PROJECTING THE FUTURE SERIES
The Adaptive Project Professional: one year on
In June 2019, Association for Project Management launched Projecting the Future as a ‘big conversation’ about the future of the project profession.
One year on, we have drawn on what you told us during the conversation, and the conclusions that have emerged. Our report sets out to shape the future of the profession – with selected action steps for stakeholders across the profession.
After the last 12 months of the big conversation, we believe now is the time to focus on the adaptive project professional. Change is set to be the defining characteristic of the decade ahead – technological, social and environmental – and the project profession will be at the heart of creating and delivering that change. Adaptability will be key.
Our report, The Adaptive Project Professional, sets out a series of ideas to help shape the future of project management and gives recommendations for action.
Read our Blog: Why it’s time for the adaptive professional
What we did
Projecting the Future was created as a ‘big conversation’: a listening exercise, intended to draw together input from a wide variety of stakeholders and sources. Our approach was content-led, with a series of papers addressing six challenges which we identified as pivotal to the profession’s future.
With 2,000 print copies distributed and more than 18,000 views online, the Challenge papers generated continued discussion across APM’s social media channels, as well as at numerous APM events, conferences and webinars throughout 2019-20. They also underpinned targeted stakeholder engagement, especially with organisations outside APM’s normal channels, reflecting the need to build the profession’s profile more broadly.
What we asked
What role should the project profession play in business and society over the next decade?
What will project management look like in the future?
What skills and mindsets will be needed by project professionals in the future?
How should we manage the drivers of change?
What is the future role of APM?
Who else will help us shape change?
The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the project profession
The Projecting the Future launch paper described the world as VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Coronavirus has underlined how true that is.
In the wake of the pandemic, ‘complex’ and ‘chaotic’ are good descriptions of the conditions facing many project professionals. So how has Covid-19 affected the project profession?
In the short term, it demanded a bias towards speed: building the Nightingale hospitals, developing tracking and tracing apps, and collaborating in innovative ways – as with ‘Project Pitlane’, which has seen Formula 1 racing teams come together to develop and produce new ventilation technology, and in the partnerships working to develop vaccines. Less visibly, organisations across the economy have had to quickly adapt to new realities. More than ever, ‘change’, at pace, is the dominant characteristic of work.
As the crisis plays out, society will need to respond to the other major challenges confronting us. The six Challenges considered in Projecting the Future pre-date the pandemic and they will continue to shape the world in the years ahead. In some areas, the pandemic might act as a catalyst to accelerate the dynamics of change. In other areas, it may put the brakes on change, with financial constraints or changes in behaviour leading to projects being postponed or cancelled.
Yet one thing has remained constant from the start of our ‘big conversation’ – whatever the changes that emerge, project professionals will have a critical role to play in delivering the future.
What you told us "..."
“Adaptability is key. Organisations want to know how other sectors manage their projects – knowledge transfer and reach back is important. We need to recognise that there isn’t ‘one size fits all’ – e.g. different levels of project plans. Project managers should feel empowered to challenge [existing] ways of working.”
“The drivers of change will evolve. We will need to evolve the profession with them – and it is incumbent on us to recognise what skills and mindsets will need to be. With an open mindset, and a lifelong learning attitude, we will always be able to adapt.”
“Modern project management is a huge game of whack-a-mole, so having the prioritisation skills to make the right decisions quickly and to be able to resolve challenges quickly are essential.”
“We have to be the leaders of change, defining governance of change projects, helping the other professions in their changes in the new digital world. We need to work with the drivers of change not manage them, and apply discipline and rigour to the change process.”
Previous challenge papers
Projecting the Future examined six of the major drivers of change for the project profession. You can read the feedback paper or catch up on the discussion papers for each area:
Eight ideas to shape the future
‘The Adaptive Professional’ paper sets out eight ideas to help the profession thrive:
Project management’s future: the adaptive profession
In an era of unprecedented technological, social and environmental change, the project profession will be the profession at the heart of creating and delivering change. To deliver change successfully, project management’s future is as the adaptive profession.
Adaptive professionals need to be responsive to the shifting contexts in which they work. They need to be learning continually. They need strong meta-competencies – such as resilience, anticipating and creating change, building diverse teams.
Rising skills needs include the ability to use and implement new technology, for example, data analytics; and more people-centred or ‘soft’ leadership and people skills, communications, collaboration, and managing increasingly complex stakeholder engagement.
Building the profession’s pipeline – from starter to charter
The project profession needs to build a strong talent pipeline by embedding new routes into the profession for young entrants and pathways for more mature, mid-career switchers including returners to work or ex-service personnel.
Employers and policy makers should build on the relatively new Project Apprenticeships (including at degree level) and other vocational routes, where there are hugely positive signs about their effectiveness in developing new entrants. Efforts to build awareness of the project profession as an increasingly desirable career should be redoubled, with collaboration between APM, schools, colleges and universities – with emphasis less on the processes of project management and more on the transformational, inspirational, benefits of projects.
Increasingly, the pathway to chartered makes this a career for many who see the value in a profession that runs through the heart of so many organisations and varied sectors.
Strengthening the culture of professionalism through life
In the context of longer working lives and likely technological disruption to work, we urgently need improved support for professionals to train, retrain, and keep learning throughout their careers.
Individuals need to recognise their own responsibility for investing in their learning and development throughout their careers, but employers must also take responsibility for developing their people, helping them adapt to changing economic needs and new ways of working. Policy makers should take an ambitious and creative approach to supporting this culture of professionalism: this may require greater flexibility in skills funding, the creation of skills accounts which empower individuals to manage their own learning, and more support for helping retrain for different roles.
A seat at the table – shaping strategy as well as delivery
The Projecting the Future debate has demonstrated the desire of project professionals to have a more influential role in shaping the strategy of projects, and the overall strategy of organisations running projects.
In organisations with significant portfolios of projects, there should be a seat at the top table for those responsible for projects – perhaps building on the concept of the chief project officer (CPO), or by bringing more project management experience into the boardroom – to ensure that the importance of projects is recognised as a critical part of strategic development in today’s fast-changing environment.
The development of Chartered (ChPP) and the increasing number of charter holders provides a leadership cohort which can give the profession greater visibility and parity of esteem with other professions for the first time. Going further, there is a need to identify the attributes and training needs for aspiring CPOs – what are the leadership characteristics, skill and attributes that project managers need to be leaders? – as well as to improve the recognition of project leadership more widely.
Project professionals also have an obligation to stand up, call out and challenge poor practice when they see it.
Collaboration with other organisations – a challenge
Project management has a core set of skills and expertise but, as a profession, it is important that we exchange with other professions, employers and other organisations to take into account new and innovative ways of training, and to build a shared understanding of how best to improve the delivery of projects.
Collaboration will be essential. What possible collaborations could help to broaden project professionals’ competences beyond their core technical project management competences – for example in general leadership, digital skills, or personal capabilities such as resilience and managing mental health? On what else, and how, can the profession best collaborate with others? Let us know your thoughts.
Promoting the profession and building its impact
We need to continue to champion the virtues of project management and showcase its influence as an agent of change working across the economy and society.
APM has a key role to play in this area and should act as an umbrella for activity that includes corporates, government and other bodies. Chartered Project Professional status (ChPP) is key: it provides the profession with a distinct identity and sends a signal to both other professions and the wider community about the project profession’s commitment to high standards.
What ways can we use the chartered brand to support the raising both of standards and the profile of project management globally? How can we most effectively – whether it is individuals, organisations and employers or APM – support the project professional brand, particularly Chartered? And how can we put it on a global footing?
Building the evidence base for what works
There is a widespread appetite for an improved evidence base on effective techniques in project management and for sharing insights on what works in a rapidly changing world. It is recognised that too many projects fail to deliver on the desired outcomes or overrun on time and budgets.
How are the conditions for project success evolving, and how can their adoption be promoted more widely? How can the profession learn to the draw the right lessons from experience when it faces a complex and chaotic world, where past ‘proven’ solutions might not work a second time? How can government use, and contribute to, an expanded evidence base as it seeks to raise standards of project management in order to deliver on its policy agenda?
Embedding sustainability in projects
If the UK is to deliver on its net-zero target by 2050, project professionals will have a significant role to play, both in projects transitioning to a cleaner, greener economy, and in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.
Sustainability needs to be an integral part of project management’s toolkit, part of the thinking for new projects and retrofitted into existing projects where relevant. The way that the profession builds decarbonisation and net zero planning into the heart of existing and future projects will be a key test of its benefit to society.
Recommendations for Action: Key steps
Ensuring that the project profession meets the challenges of the next 5-10 years demands action from individual professionals, organisations, policy makers and APM alike.
This is not a comprehensive list of the steps needed to deliver on the eight ideas for the future: it is only the starting point, and the basis for further discussion and collaborative action.
Please read the full recommendations for:
- Project professionals
- Policy makers and influencers
- Association for Project Management