Digital Transformation – and Implications for Project Leaders

Today we live in a digital first world, but successfully managing digital transformation is a challenge for project professionals. How can the project management community reinvent itself to drive results-oriented change?

Written by Srini Srinivasan • 5 November 2020


Photo by Tommy den Reijer on Unsplash

The term “digital transformation” is ubiquitous today, seen everywhere from the cover of business trades to the stages at TED events.

But there remains surprisingly little clarity or consensus around what exactly the term means.

Anand Swaminathan, a senior partner at McKinsey and author of Digital@Scale: The Playbook You Need to Transform Your Company, spoke about digital transformation on PMI’s Projectified podcast, which he defined as utilizing new sets of digital capabilities that “fundamentally change the way organizations will operate in the future to better serve their customers, manage their employees, and drive to be more successful.”

PMI is fortunate to benefit from the counsel of an elite group of organizations from around the world that serve on our Global Executive Council, representing a wide range of industries and sectors. They play an invaluable “sensing and responding” role for PMI, helping us to proactively identify trends in the marketplace and how we can continue to deliver value for the PMI global community.

We’ve gathered next practices from these organizations that have helped to inform our own evolution to a “digital first” environment in which customers increasingly expect services “when they want it, how they want it”—requiring a rapid transformation from our legacy offerings.

What do the trends indicate for project professionals?

Today’s project professionals find themselves in a challenging, but enviable position for growth and opportunity; organizations in the tumult of change are eager for talent skilled at navigating complexity and breaking down multi-layered transformation journeys into manageable chunks. But project managers must also be prepared to take on greater accountability and responsibility. And they must quickly master three key dimensions of the transformation process: new business logic, customer pull, and new technologies.

In short, it’s no longer enough for project managers to master the normal tricks of the trade such as planning and scheduling. In a time when technology has automated many recurring, repeatable aspects of work, project professionals are likely to spend much more of their time on the areas of work where humans still have the advantage over machines, such as sensing and responding to the needs of customers and team members in a distributed environment and driving realization of business value.

Navigating Change

In a time when change is a constant, project professionals will increasingly be called upon to help their organizations navigate transformation. A project manager in years past may have spent large parts of their day managing Gantt charts or collecting requirements. It’s more likely that future project leaders will spend a greater percentage of their time on tasks like:

  1. Managing the complexities of change
  2. Identifying and overcoming resistance to change
  3. Sensing and helping to shape organizational behavior and design
  4. Utilizing systems thinking, in order to facilitate the project’s broader strategic context

The need for a greater range of skill sets and capabilities has driven PMI’s focus in recent years to expand its offerings to project professionals. While PMI remains best-known for its gold standard Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, the needs of digital transformation across industries and sectors have prompted us to cultivate a broader range of offerings to serve today’s project professionals—from establishing our leadership in the agile domain with the recent acquisitions of Disciplined Agile and Flex, to exploring new avenues to enable non-technical professionals to develop apps through Citizen Development, to supporting design thinking and collaboration through Wicked Problem Solving.

Take-Aways – How to Drive Successful Digital Transformation

What have we learned from our vantage point at PMI? All change efforts are challenging, but project and program leaders must become proficient in handling three critical components to drive successful digital transformation.

Re-Imagination: A New Way of Business Thinking

True digital transformation isn’t simply a matter of digitizing existing products; it requires a new business model, new product focus, and new ways of working.

Cultural Change

The most challenging part of transformation is rarely about getting the technology right, as much as it is about building support and buy-in from people. Effective transformation leaders master the art of dealing with resistance to changing established and even cherished routines, mindsets, and ways of working.


Digital transformation can’t be achieved in silos; it requires a cross-functional approach that cuts horizontally across multiple departments and functions. Entire business processes may need to be horizontally redesigned in order to catalyze collaboration across teams that may never come near each other on the organization chart.

How have these attributes driven change efforts at your organization? And how are you re-inventing your products and services today to compete in a digital first world?

More resources on digital transformation:

  1. Online Learning Course – Digital Transformation Series
  2. PMI Ascent Course – Digital Business Transformation Management
  3. Digital transformation in the wake of a crisis: focus on people 

Srini Srinivasan headshot

Srini Srinivasan
Managing Director | South Asia, PMI

As Managing Director of South Asia, Srini Srinivasan will oversee business development and represent the chapters in the region. The PMI South Asia team will report to him. Srini also will lead the IT Systems Working Group. Srini has more than 20 years of global experience as a CEO, business unit leader, business builder and entrepreneur at the intersection of professional services and technology. He is a subject matter expert in strategy, organizational transformation, operations improvement and analytics-based digital solutions.

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