The future of project management in a digitized economy


This paper discusses how the current shift toward more complex and turbulent environments and a digitized economy challenges work practices in general and project, program and portfolio management in particular. It shows how new opportunities can help shape the future of organizational project management (OPM) in that context.

The challenges and opportunities in each of the following areas are discussed:

The Global Economy

The short discussion on the global economy puts the paper context; it covers studies like the PMI Pulse of the Profession 2013survey and other recent surveys to show how OPM can help organizations cope with this new context.

The Organizational Context

The discussion on organizational context examines how to integrate portfolio, program and project management with strategy and business as usual to create a coherent and comprehensive OPM environment and make organizations more responsive in a complex and changing environment. Examples of how digitization creates both issues and opportunities for people who work in an OPM environment, like the rise of agile, change and other new project trends are given.

People Issues

Finally, the people aspect of this new situation looks attracting and keeping the right people, the difficulty to integrating young people in traditional structures, the advent of new knowledge based on networking, as well as the need to be connected and to build relationships between stakeholders in projects and programs.

This paper is based on a mix of reputable studies and surveys and on experience in consulting worldwide in different cultural environments.


Some recent worldwide trends are affecting all of us in the way we live and work. For example, the world economic powers are shifting; our business context is becoming more complex, turbulent, and digitized; and good talent is difficult to attract and nurture. This paper explores how these challenges impact us at three levels: global markets, organization, and individual behaviour. This paper discusses these questions: How can project management help in the new economic environment? How can project management become a true organizational capability in the shifting context? How can organizations attract and retain the best portfolio, program, and project managers?

The economy, markets, and companies 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 (2005), two well-known researchers recently stated, “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” (p. 10). In the same vein, a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report states “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 Profession Study (Project Management Institute, 2012a) identifies slow economic growth in dominant economies, shifting global market priorities and a push for innovation as some the main issues affecting project management and contributing to today's complex business environment.

A Booz & Company (2011, p. 4) report on digitisation identifies a series of organisational challenges brought forth 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 intellectual property and privacy.

– Employees are becoming less emotionally attached to their company's wider purpose and goals as 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, 2011). For this article, a number of prominent practitioners were interviewed to express their opinion on the future of project management. Here are three of the comments:

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

PMI has identified organizational 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, 2013, p.3)

As portfolio, program, and project managers or managers of 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 at the individual level.

Global Economy

As regional businesses are closing, jobs are being lost, and a general gloom has spread on 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). (The term BRIC 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 percent of the world's population and account for more than 25 percent 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 percent of foreign-born workers contribute to labour force growth in advanced economies and 84 percent of 1.1 billion non-farming jobs are created in developing economies (McKinsey, 2012). Many issues are still to be resolved in developing economies like high corruption rates, dictatorship, political instability, etc., but the trend seems there 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 digitization.

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 $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 organizations to adapt more quickly both in “old” and “new” economies.

Organizational Context

A recent Booz & Company (2012) study 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 organizations 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 that are more than just controlling measures. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)— 5th Edition (PMI, 2013e) 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 outlined the shortage of competent resources and lack of talent development as a key issue for organisations (PwC, 2012a; McKinsey, 2012) and numerous studies have 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 fulfil it, and of the role [their] function plays” (Booz & Company, 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 & Company, 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 program and portfolio.

People Issues

A recent Booz & Company (2011) study 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; and

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

The recent drive toward 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 companies that are more traditional cope with them? Can companies afford not to accept that data sharing and engagement are both part of today's new world?

In a recent PwC (2012a) survey, 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 key as younger generations become more mobile and are less emotionally attached to their company's wider purpose and goals (Booz & Company, 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 to 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 that of growing economies. How will this influence the way we do business?

In a paper presented at last year's PMI Congress, the author stated that the current, so called ‘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 measures that disconnect work from its purpose and take it out of context.

The latest studies on motivation at work (Pink, 2012) show that punishment and reward does 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; and

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

A number of other studies on the motivations that drive employees and especially Generation “C” confirm these conclusions. Their findings can be summarised in the following points about today's employees:

– 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; and

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

How will traditional organisations move from a focus on past qualifications to a focus on future 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 are already influencing the way the world currently 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 five years ago; the first iPad was released on 3 April 2010. Today almost everybody has a smartphone or a tablet.

At a business level, cloud computing is growing and companies store 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 digitization effort. Recently, China has committed to cloud, connectivity, and digitization objectives by including US$1.7 trillion stimulus measures in its next five-year plan. Both the European Union and the UK have voted infrastructure upgrade plans of more than US$200 billion (Booz & Company, 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 Figure 1.

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

Figure 1: The context of organisational competititiveness (© 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 program 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. Projects and programs are becoming global with distributed multicultural teams being the norm. Because projects and programs are global, project and program managers have to be more mobile and willing to travel on site for short periods of a few weeks at a time whilst continuing to work virtually in the long-term.

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 program and project delivery and that they are responsive to their context by using agile methods supported by digitally connected teams and systems, especially in program management (Thiry, 2010a). They will need to put in 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 ongoing basis;

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

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

Organizational 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 question is What will that community be? Will it be their organisation or a more attractive personal network?

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 affect 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 as it allows the organisation to change to respond to external and internal pressures whilst business as usual, (run actions) allows the organisation to produce business results and ultimately make money.

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

Figure 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 middle management that 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, program, 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 procedures are too complicated and fragmented 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, but traditional organisations have difficulty putting this in application. In this type of environment, it is not so much about getting all the right information as getting the best possible information in time to make a decision and being agile enough to re-align the strategy in view of results.

The basis for organizational project management (OPM) financial 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, 2013b, 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 programs and projects (PMI, 2013b). Program management has now evolved to encompass strategic alignment and benefits management as part of their performance domains (PMI, 2013a). By expanding their domain of influence to portfolio and programs, 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, programs, 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 (finance, portfolio, operations, and maintenance), the role of which it is to provide continuity to the business. Another set of business process are destined to transform the business (strategy, program and value management, innovation, and project management), the purpose of these is to maintain the competitive advantage of the organization in regards of a changing market context (competition, new technologies, and others). Good governance would typically cover the whole cycle from value planning to value realization and, the more turbulent the context, the shorter the run-transformation-run cycles.

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

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

Figure 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 (program 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 organization, department, or group);

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

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

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

This decision process occurs where ambiguity is high (upper part of Figure 3) while 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. Figure 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 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; programs will link projects to strategy and operations to create an integrative and collaborative framework, supported by enterprise-wide, integrated digital technology. The whole organisation will be focused on integrating transformation and business-as-usual (BAU) into a seamless process.

People Issues

As seen previously, 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.

“According to a recent study commissioned by PMI and conducted by the Anderson Economic Group, an additional 1.57 million new project management positions will be created globally each year across seven project-intensive industries” (PMI, 2013d). People who do not have a traditional project background will take these jobs. 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,” says 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 at that.

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 performer, 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 counter-productive (Porter, 2004 [1998]; Hamel, 2000).

The 2012 PMI Pulse of the Profession found out that 75 percent of successful project organizations have an active sponsor (PMI, 2012a). In successful organisations, the sponsor drives the vision and purpose and shares them with 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 PMI standards reflect this trend. The OPM3 Third Edition Exposure Draft states that “OPM addresses integration of the following:

– Knowledge (of the portfolio and program and project processes),

– Organizational strategy (mission, vision, objectives and goals),

– People (having competent resources), and

– Processes (the application of the stages of process improvement)” (PMI, 2013c, p.3)

The Standard for Portfolio Management (PMI, 2013b) states: “a portfolio is a component collection of programs, projects, or operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives” (p. 5). In both cases, the perspective reflects the trend to include all the business actors in collaborative networks through project practices. The same is true for program 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, 2013a) has moved away from a pure project perspective and identified governance, stakeholder engagement and strategic alignment as guiding program 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 mentioned 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 are these: 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; and 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 to be able to try new things 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; I have labelled it SEED©:

Simplify: Studies have shown that social media have a profound effect on the human mind; for example, a recent behavioural study, commissioned by Lloyds TSB Insurance, reveals that the average attention span is now just over five minutes, compared to more than 12 minutes a decade ago (Lloyds TSB, 2008). The study suggests that reduced attention is not age-related but caused by stress and decision overload. In Systematics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail, John Gall (1975) states that “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system” (p. 71). So, designing complicated governance systems increases stress and decision overload and is not more efficient; simple focused systems should be the answer. In summary: Keep it simple and easy, build progressively.

Empower: Empowerment is a relatively new word in business. In the past, you did what you were told and if you did it well you were given more responsibilities. The growing access to digital media through the Internet in the late 20th century, has allowed individuals and groups to empower themselves. Recent examples of digital empowerment include “Gangnam Style” from Psy, the Korean singer, the first YouTube video to reach a billion views in December 2012. Another example is the 2009 “crowdsourcing” of Wikimedia's own strategy, where more than 1,000 volunteers generated some 900 proposals over 2 years to define a coherent strategic plan, among which self-organizing teams dedicated to specific proposals. These two examples show the need for a new approach to empowerment that requires organisations to change their basic structures to move from hierarchical to organic and adapt leadership styles to delegate responsibilities, allow representation and build trust. A number of companies are now doing this (Gast & Zanini, 2012).

Engage: Engagement is about two distinct issues: getting people to commit and trusting their leaders. As seen earlier, people in the digital age have switched commitment and trust from institutions to personal networks. Research by Cialdini and Martin (2012) suggests that leaders first ask for small, voluntary, active public commitments, before they seek commitment to larger change initiatives or innovative ideas. In other research, they show that individuals first asked to exchange personal information about themselves before entering a negotiation task, had a 90 percent rate of acceptable agreement compared with 55 percent for the group that had been told: “Time is money, get straight to the point” (Cialdini & Martin, 2012). Cialdini and Martin also suggest that when leaders give unexpected and personalised feedback they create engagement and Pink (2011) suggests that giving employees autonomy and a sense of purpose are two very powerful motivators. The conclusion is that engagement is fostered by creating a genuine, progressive commitment and that trust is increased through meaningful personal relationships.

Digitize: Digitization is a double-edged sword; it can free people from menial insignificant or boring tasks, but it removes direct contact with their peers and their finished work. Dan Ariely (2010) says that ignoring somebody's work is as bad as destroying it and that acknowledgement of people's work is a very strong motivator. Cialdini and Martin (2012) give the example of health centres having reduced missed appointments by 18 percent simply by having patients fill in the appointment detail cards rather than an attendant doing this for them. So, keeping people close to the result of their work is essential. 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, which confirms the need for simple systems that people understand and control. Digitization can remove time and geographical boundaries; it enables you to stay continually connected with collaborative networks, but, for it to work it should maintain peoples direct contact with their work and peers.

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 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, organizational 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 innovative than ever. Project management practices in general and project-based organisations (PBO) in particular foster collaborative networks and innovation.

Today, this requires project management practices to become

Responsive: Adaptable to changing circumstances;

Integrative: Blending purpose and execution; and

Attractive: Meaningful and challenging.

This requires that project, program, portfolio, and PMO managers:

  1. Recognize the challenges created by increasing complexity, turbulence and digitisation
  2. Understand how changes in context affect the practice of project management
  3. Identify 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 SEED©.


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©2013 Michel Thiry
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana



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