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Association for Project Management Conference in Manchester calls out: ‘Now is a critical time for the future evolution of the project profession’

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Crammed full of inspirational case studies, serious debate and thought-provoking findings, the Association for Project Management (APM) conference in Manchester this week, entitled ‘Power of Projects’, brought together 200 professionals and students who had the chance to network and learn from their peers.

APM chief executive Debbie Dore opened the day by restating APM’s commitment to raising the importance and profile of project management, to build capacity and expertise in the profession and to ensure it adapts and thrives in the future. “As a profession, it’s really important to talk about the successes,” she said, and went on to talk about embracing change and helping project managers to become early adopters of technology and effective communicators.

Imposing Order on a Disorderly World
The keynote speech, delivered by Peter Marsh, former manufacturing editor at the Financial Times covered the forces shaping the project environment. “What’s special about project management?” he asked. “You, the project manager, are trying to impose order on an unruly world. It goes against the great forces of entropy,” he said. And the modern world has to contend with an unprecedented level of complexity.

Data manipulation and AI will be key drivers that will shape project management over the next 50 years. There is more information in the world than ever before. “This is where AI could come in”, Marsh said. “Data has an immense role in project management, not just in financial services but in building bridges and organising rail projects, and people have more data about what’s going on in these projects... How you use AI can help you manage that information.”

Projecting the Future
Tim Banfield launched APM’s brand new campaign ‘Projecting the Future’, which seeks to define what the future might hold for the profession, and how to ensure it will thrive. “This is something big and exciting,” said Banfield. “How do we, as a profession and as individuals, thrive and maximise the value we deliver?” he asked of the audience.

The profession’s ambition should be not only to sit at the top table of an organisation (the PM CEO) but to be seen as the people who make things happen, and who do things that improve society and the economy. ‘Projecting the Future’ is a two-way conversation about how the profession needs to adapt to a more complex and fast-moving world and one where project management is more focused on benefits-realisation and soft skills. “It’s about achieving outcomes and creating effective projects,” he said.

‘Projecting the Future’ will be live for a year, and all project professionals are being asked to contribute to this important debate whether it’s commenting on the content that we’ll be publishing on the APM website – starting with a discussion paper next week – by joining the conversation on Twitter or APM’s LinkedIn group, joining us on a webinar, or by helping us develop new case studies; every contribution will be important.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
Hollie Woodard from VolkerWessels UK talked through how she led the business’ equality, diversity and inclusion efforts over the past two years. She gave an account of how she spearheaded a change in culture and attitudes at the organisation by getting senior buy-in, creating an EDI vision for the company and then putting in practical actions to make that happen, including running campaigns, training, creating EDI champions and signing up for diversity accreditation.

The Golden Thread
The importance of the research by APM and PwC on the contribution that project management makes to the UK economy in The Golden Thread report was further built upon by new findings released at the conference. Julie McClean, head of quantitative research at PwC Research, revealed regional breakdowns for the total £156.5bn gross value added (GVA) contribution the profession makes. The top three regions were London, East and South-East (£29.2bn), the South-West (£24.3bn) and the Midlands (£20.8bn).

McClean also gave new findings on the sector breakdowns for the project management contribution to the UK economy, including financial and professional services (£50.01bn), construction (£27.08bn) and healthcare (£17.5bn). A breakdown of the types of projects contributing to total GVA was also given for the first time. Top came IT/digital transformation projects (55 per cent), followed by new product development (46 per cent) and fixed capital projects (39 per cent).

A View on the Future
Jason Hyde, civil engineer at Mott MacDonald gave a fascinating insight into his work on the Ordsall Chord railway line in Manchester, for which he designed the footbridge. As a digital advocate, Hyde wanted to make the construction of it an entirely digital process. He set out to remove paper from the design process – and succeeded – although it did present big challenges, including an ingrained fear of change by those who wanted to stick with the ways they had always done things.

“If you adopt technology and openness to change you can do great things and deliver great benefits”, he said. Projects now need strong project leaders who are willing to move forward and use technology and bring their people along with them, insisted Hyde.

The closing keynote speaker was Linda Moir, former head of events services at London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, and former director of customer service at Virgin Atlantic. Her key message was: “If you put people at the front of everything you do, they will put customers first. The morale and motivation of your team will be the measure of its success – positivity is infectious. It’s important to imbue your people with a sense of pride and to always thank them for their contribution.”

Five Key Conference Takeaways:

  1. Now is a critical time for the future evolution of the project profession and APM needs to have your views. Get involved and have your say. Join in with the webinar on July 1
  2. The profession needs to be more ambitious. Spread the good news stories, be proud of what you do and aspire to become CEO.
  3. Technology is going to have a big impact on the way you do your work. Set aside your fear, become an early adopter, take your people with you, and it will help you to deliver more effective projects.
  4. Projects need leaders who can connect their team. Projects are as much about managing relationships and adapting to change as they are about focusing on delivering outcomes. People skills matter.
  5. Ever greater complexity demands agility in mindset and in practice. Have a mindset that is open to change and promotes collaboration.


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