The future of project management in a digitised economy


This presentation discusses the current shift towards more complex and turbulent environments and a digitised economy and how this challenges work practices in general and project, programme, and portfolio management in particular. I will aim to show how new opportunities can shape the economy, the business context, and people in the organisational project management (OPM) context.

The presentation will be divided into three main sections:

1. Challenges;

2. Opportunities; and

3. Conclusions.

In each of the first two sections, I will cover three levels: Global Economy, Organisational Context, and People Issues. This review is based on a mix of reputable studies and surveys and on experience in consulting worldwide in different cultural environments.

Global economy is discussed succinctly to put the presentation in context; it will cover studies like PMI's Pulse of the Profession™ and other major recent studies and draw conclusions for the future of organisational project management (OPM).

Organisational context examines OPM and how to integrate portfolio, programme and project management with strategy and business as usual to make organisations more responsive in a complex and changing environment. I will give examples of how digitisation creates both issues and opportunities for people who work in an OPM environment, like the rise of agile, change, and other new project trends.

Finally, the people issues aspect looks at how to attract and keep the right people, the difficulty in integrating young people in traditional structures, the advent of new knowledge based on networking, the need to be connected and to build relationships between stakeholders in projects and programmes.


This presentation identifies the challenges created for project management practice and project organisations by the digitised economy. In the presentation, I will explore how these challenges impact us through global markets, our organisation, and individual behaviour. For example, the world economic power is shifting; the business context is becoming more complex, turbulent and digitised and finally; good talent is difficult to attract and nurture. I will also discuss questions like: How can project management help in the new economic environment? How can project management become a true organisational capability? How can organisations attract and retain the best project and programme managers?

Economies, companies, and markets are becoming more global and the economic power of countries and populations is shifting. Whereas the average population age is increasing in some countries, it is lowering in others; cultures are merging and traditionally dominant cultures are more and more influenced by the culture of growing economies. How does this influence the way we do business?

Some of the current drivers for change are: a younger population and higher retirement age; consumers who claim the right to stay connected; a push for new technologies, in particular affordable broadband; and companies looking for potential economic benefits, having to develop new business models where people can find a sense of purpose.

Key elements of competitiveness in the digitised economy are: a capability to respond to changes fast; the ability to select the right business initiatives; a better risk/opportunity analysis; and a capability to analyse results in short cycles.


Siggelkow and Rivkin, two well-known researchers, recently stated that: “Rapid technological change, deregulation, and globalization have intensified competition and increased the turbulence that managers face […] the degree of interdependence among the decisions that a firm faces is a key driver of complexity.” (2005, p. 10). In the same vein, a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report states that: ‘business as usual’ market responses will be insufficient to prevent adverse outcomes for millions of workers in advanced and developing economies. Finally, the 2012 PMI Pulse of the ProfessionTM Study identifies slow economic growth in dominant economies, shifting global market priorities, and a push for innovation as some of the main issues affecting project management and contributing to today's complex business environment.

A 2011 Booz&Co report on digitisation (p. 4) identifies a series of challenges for organisations brought by increased digitisation:

– Affordable wired and wireless broadband is expanding into every corner of the globe, bringing digital access to billions of consumers in both developed and developing markets.

– Consumers, as well as employees, expect to be connected every moment of their lives.

– Individuals’ willingness to share everything is changing long-held attitudes about privacy.

– Employees are becoming less emotionally attached to their company's wider purpose and goals because their trust is shifting from well-known brands to referrals from their personal networks.

All these statements demonstrate a need for new ways of doing things in this new complex, turbulent, and digitised economy. PMI is addressing these issues by funding studies and research in new areas of development for project management. In January 2011, PMNetwork® reported on a series of interviews in an article called: “On the Horizon” (PMI, Jan. 2011). For this article, a number of prominent practitioners were interviewed to express their opinions on the future of project management. Here are three of the comments they made:

“A highly connected, collaborative world […] will challenge preconceived notions of what is important for quality delivery of projects.” Burton White, Excella Consulting

“[…] the ability to integrate different work products will be [an] increasingly important skill for project managers to deliver exceptional results.” Julie Williamson, North Highland Business Efficiency

Sandra Swanson, who did the interviews, concluded: “A nimble approach to project management […] will play an even stronger role in giving business a competitive advantage.”

PMI has identified organisational project management (OPM) as: “a strategy execution framework that utilizes project, program, and portfolio management as well as organizational-enabling practices to consistently and predictably deliver organizational strategy to produce better performance, better results, and a sustainable competitive advantage.” (PMI, 2013a)

As portfolio, programme, and project managers or managers of project management offices (PMOs), we have to make sure we can rise to the challenge of adapting to this increasing complexity and turbulence, both at the organisational and individual levels.

Global Economy

As regional businesses are closing, jobs are being lost and a general gloom has spread throughout Western Europe and North America, while other countries seem to be thriving. It is estimated that BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) economies will overtake G7 economies by 2027 (Foroohar, 2009). It has come into widespread use as a symbol of the shift in global economic power, away from the developed G7 economies towards the developing world). BRIC countries are growing very fast. The four original BRIC countries comprise 40% of the world's population and account for more than 25% of global GDP. (Global Sherpa, 2013) Their economies are growing and are still expected to grow much faster than the traditional G7 in the next 20 years.

But BRIC is just an acronym and the real story is not so much that the Western economies are in recession, but that other countries are taking over as economic leaders. More recently, several of the more developed of the N-11 (Next Eleven) countries, in particular Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, and Nigeria, have become likely contenders to the original BRICs.

So, economy is shifting, prompting more globalisation and a shift in investment from Western countries to countries in development, as 40% of foreign-born workers contribute to the labour force growth in advanced economies and 84% of 1.1 billion non-farming jobs are created in developing economies (McKinsey, 2010). Many issues are still to be resolved in developing economies, such as high corruption rates, dictatorship, political instability, and so forth, but the trend seems to be here to stay.

As developing economies are getting richer, they are also shifting from producers to consumers and increasing their buying power. This, combined with the fact that developing countries have a younger and more digitised population, has exposed the failure of those large Western corporations that have so far resisted digitisation.

“Rapid urbanization is propelling growth across emerging markets and shifting the world's economic balance toward the east and south. By 2025, it will create a “consumer class” with more than four billion people, up from a billion in 1990. Nearly half will live in the emerging world's cities, which are set to inject almost US$25 trillion into the global economy. Yet, business leaders mostly ignore them.” (McKinsey, 2013)

Our own experience shows that there is a huge opportunity for organisational project management to develop in new areas of business and in new geographies, as more and more projects will be launched for organisations to adapt more quickly both in “old” and “new” economies.

Organisational Context

A recent Booz&Co study (2012) on loss of value identified major strategic blunders—making the wrong choices or badly executing strategy—as the main reason (81%) for loss of shareholder value in organisations during the last 10 years. This study exposes the failure of many large organisations to make the right choices and supports a case for sound governance, robust portfolio management, and agile methods that increase responsiveness in a turbulent and complex market. It also makes a case for better integration of change and risk in management practices.

Today, executives require a capability to respond to changes fast through better governance systems, not just controlling measures. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition (PMI, 2013, p. 30) states that: “Project Governance—the alignment of the project with stakeholders’ needs or objectives—is critical to the successful management of stakeholder engagement and the achievement of strategic objectives.” (p. 30)

But the capability to respond quickly to changing circumstances also requires personnel with the right capabilities and competences as well as the right structures and culture to be in place. These two elements are often missing in organisations. For many years now, CEO surveys have been outlining the shortage of competent resources and lack of talent development as a key issue for organisations (PWC, 2012a; McKinsey, 2012) and study after study has shown that, although executives constantly advocate innovation, the culture they promote stifles it (Moss-Kanter, 2006; Hamel, 2012).

A recent article in Strategy+Business states that: “functional leaders are involved in defining, building, and maintaining [their firm's critical] capabilities. Thus, [they] need a clear understanding of the company's overall value proposition, of the capabilities required to fulfill it, and of the role [their] function plays” (Booz&Co, 2013, p. 4). On the other hand, another study from the same researchers states that: “although [functional managers] can identify and hedge risks related to relatively narrow business decisions, they do not have the mandate to evaluate the strategic risks rooted in the decisions made by senior management” (Booz&Co, 2012, p.1).

These studies, as well as our firm's experience shows that many businesses have not developed the ability to use real time data to select the right initiatives because they focus solely on financial factors and do not empower lower levels of management to make decisions. They need better risk/opportunity analysis methods that take into account a wide range of competitiveness factors and can analyse results in short cycles. Finally, they have to develop talent in organisational project management disciplines like programme and portfolio.

People Issues

A recent Booz&Co study (2011) identifies the main global driving forces behind today's digitisation phenomenon as:

– Consumers demanding the right to stay connected and a willingness to share personal data;

– A push from the world's population for new technologies and affordable broadband;

– A need for companies to review their traditional business models to cope with increased digitisation.

The recent drive towards digitisation and the factors listed above have outlined the fact that individual knowledge is a thing of the past; collective knowledge and sharing between industries is the future. Still, most executives complain about the loss of knowledge from personnel cuts that send their best people into retirement and focus on tighter intellectual property controls. Generation Y and the emerging Generation “C” (a group of mixed-age people who have embraced “connectedness”) are already pushing at the gates and breaking down those barriers. How will more traditional companies cope with them? Can companies afford not to accept that data sharing and engagement are both parts of today's new world?

In a recent PwC survey (2012a), two thirds of CEOs interviewed said that their priorities include the development of talent pipelines. But it may not be so much the development of talent, but the retention of talent that is the key, as younger generations become more mobile and are less emotionally attached to their company's wider purpose and goals (Booz&Co, 2011). The question may, in fact be: How will companies create a meaningful and challenging environment where both the existing and new talent can thrive?

The Western world has traditionally imposed their culture on the rest of the world; today this trend is changing. As economies, companies, and markets are becoming more global and the economic power of countries and populations is shifting, cultures are merging, and traditionally dominant cultures are more and more influenced by those of growing economies. How will this influence the way we do business?

In a paper presented at last year's PMI congress I stated that:

“This “modern” view [of project management] is based on segregation of work and control; it relies on a sponsor to link the project outputs with the expected business outcomes and focuses project management on deliverables. Such a system creates a gap between the organisation's business objectives and the projects that support them, preventing the ‘project approach’ from becoming a true business capability.” (Thiry, 2012, p. 2)

This system based on Western Scientific Management creates punishment and reward systems based on work disconnected from its purpose.

The latest studies on motivation at work (Pink, 2012) show that punishment and reward do not really work to motivate people and that motivation is probably driven by three recently identified elements:

– Mastery: the urge to get better at what you are doing;

– Autonomy: the desire to be self-directed;

– Purpose: the feeling that you're doing something useful.

The above findings can be summarised in the following points and confirm a number of other studies on the motivations that drive employees and especially Generation “C.” Today's employees are:

– Connected through social media and the Internet

– Keen communicators in both business related and personal communities

– Motivated to collaborate and mentor others in valued virtual and face-to-face teams

– Socially and globally engaged in a world where boundaries disappear and cultures merge

How will traditional organisations move from a focus on qualifications to a focus on capabilities? How will they create the right environment for capable people?

These studies as well as the experience from our international network show that the younger generation will influence not only the way the world becomes, but also the way the world is. The younger generation is comfortable in agile environments; they are less risk averse and expect quicker results than older generations. They are more comfortable than their older peers with virtual interactions and are more global and socially oriented. But, maybe because they are more independent, they are not bound by company structures and want to be empowered. Interestingly, because of that, managers often see them as not collaborative or team oriented.


Great challenges create great opportunities for those who are willing to take risks. Today's highly complex and turbulent environment has enabled new players and older more innovative players to conquer and even create new markets. Facebook, Skype, Google, LinkedIn and other new players were all founded less than 15 years ago. The first iPhone was released just over 5 years ago; today almost everybody has a smartphone or a tablet. On a business level, cloud computing is growing, and companies are storing more and more data on virtual networks. Most global companies work with virtual teams and share data in a continuous flow between regional centres.

At the national and international levels, countries and regions are funding an accelerated digitisation effort. Recently, China has committed to cloud, connectivity, and digitisation objectives by including US$1.7 trillion stimulus measures in its next five-year plan. Both the European Union and the United Kingdom have voted infrastructure upgrade plans of more than US$200 billion (Booz, 2011).

The key to tapping into these developments is to see how it will affect project management in particular and organisational project management in general at three levels: Global, Organisational, and Individual.

Global Economy

In the last 15 years, organisations have failed to deliver long-term value and have focused on the short-term (Hamel, 2000; Rappaport, 2006). In order to deliver long-term value in a global economy, organisations need to make the right strategic decisions and move away from the current focus on continuity and the delivery of products and services to become more responsive and deliver strategic value as outlined in Exhibit 1.

The context of organisational competitiveness (© Michel Thiry, 2010–2013)

Exhibit 1 – The context of organisational competitiveness (© Michel Thiry, 2010–2013)

This will require a shift from a comfortable low uncertainty-low ambiguity approach to a high ambiguity-high uncertainty approach where change is the norm and decisions have to be made quickly and decisively at all levels of the organisation. Global programme and project teams will be virtual, multicultural, and mobile; decision makers will be in different time zones, making decisions, based on real-time information that they will not have had the time to fully analyse. As Couto, Ribeiro, and Tipping stated in a 2010 Booz& Co study: “companies of all sizes, in all industries, are operating in a more volatile, less predictable environment, and change has become a way of life. To navigate such a rocky landscape, companies must be ready to repeatedly transform themselves […] But few companies are competent at doing this […]” (p.1).

Projects and programmes are becoming global with distributed multi-cultural teams being the norm. Because projects and programmes are global, project and programme managers have to become more mobile and be willing to travel on site for short periods of a few weeks at a time while continuing to work virtually in the long-term. With such virtual and mobile teams, organisational project management could offer a solution to the need to be responsive.

If organisations want to stay competitive and realise value sustainably, managers and decision makers must be ready to prioritise their organisational effort by using sound governance and portfolio management practices that will enable them to choose the right initiatives by making sure they are aligned with the right strategy and achievable in context. They will also need to make sure they achieve the right results through effective programme and project delivery and that they are responsive to their context by using agile methods supported by digitally connected teams and systems, especially in programme management (Thiry, 2010). They will need to put into practice a number of challenging new ideas, for example:

▪  Responsiveness as the measure of value: by managing both alignment to strategy and achievability;

▪  Evolutionary and adaptive development: by the use of results to make decisions on an ongoing basis;

▪  The team as an integrated evolving system: by engaging and mobilising all stakeholders up and down;

▪  An approach based on simplicity: by putting in place the right governance and decision structures.

Organisational Context

In such a complex and turbulent environment, organisations cannot be seen as vertical hierarchical systems anymore. A responsive organisation is an organic network of functions connected through individual actors that build collaborative networks through effective communication and decision-making systems. If organisations cannot offer such systems internally, the different actors will create their own personal self-adaptive networks to achieve their personal and community objectives. The questions are: What will that community be? Will it be the organisation or something more attractive?

In organisations, value is realised only when the products and results delivered by projects are not only transitioned into operations, but integrated into the business systems to impact the whole organisation. Management authors usually divide the organisation into two main functions: transform the business and run the business, but it is only the horizontal integration of both that allows organisations to sustainably generate value. Change (transformation actions) delivers only potential value, because it allows the organisation to change to respond to external and internal pressures while conducting business as usual, (run actions) allows the organisation to produce business results and ultimately make money (Exhibit 2).

The Benefits Realisation Cycle (© Michel Thiry, 2012–2013)

Exhibit 2 – The Benefits Realisation Cycle (© Michel Thiry, 2012–2013)

Many recent business failures have been traced back to a lack of vertical integration; a misunderstanding between the executive level of the organisation and the middle management levels, which results in a lack of good strategy execution. Executives have a vision that they fail to share or do not translate in clear terms, and middle managers misinterpret this vision or assume they understand the strategic course set by senior managers. In a turbulent and complex environment, decisions often have to be made quickly, but functional, programme, and project managers are limited to relatively narrow business decisions and therefore cannot make the decisions that matter in time. Current governance systems, as well as reporting and decision-making procedures are too complicated to allow organisations to be truly responsive.

The new digitised, complex, and turbulent environment requires fast and responsive ways of assessing the best investment initiatives and, as shown by a number of recent failures, traditional organisations have difficulty putting this in application. In this type of decision, it is not so much about getting the right information as getting the best possible information in time to make the right decision and being agile enough to re-align the strategy in view of the results.

The basis for OPM governance and portfolio management is to select the investment initiatives that will offer the best value. This involves looking at two dimensions when making strategic decisions: the contribution of the initiative to strategic objectives and the capability of the organisation to deliver it, which is what project management is good at. Any good governance system is supported by a sound portfolio management process. “A portfolio should be a representation of an organization's intent, direction and progress” (PMI, 2013c, p. 3) and as such is essential to delivering the organisation's corporate strategy. It is now generally accepted that portfolio management should include operations as well as programmes and projects (PMI, 2013c). Programme management has now evolved to encompass strategic alignment and benefits management as part of their performance domains (PMI, 2013b). By expanding their domain of influence to portfolio and programmes, the project management community has given itself the tools to deliver long-term value to organisations in a challenging economy by creating effective prioritisation and execution systems that will help deliver value in the short and long-term.

In order for this system to work though, it must be well integrated, which is not the case in most organisations, where projects, programmes, portfolio and PMOs are run as hierarchically and functionally distinct elements, not to talk about the clear divide between the “project area” and the “operations area.” Organisations comprise a series of management processes destined to ‘run’ the business (governance, portfolio, operations, and maintenance), the role of which it is to provide continuity to the business. Another set of business processes are destined to transform the business (strategy, programme and value management, innovation and project management), the purpose of these is to maintain the competitive advantage of the organisation with regards to a changing market context (competition, new technologies, and others). The more turbulent the context, the shorter the run-transformation-run cycles.

The Integrated Organisation</b> (© Michel Thiry, 2012–2013)

Exhibit 3 – The Integrated Organisation (© Michel Thiry, 2012–2013)

Exhibit 3 displays an organisational system that continually balances continuity (run) and adaptation (transform). Based on a continual analysis of results (portfolio management), investments are made to ensure continuity (operations management) and responsiveness (programme and project management). Any responsive initiative is planned at the strategic level (governance and strategy supported by portfolio management) where the decision is made to invest in its execution. Central to this decision process is recognising when change is needed. Some of the steps that drive strategic decisions are:

– Deciding the scope of the changes required (whole organisation, department, or group);

– Selecting a model or framework to guide the process (programme, project, or simple operational improvement);

– Deciding who is responsible for governing and implementing the changes (level of authority of sponsor and manager);

– Knowing your desired outcome (benefits and value profile).

This decision process occurs where ambiguity is high (upper part of Exhibit 3), whereas good execution requires low ambiguity and clear direction. While the results are being delivered, they are transitioned into the business to transform ‘potential’ value into new capabilities and benefits that create value, but it is only when the process is complete and that each organisational function has contributed to the business as a whole that value is truly realised. Exhibit 3 reflects the assumption that OPM is the framework of such a responsive organisation, where analysis of results is done through portfolio and governance processes; responses are formulated at the strategic level to feed programs and stand-alone projects. Once the strategic decisions are made, they are executed through project management and transitioned into operations to ensure continuity, and so on to realise value sustainably.

In order for organisations to be able to respond to this fast-moving and complex environment, managers will need to accept the fact that their teams will be distributed, as well as have the authority to make local decisions. Project management will be applied more holistically, involving more people coming from different functions and cultures; programms will link projects to strategy and operations to create an integrative and collaborative framework. The whole organisation will be focused on integrating transformation and business-as-usual (BAU) into a seamless process.

People Issues

As seen above, adaptation and responsiveness are essential for success in today's digitised economy, but the responsive organisation described in the previous section requires a number of stakeholders to be involved in a collaborative network, where success is collective, not individual. As stated in the challenges section and outlined by the advent of Generation “C,” the current digitisation trend fosters this collective culture. The question is: Are organisations ready to embrace this new culture?

“We don't have one way of doing things nor do we have one point of authority to which all questions have to be directed, instead our approach is to create a culture that empowers people and - within the context of a set of shared values - provides them with the freedom to take action. That gives you tremendous strength, flexibility, and agility.” Carl Sheldon, CEO of UAE-based global energy company TAQA in PwC, 2013, p. 19). As shown by the statement above, engaging all stakeholders is a critical aspect of today's organisations but, in the last century, organisations have not been very good doing this.

For over 100 years, so called ‘modern’ management has emphasised a clear separation between the role to the sponsor, who is responsible for the ultimate purpose and the role of the project manager, who is responsible for the delivery of a product (Thiry, 2012). Most 20th-century organisational models have created discrete management entities that compete with each other instead of collaborating and many known management authors have outlined the fact that this is counterproductive (Porter, 2004 [1998]; Hamel, 2000).

The 2012 PMI Pulse of the Profession™ found out that 75% of successful project organisations have an active sponsor. In successful organisations, the sponsor drives the vision and purpose and shares them with the team. They make sure that the vision and purpose are meaningful and achievable for the team and ensure successful integration of project outputs. The team involves the sponsor in its decisions and reports results and success. Together, the team and sponsor define scope, milestones, and resource requirements. The recent evolution of portfolio management and OPM, where a number of business and project actors collaborate towards a common goal supports this tendency and the recent third editions of the PMI foundational standards reflect this trend. OPM3 states that: “OPM addresses integration of the following:

– People (having competent resources),

– Processes (the application of the stages of process improvement),

– Knowledge (of the portfolio and programme standards and the PMBOK® Guide processes), and

– Organisational strategy (mission, vision, and goals).” (PMI, 2013a)

The Standard for Portfolio Management - Third Edition states: “a portfolio is a component collection of programs, projects, or operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives” (PMI, 2013c, p. 5). In both cases, this perspective reflects the trend to include all the business actors in collaborative networks through project practices. The same is true for programme management, which has evolved from a complex project perspective to a true strategy execution process and reflects this collective culture approach. Proof that this trend is gaining acceptance is found in the fact that the latest edition of The Standard for Program Management (PMI, 2013b) has moved away from a pure project perspective and identified governance, stakeholder engagement and strategic alignment as guiding programme principles.

There is definitely a dichotomy between desires and reality because, as shown in our practice and in other's research, most organisations have difficulty adapting to today's collaborative culture shift and, at the same time, many CEOs complain of not being able to attract talent (PwC, 2012a). Today's ‘talent’ is highly connected and, although younger generations can work alone and like to be empowered to make their own decisions, they are highly collaborative and committed to their social networks. As stated earlier, many managers see this as not being able to work in a team because this may be at odds with the organisation's own goals. The question is: How can organisations attract and keep the right people? How can they motivate and involve their sponsors?

People are more and more influenced by non-Western culture; some elements of this are: the need to exchange personal information before entering a relationship; the tendency to be more agile, responding to situations rather than planning every move; the feeling of being part of a greater community that extends traditional boundaries; the search for new ways of doing things beyond incremental improvement; the emergence of new charismatic leaders that are part of the community; the reliance of collective rather than individual knowledge and finally the expectation to have access to real-time data all the time.

Other elements of change are the fact that young people, probably because of digitisation and virtual reality, have a tendency to trust themselves more and will rather try and fail than listen and learn; they rely on networking more than on teamwork; they may not know everything, but know where to find it. Recent research has added new knowledge to the body of work motivation. It represents elements that were until recently, not considered to motivate and attract people:

▪   Reciprocity concerns the ‘obligation to give back’ that most people experience when they have received something. To illustrate this point, Cialdini and Martin (2012) conducted quantitative studies demonstrating the powerful effect of simple gestures, such as mints or chocolates being offered at the end of a restaurant meal. When given one mint, clients’ tips increased by 3%, 2 mints brought a 14% increase, and when the mints were accompanied by a personal comment, the tips went up by 23%. They suggest that when given a mint or compliment, clients felt they had to reciprocate. Dan Pink, on the other hand has shown that although financial rewards are a demotivator if they are not sufficient, they are not a motivator. Cialdini and Martin suggest that when leaders give unexpected and personalised feedback they create a need to perform accordingly, and Pink suggests that giving employees autonomy and a sense of purpose (both are compliments that show you value them) are two very powerful motivators.

▪   Acknowledgement concerns the recognition of the work you do by your managers and peers. Dan Ariely calls this the ‘IKEA Effect’; the connection between work and the finished product that motivates people and satisfies them. In the chapter on the meaning of labour in his recent book (2010), he describes an experiment where people are paid to fill in forms. The more forms you fill out, the less you get per form and you can fill out a maximum of 10 forms. In the first group where the work was recognised and acknowledged; 48% completed the work to the end. For the second group, the forms were put in a shredder as they completed them; only 17% completed 10 forms. Finally, in the last group, the forms were put in a pile and ignored; only 18% completed the 10 forms. He concludes that ignoring somebody's work is as bad as destroying it and that acknowledgement of people's work is a very strong motivator. This is similar to Dan Pink's findings.

▪   Nurturing has to do with slowly increasing the level of commitment, starting with small but meaningful things. Research results show that, in order to maintain inner consistency, people will be more willing to carry out larger commitments they would have otherwise refused if they have already committed to a smaller task consistent with the current one. In implementing change initiatives or innovative ideas, Cialdini and Martin (2012) suggest that leaders first look for small, voluntary, active public commitments. They give the example of health centres having reduced missed appointments by 18% simply by having patients fill out the appointment detail cards rather than an attendant doing this for them. Sheena Iyengar (2011) has also showed that in order to make complex choices that involve a number of decisions, it is better to keep people engaged to start with a low number of choices and increase gradually than the opposite.

▪   Knowing is all about the fact that people share personal knowledge about each other. When individuals in experimental study groups were first asked to exchange personal information about themselves, finding similarities before entering a negotiation task, this led to 90% coming to an acceptable agreement. This shows a considerable difference with the 55% agreement from the group that had been told: “Time is money, get straight to the point.” (Cialdini & Martin, 2012). James Kane was the closing keynote at the PMI® Global Congress in Vancouver (2012) he started his presentation by sharing personal things about himself and explained that this would enable us to connect with him and trust him more because we would find, among all the things he shared, some that we shared with him.

In summary, in today's digitised and highly collaborative environment managing people means that managers cannot rely solely on financial rewards to passively motivate their employees, but must also actively give them the authority and the means to find their own ways of fulfilling their potential. It means that they acknowledge people's work by giving them feedback regularly and showing they value their contribution. It also means they are ready to share personal information that will help them create trust and loyalty. Finally, it means that they will match the level of authority they give their team members with their experience and enable them to consistently progress towards more and more complex decision levels.

It also means that, for organisations to attract talent; they need to embrace the digitised culture of networking and empowerment in order to allow their employees to find motivation and purpose in their work; and this requires that they accept the fact that their basic values might be challenged.


Various studies in domains as varied as business, organisational sciences, anthropology, and biology concur to say that innovation is directly correlated to the capacity for social learning and the quality of social networks. Today's digitised economy requires organisations to be more inovative than ever. Project management practices in general and project-based organisations (PBO) in particular foster collaborative networks and innovation. A little more than 5 years ago, I have, with a colleague, presented a paper at a research conference, which concluded:

“Given that successful innovation requires flexible organisational structures, in which cross-functional teams or disciplines organise around solutions, well integrated PBOs could be a possible answer […] It is also very likely that the adoption of an integrated wide-scale project approach could enhance an organisation's capacity for innovation” (Thiry & Deguire, 2007, p.18).

Today, this is even truer, but it requires project management practices to be even more integrative, responsive and attractive and project, program and portfolio practitioners to help achieve these objectives by:

  1. Understanding how changes in context affect the practice of project management
  2. Recognizing the challenges created by increasing complexity, turbulence and digitisation
  3. Identifying possible opportunities for their practice in this new challenging context.

Portfolio managers will aim to understand business issues and display good analysis and integration skills; program managers will show ability to link strategy to results, facilitation skills and be responsive and agile; finally, project managers will be results driven, show they can work with constraints and display a capability to stay focused and deliver. Finally, managers in general and executive managers in particular will show they can RANK:

▪   Reciprocate: the ‘obligation to give back’

▪   Acknowledge: the need to recognise a contribution's value

▪   Nurture: start with small simple commitments, increase size and complexity gradually

▪   Know: create relationship through similarity and personal information exchange

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© 2013 Michel Thiry
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Istanbul, Turkey



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