Projecting the future

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Posted by Kirsten on 14th Jun 2017

Technology is transforming working practices, compelling stakeholders to refine and clarify their relationships. Matt Packer explores how project managers can thrive in this new era in this special report for Project journal, Summer 2017, sponsored by Deltek.

As a function and business model, project management is growing at an exponential rate. Objectives are becoming more and more ambitious, forcing solutions to aim higher than ever. Stakeholder involvement on any large project is now a sprawling map of roles and responsibilities, often typified by crossovers and blurring. And a surge of powerful, new technologies is infusing the sector with both opportunities and challenges – promising greater efficiencies once they are in place, yet requiring firms to exercise discernment to ensure they adopt the right tools in the right ways, and for the right reasons. 

Fergus Gilmore, VP and managing director UK and Central Europe at Deltek, says: “We predict that the current trend towards artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will only accelerate in the coming years. Right now, project management is just scratching the surface of what those trends could mean. In the past three to five years, digital transformation, mobile and the cloud have all become industry mainstays, with firms and individuals adopting them at ever increasing rates. Indeed, Gartner says that, by 2020, a corporate ‘no cloud’ policy will be about as rare as a ‘no internet’ one is today. “It’s exciting – but firms must ensure that they’re not lured into making unsuitable systems choices by hype or buzzwords. Instead, they must focus on realising value from new technologies which should - improving efficiency, taking away admin, boosting control and visibility, and enabling new ways of working on the go, anytime and anywhere. The focus should be on enhancing business agility and flexibility to deliver improved outcomes.”

Does this increasing focus on technology mean project managers should worry about job stability in the future?

In Deloitte’s 2015 automation report, From Brawn to Brains, almost three quarters of UK firms that the consultancy polled said that they “will employ more people (net) in future” and that, broadly, “businesses will need more skills, including digital know-how, management capability, creativity, entrepreneurship and complex problem-solving.” The report stressed that, far from being a monolithic threat to employment, technology could in fact “change the nature of an occupation”. Technology and digitisation needs to be used to bolster the workforce - not replace it. People are it's core resource.

Gilmore emphasises, “This industry is a knowledge economy, so the need for professional skills will always be crucial and never completely eroded. Automation and AI are massive advantages for more commoditised tasks, such as data profiling. If you can provide greater efficiency, accuracy and cost control by offering such services, you will set your firm apart. However, the one thing AI and robotics can’t do is dream. As such, providing opportunities for development to the next generation is critical. That will involve making education and training flexible enough to teach new skills quickly and efficiently. And, as technology never rests, project managers will have to commit themselves to a process of lifelong learning.”

“New entrants to the profession should however keep an eye on the skills that will continue to be in demand, and which AI advancements will support, such as more complex consulting and modelling tasks, data analytics/interpretation, and the recommendations that project managers make to their clients. Call those the ‘USP areas’. Furthermore, the march of technology is only making the need for emotional intelligence ever more urgent. Skills such as collaboration and communication will be equally essential to the success of next-generation project managers.”

As far as Rob Leslie-Carter, director at global project management consultancy Arup, is concerned: “This is the most exciting time to be in project management. Against the backdrop of APM becoming a Chartered body, we’re seeing the emergence of ever-larger and more technically complex projects, underpinned by social-needs business cases. The requirement for projects to tackle social issues will only increase amid efforts to achieve climate resilience and care for ageing populations. The demand for smart algorithms and automated processes to take on administrative roles will grow substantially – and that will allow project managers to focus on developing robust business cases and guaranteeing value for money.”

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Matt Packer explored how project managers can thrive in this new era in this special report for Project journal, Summer 2017. 

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