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What APM delegates want to know about the future

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At the APM Project Management Conference 2018, award winning futurist and keynote speaker Rohit Talwar helped delegates scan the horizon for the next 30 years exploring how trends, technology and ways of working will impact our lives and our projects.

Knowing what was on the horizon was just the first step for delegates to future proof themselves and their projects. With so many possibilities, the questions for Rohit were endless.

Here are just some of the questions from the day:

Who do you think will be the ‘new entrants’ to the project management profession over the next ten years (people we’ve not thought of yet)

As mentioned above, there are many people doing project management outside the remit of APM. This grouping will grow and will evolve its own approaches. Software will inevitably play an increasing role and within five years I expect to see artificial intelligence (AI) based project management applications that claim to be able to do the job without any human intervention. As professionals get laid off in other fields such as accountancy and legal services, once can imagine a number of people re-emerging with project management as one of their offerings.

What do you think the eventual balance will be between full time PM employees Vs freelancers.  What will be the intended and unintended consequences?

Businesses are increasingly becoming project based entities and hence I envisage a world with a core of full time internal project and programme managers. They will be supported by specialist externally sourced project professionals bringing specific skills and experience to bear according to current needs. These external agents might be independents or work for project and programme management specialists. The balance is hard to predict, but I’d imagine it would be something like 30-40% internalwith 60-70% sourced externally. The consequences might include keeping staff costs down when workloads are low and the flexibility to resource quickly when required. Unintended consequences might include HR becoming the resourcing function to manage this process and ensure that teams develop a collective culture aligned to the brand that is recruiting them.Firms might increasingly set up pre-screening services to vet candidates “just in case” and use knowledge portals to keep this ready and waiting PM skill pool up to date on the organisation in question and on broader PM matters.

In terms of your ongoing research programme, what are the latest (next?) emerging drivers for change?

Some of the key drivers and impacts we are focusing on right now include the societal consequences of AI, what future economic systems might look like, the impact and implications of augmentations to the human brain and body, and the future of learning and education.

In 2035, what elements of PM do you think will be irreplaceable human?

It seems reasonable to assume that a lot of technical project management tasks might have been automated –such as estimating, risk analysis, plan development, tracking, and reporting. Where I think and hope humans will still be valued is in the softer aspects such as negotiation, collaboration, team building, scenario planning, and conflict resolution.

When have you been surprised? Not on pace but on actual change/development (or not)

I think we underestimated the pace of development of the internet. I have also been surprised by how much influence Donald Trump is having in international affairs given his stated desire to retrench and focus on America. I think society’s willingness to trade privacy for free services has happened on a bigger scale that might have been expected. The current global drive on plastics reduction and the timetable switch to greener vehicles have been pleasant surprises. I think we’ve made pitiful progress on tackling many of the global grand challenges identified in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and I wish we’d done a lot more to revamp the education system at every level –particularly adult education.

What is the Future boundaries of a company if any?

I don’t think there’s a single boundary. In 10 years I expect a range from firms that look like they do to today, through to newforms, project focused entities that come together for specific opportunities, permeable ecosystems where players come in and out over time, and the fully automated Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO) where humans need not apply. Look out 20-30 years and maybe we’ll be discussing the end of modern business as we know it with entirely new forms of enterprise –possibly citizen or state owned and designed by AI.

Will AI mean that managers will have more successful projects, but that they won’t know why?

Great question that I haven’t thought about before –it’s certainly a possibility. However, AI systems depend on the training data through which they do their learning. So, if an AI project management tool has learned from a large number of past projects with highly expert and experienced project managers doing the training, then their results might not come as a surprise. If one day we can buy ready made AI project managers off the shelf then we might be surprised at their capabilities and how theyreach their conclusions.

What skills do we need our PMs to start building now to ensure they are future proof? 

Alongside keeping project management skills up to date, I’d start with regular horizon scanning for changes in the world thatcould drive new opportunities, this might help guide the domains we want to learn about –e.g. upgrading of transport infrastructure, automation of court systems, transition to driverless logistics. Next I’d focus on the softer skills that will be key to navigating challenges and keeping people on board (see Q6) –including creativity, honing your intuition, non-violent communications, systems understanding, and design thinking.

Will AI be able to recognise and fix inefficiencies from our underlying processes?

Until AI systems become as smart as humans, they will still need to be trained with a data set of past experiences. So, if you have the data, then they could spot and fix issues.

What about the lifespan of CIVILISATIONS? What safeguards / rules do we need to keep AI safe and the systems that depend on it resilient?

We are going to need global codes of ethics to guide AI development and deployment. The challenge will be enforcing them –maybe AIs will be required to monitor the situation. There is also intense competition between nations and companies for leadership in AI and so it may take a while before we create truly resilient and workable controls.

As our professional body, what advice would you give to APM to make them future proof, more accessible to PMs, and ahead of the curve?

I think project management and learning are key to how organisations navigate the future. For the APM, this means constantly being ahead of where practitioners are and stretching their boundaries through horizon scanning, identifying new classes of projects emerging (e.g. the redesign of national and local economic and governance systems), and showcasing new project management approaches and tools. APM could also extend its reach to provide executive suite education on the commercial value and business importance of good project management, and how to be a good c-level customer. Equally, there are hundreds of thousand if not millions of uncertified and often untrained people who now effectively manage projects on a continuous basis in their organisations. There is a tremendous opportunity to create online and live training solutions for this group.




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