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What is the future of project management? & South East branch annual BBQ

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On Wednesday 11th July the South East branch welcomed Will Sargeant, who is the Change Manager for Qedis & APM winner of the young project manager of the year 2011, for an interactive presentation at Rowfant House in Crawley.

Most of the people reading this article will either be interested in project management as a general topic, or, be following a career path based around project management skills.  I choose my words carefully as after attending the annual South East region BBQ it became apparent that opinions vary significantly on how you define project management & the role of the project manager and how the role will evolve in the future.

 Project management as a purist role untainted by industry specific specialist skills with the ability to roam freely.
 Project management with a specific specialist skill as a bolt-on e.g. finance or engineering.
 A specialist skill with project management as a bolt-on e.g. an engineer with the ability to manage a project.

For the annual South East region indoor BBQ (I could not complete this article without including a reference to the wet weather and another failed attempt to dine outside) our speaker Will Sargeant took the above discussion to another level by hosting an event with the thought provoking title of What is the future of project management?  Project management has developed significantly over previous years but what does the future hold?  There are many elements, but which ones will flourish and which will fall by the wayside?  What do you want to be doing in 5 years time?

Will started by giving a brief summary of some of the key trends and then the discussions were focused around three main themes:

 Industry Growth
 Individual professional development
 Way of working

As you would expect from a group of project managers given the opportunity to voice their opinion about a topic that has no single answer, the result was an evening that was both lively and informative but with very few conclusions.

Industry Growth: Most project managers have asked themselves at some time in their career who will be paying their salary over the next few years.  If you are not a follower of the project manager as a purist view it must be assumed that some specific specialist knowledge in addition to project management skills is required.  To stay relevant to the job market an understanding of the growth areas over the next few years is critical.  The impact of globalization and the speed of change as divisions and even entire organizations locate away from their traditional home base provide both an opportunity and a threat to future employment prospects.  What is the next growth industry in the UK?

Individual professional development: With increasing competition for jobs across the globe how does the individual gain the skills and provide the associated evidence that will make them stand out at the interview stage?  What are the skills? Is the ability to lead and soft skills more important than certifications and a detailed understanding of tools and techniques?  How does an employer assess an individuals ability to perform in a project management type role?  It is likely that a combination of soft skills, PM techniques and some specialist knowledge will continue as the basic requirements for the near future. Medium to long term - the biggest challenge for the individual will be identifying the areas to focus their personal improvement plan as the job market evolves; the requirement for the individual to continually upgrade knowledge and adapt to the demands of the market is no longer an option.

Way of working: The discussions were primarily concerned with the use of social media and if the new tools are just another way of communicating, or, do they fundamentally change how a project is managed?  Once again no agreement was reached but it was interesting to note that opinion seemed to be divided based on an individuals experiences and industry knowledge rather than age.  This would suggest that age is not the barrier to adopting new working practices it is more about the willingness of the various industries to embrace change.  One example highlighted was the traditional project management formal approval to proceed with a design, or, a commitment to spend based on signatures and audit trails may not adapt easily to the definitely more flexible but significantly more informal approach encouraged by the new tools.

There were no firm conclusions from the evening but I believe we did identify one significant issue that needs to be resolved if we are to guarantee the future of the project manager.  This significant issue was highlighted by the following quote project management by cream cakes.  When working late in many industries it is traditional for the project manager to buy the pizzas as a way of encouraging the team, saying thank you and building a feeling of togetherness. 

When setting up a team the tradition of the project manager buying the cream cakes for meetings was used as an example of how to engage on a more informal level.  In a virtual remote working world where we are all connected via social media, resource allocation is more transient and the teams are operating across different time zones and continents the most significant value add of the project manager could be lost forever.  Receiving a smiley emoticon is just not the same :) ,  even if it is healthier.  Do we need a new Special Interest Group to address this critical issue?


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