Why it’s time for the adaptive professional
Project professionals are faced with a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world – as if anyone needed reminding of that in 2020. The conditions in which we work sometimes seem almost designed to make project management difficult, or at least more challenging. But that is precisely why project management is so important today, contributing an estimated £156.6 billion of gross value added to the UK economy, according to APM/PwC Golden Thread research– and why it will have such a pivotal role in creating the future for our organisations, and for society as a whole.
Our profession will be centre stage as we look to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic and adapt to the challenges and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, climate change and increasing human longevity.
That is why I am proud to be launching the plenary report of Projecting the Future, the ‘big conversation’ initiative led by APM over the course of 2019-20. After a year’s worth of thematic discussion papers and fascinating conversations with colleagues across APM’s membership, and a dialogue with many organisations and experts beyond our ranks, we set out eight big ideas that are key to the profession’s evolution over the next 5-10 years.
First and foremost among them: we believe that now is the time to focus on the adaptive project professional. Our profession will not thrive despite change: we will thrive because change is what we do. Ours is the profession that will be at the heart of delivering and shaping change, helping organisations and society adapt to new realities. We cannot eliminate change, manage its impact to zero, or pretend it doesn’t exist. Instead, an adaptive mindset means that we need to embrace change and recognise its implications for projects, striking the right balance between clarity about goals and benefits, and flexibility between the use of best practices and innovating to meet unique circumstances. This matters here and now: seen through the lens of adaptability, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated many of the themes identified in our original paper. Adaptation is key to how we bounce back.
Being adaptive also means knowing that we as individuals need to develop throughout our careers to keep pace with a fast-changing world. The challenges ahead are huge, but the opportunities are thrilling – and as an adaptive profession, our collective future will be bright.
The other big ideas are wide ranging. We need to build the profession’s pipeline, from starter to charter: providing new routes into the profession both for young entrants, and for more mature professionals, in recognition that an age of technological disruption means we can expect – and need to cater for – greater mobility between career stages.
Hand in hand with that, we need to strengthen the culture of professionalism through life, supported by employer commitment to training and an ambitious new policy framework that caters for learning at all stages of life.
We also believe that project management has earned a seat at the top table – shaping the strategy behind, not just the delivery of, projects. Projects are critical to strategy so they need to be a bigger part of strategy development.
For the profession as a whole we need creative collaborations to raise standards, and we need to promote the profession’s standard, here in the UK and globally. We need to keep building the evidence base for what works. And, lest we forget in the face of this year’s pandemic, we need to embed sustainability in projects to a much greater extent.
Keeping the conversation going
As the paper outlines, several new APM initiatives will help to deliver on these ideas – from the forthcoming review of APM’s competence framework, to an update of the influential research into the conditions for project success, to our climate change action plan. But making a reality of these ideas demands action and collaboration across the profession as a whole involving individual project professionals, organisations, and policymakers alike. Projecting the future has been a success because it has been marked by a spirit of joint endeavour and collaboration and we need much more of that in the years ahead. The critical conversations need to happen not only through APM, but between key organisations in the project sector, within government, and between individuals with expertise and insight that can be shared to the benefit of the profession – and, ultimately, to achieve the end goal of delivering projects more successfully.
In that sense, our new report is the evolution of Projecting the Future into a launch pad for the next stage of the profession’s development.
I look forward to the next stage of conversation with you about how we turn our eight big ideas into a reality and help our profession to thrive in the decade ahead.