in 2021 and beyond.

Transitioning Projecting the Future

For APM and the Projecting the Future Group, which I have been honoured to chair, it is time for transition. Our report in September 2020, The Adaptive Project Professional set out eight big ideas for the future of the project profession, along with recommendations for action for individuals, organisations, stakeholders – and for APM itself. We are now working with colleagues right across APM to build those actions into APM’s core workstreams.

It is a wide-ranging agenda that includes feeding into the review of APM’s professional competence framework, informing the future versions of the Body of Knowledge, and helping to identify the support needed for professionals’ future continuing professional development. It will help build the evidence base on what works through APM’s research programme, including an update of powerful research into the conditions for project success which is already under way, and research on the impact of Chartered and professional qualifications. It will mean working with partners to put net zero at the heart of what the profession does, and to reach more students, young people, and mid-career switchers alike to tell them about the inspiring opportunities available in our profession. And we will also feed into the APM Strategy Review, making sure that the insights from Projecting the Future are central to discussions about APM’s longer-term future.

Projecting the Future has been a huge success, and it has been my privilege to work on it with the other volunteers in the Projecting the Future Group, with APM’s chief executive Debbie Dore, and all the APM team. The first phase of our work is drawing to a close. The next phase to deliver it will be every bit as important.

Image: 24Novembers/Shutterstock.com

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