We’re off (Or Out): Firing the Brexit Gun - the Project Management paradox?

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So the Prime Minister has fired the Brexit gun. Or to be more prosaic, written the letter invoking Article 50 announcing the UK's official departure from the EU so that the two year negotiating process can now formally begin.

Millions of words will be written over the next few days about this with much lamenting[cheering [delete as appropriate!] from the respective camps. Thus far there is more heat than light and not much consideration of the practical implications for project management and skills requirements. It is worth pointing out that we are talking about the impact of pre-Brexit (pedantic I know, but it hasn’t happened yet).  What we are talking about is largely about business and economic uncertainly – of which there are mixed signals.

But as project management is impacted by long lead times and the requirement for long term planning so there is a danger that uncertainty may impact both public and private sector project planning. And for the public sector Brexit arguably represents the largest project management task for the British State since the second world war (insert predictable Dad’s Army jokes here!). It will be a mammoth task and the route map is less than clear.

The APM recently surveyed our membership, and the initial feedback (which will be formally published in a few weeks) provides interesting insight into member sentiment. The survey shows that when members were asked whether Brexit would have a positive or negative impact on their careers there was a real skewing towards concern and uncertainty. Overall the net positive scores (13% i.e. very positive\positive) were outweighed by the negatives 40% (i.e. negative, very negative). The average was therefore a net -27. This score fell further amongst the 18-24 age group to -37 but was only -2 for the 55 plus age group. This replicates in broad terms the fact that older and younger people take a different view about Brexit but it might also tell us something more about the respective views of different ages about job security.

Anyway, the value of the numbers will be a useful gauge of sentiment as this debate goes forward. But it also throws up a possible paradox for the implications of Brexit for project management. There is an argument that Brexit itself will create a need for a host of new ‘Brexit managers’ for larger companies or bodies; and certainly government will have need of veritable army of project management roles (and skills) which will be required over and above business as usual activity. The paradox is that while Brexit offers a threat of uncertainty which could impact the planning and delivery of public and private projects there is also the prospect of an increased need for project management skills for Brexit-related activity.

Should you be interested the APM has prepared a policy note on Brexit which can be accessed here.

David Thomson

Posted by David Thomson on 29th Mar 2017

About the Author

David Thomson is the interim head of external affairs at APM.

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