The future of project and program management--foresight workshop

Abstract

Foreseeing the future is a key input in defining governmental policies, business strategies, and professional development plans. Our world is changing rapidly in many different areas: social, technical, political, economical, environmental, organizational, and so on. Different methodologies involving a group of persons with knowledge on a subject have shown that they are useful at generating valuable foresight about the subject.

What will the roles of project and program management be in the future?

This article presents the basis for a workshop with project managers to address this question. It will be held at PMI® Global Congress 2012—North America in Vancouver. Key questions about how project management might evolve the future will be addressed in this workshop. Starting with historical and trend information, brainstorming activities, group discussions, and by using the Delphi technique, we will attempt to anticipate our future world and the role and key aspects of project management.

Workshop participants will have the opportunity to:

  • Get involved in the task of foreseeing the future
  • Get concise information to begin the process
  • Learn from their own perceptions and those of other colleagues
  • Identify key factors that could impact the future and get ready to monitor their evolution as triggers for change
  • Obtain more insights to manage their own strategic decisions
  • Enjoy!

Introduction

It seems like clocks are accelerating and changes are happening quicker and quicker. “Everything changes, nothing stays but change” is a common perception. In such a situation, governments, companies, institutions, and individuals need to figure out the future in order to take decisions. And foresight activity makes more sense than ever. But in the future it is expected to become even more critical.

Foresight (or Forecast)

Forecasting is predicting that an event will happen, to a defined extent, and sometimes with a defined probability. Forecasts are usually applied to short-term futures—no more than a few years ahead. A forecast is considered to be less certain than prediction, but more certain than conjecture or anticipation. Foresight is a broad term covering all methods of envisaging the future, but with an emphasis on the alternative futures concept. However, forecasting is not normally included as a part of foresight (Cornish, 2004).

Foresight is applied to many different fields, such as economics, marketing, climate change, and health.

Tools and Techniques

Different methods are used to run a foresight session with a group of experts:

  • Brainstorming
  • Group discussion
  • Voting/Rating
  • Trend analysis
  • STEEP (Social, Economical, Environmental, Technological, Political) analysis
  • Scenarios
  • Delphi surveys

The first three methods (brainstorming, group discussion and voting/rating) are well known. They all support ways of extracting conclusions from a group of persons with different or complementary points of view. Trend and STEEP analyses help to figure out different aspects of the possible future situation configuring different possible scenarios. Delphi surveys allow quantitative estimation of magnitudes, such as the probability of a scenario, the population in an area, the production of certain raw material, or the life expectancy.

In the standard version of Delphi surveys, the experts answer questionnaires in two or more rounds. After each round, a facilitator provides an anonymous summary of the experts' forecasts from the previous round as well as the reasons they provided for their judgments. Thus, experts are encouraged to revise their earlier answers in light of the replies of other members of their panel. It is believed that during this process the range of the answers will decrease and the group will converge towards the “correct” answer (Wikipedia, 2012).

Organizations

There are many organizations whose primary focus is on foresight activities. The following are a few examples of each type:

Megatrends

In 1982, Naisbitt and Aburdene published the number-one bestseller Megatrends, predicting different key aspects worldwide that would evolve during the 1990s (Naisbitt & Aburdene, 1982). In 2011, Lowell D'Souza published “6 Naisbitt Megatrends that held up in 2011.” He was surprised that 6 out of 10 predictions held up pretty well (D'Souza, 2011). Women becoming leaders, the growth of biotechnology, and the Asia-Pacific area development were some of them.

In 1990, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene published Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990's, predicting the shift from an industrial to an informational economy, the booming 1990s, and the power of high tech (Naisbitt & Aburdene, 1990).

In 2005, Patricia Aburdene published Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism, highlighting the importance of ethics, trust, integrity, and social responsibility as key factors for the future success of companies and economies (Aburdene, 2005). In the last few years we have seen different situations supporting Aburdene's predictions. Those situations have resulted in the economical crisis we are undergoing worldwide: corporate scandals, risky financial operations determining a deepening crisis of the banking sector, inadequate control policies from governments spending excessively.

Other authors have proposed their own megatrends models that can inspire the insight about the future in a certain aspect.

Foresighting Project and Program Management

Three elements support the framework in developing the workshop:

  • Information about major general trends for the world in general and possible scenarios (outlined in the previous Megatrends section)
  • The history of project and program management (outlined later)
  • Current trends in project and program management (to be brainstormed as part of the workshop)

The History of Project and Program Management

It is not my intention to develop a formal study on this point. Let me simply bring up some meaningful examples illustrating how old project and program management are. I do not have any hard data about how formalized those activities may have been.

Project management probably started in the ancient times of human beings. Homo sapiens arose as a species about 150,000 years ago. They were able to work in teams to achieve objectives impossible for a single individual. They were organized as a society.

The Great Wall of China is more than 6,000 km long, with 5 to 8 meters (16–26 ft) in height, and 5 to 6 meters (16–20 ft) wide. A huge number of tons of stone to move when human beings still used very limited sources of energy apart from human strength or animals. Many resources and activities were organized and coordinated in its construction. When considering Egyptian pyramids we can find a similar situation.

During the Roman Empire's expansion, the Romans constructed roads, bridges, and later many other impressive buildings (i.e., several projects with one common goal and shared resources).

During the 20th century, project management evolved in a faster way than it ever had before. Technological progress has been one of the triggers. It has facilitated project and program management activities and has supported a very active sharing of ideas and best practices. As part of this process, PMI was founded in 1969.

Current Trends in Project and Program Management

Let us keep in mind the history that brought us here. Identifying what is happening right now and how it is evolving provides valuable information to foresee the future. That can cover the first steps of our movement forward and indicate possible directions it could take.

There are many relevant sources on this topic. Simply search for “project management trends” on the Internet and you will get many ideas. Some of them focus on project and program management methodology and how they are done (Stanleigh, 2011). Others, like the PMI blog entry “7 Project Management Trends to Watch” (Srinivasa, 2012), also include aspects such as fields where project management is not today and could be tomorrow.

Project Management Circa 2025, with the collaboration of 41 authors, presented predictions about project management in 2025 (Cleland & Bidanda, 2009).

The Foresight Workshop Design

Inputs

  • Historical and recent information
    • Human history (road map from first humans)
    • Project management
  • Current trends
    • For the world (different studies)
    • For project management
  • Expert judgment (the audience)
  • Results from previous research

Tools and Techniques

A certain combination of the following tools and techniques will be used, depending on the number of participants and groups and on the time available:

  • Brainstorming
  • Group discussion
  • Voting/rating
  • Trend analysis
  • STEEP (Social, Economical, Environmental, Technological, Political) analysis
  • Scenarios
  • Delphi surveys

Outputs

  • Specific year to foresee
  • Weighted list of questions regarding project management for this future year
  • List of key STEEP aspects influencing project management for that future year
  • Possible scenarios for project management for that future year
  • If possible in time available: first quantitative estimation of the probability of every scenario

One Step Further

Project and program management will be affected by the changes in other fields (e.g., economy or technology). At the same time, both of them are “the tools for change,” the way to apply innovation or to reconfigure organizations. Project and program management are not only affected by the changes in our world, but are undoubtedly actively configuring the future. This approach is complementary to the workshop's main focus, which is the impact of global changes in project management.

Future-aligners aim to work on themselves to be ready for the future, while future-influencers aim to work on the world. Lombardo reminded us that “without self-responsibility, one sees oneself as a victim and incapable of influencing the future” (Lombardo, 2010, pp. 34–42; Hejazi, 2011).

Final question: How can project management and we project managers contribute to configure a better world?

Next Steps Following the Workshop

The information generated in the workshop will be compiled and elaborated to generate a document of results to be shared later. They will be published and, very likely, will serve as the basis for launching a second study on the Internet with participants worldwide.

The final question in the previous section could also be incorporated into the second study.

References

Aburdene, P. (2005). Megatrends 2010: The rise of conscious capitalism. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing.

Cleland, D. I., & Bidanda, B. (2009). Project management circa 2025. Newtown Square, PA: PMI. Cornish, E. (2004). Futuring. Retrieved from www.wfs.org

D'Souza, L. (2011). 6 Naisbitt Megatrends that held up in 2011. Retrieved from marketingbones.com

Hejazi, A. (2011, November). Answering 18 hot questions on forecast & foresight. Retrieved from www.futuresdiscovery.com

Lombardo, T. (2010). Wisdom facing forward. The Futurist, 44(5), 34–42.

Naisbitt, J., & Aburdene, P. (1982). Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives. New York, NY: Warner Books.

Naisbitt, J., & Aburdene, P. (1990). Megatrends 2000: Ten new directions for the 1990's. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company.

Srinivasa, V. (2012). 7 project management trends to watch. Retrieved from blogs.pmi.org

Stanleigh, M. (2011). Project management trends. Retrieved from www.pmhut.com

Wikipedia. (2012). Delphi Method. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2012, Julio Carazo San José
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Vancouver, Canada

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