Fast-Forward: Looking Towards the Future of Work


When it comes to forecasting the future, COVID made it clear that all bets are off. A staggering 93 percent of business leaders report putting a project on hold in 2020, according to the PMI Make Reality Global Survey 2020. Yet despite the uncertainty, 79 percent say their company was successful in navigating the challenges of COVID-19, and 86 percent say their organization is better positioned to adapt to new situations in 2021. So while the global pandemic left CEOs and their project leaders scrambling, most are using those hard-won lessons to prepare for the next normal—one that they’re seemingly more optimistic about. When Fortune and Deloitte asked CEOs mostly from the U.S. to describe 2020, they used words like “challenging” and “tough,” but their top response about this year was “hopeful.”

With so many questions—and so many opportunities—we asked: After a year of unprecedented change, what’s the biggest shift project leaders or teams should be making?

Accept the remote reality.

“The biggest change is to accept that remote working can deliver results. It was forced on us in 2020, but it also showed that people could do their work remotely. So we will see smaller office space and fewer physical team gatherings.” —Anju Aggarwal, freelance project management consultant and strategy consultant in New Delhi, India.

Lean into agile and AI.

“In a period of continued uncertainty, where political, economic and market conditions can change abruptly, the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is vital. To mitigate the risk, many companies have adopted and will adopt even more agile or discovery-based approaches to better align decision making and investment horizons with different levels of uncertainty.

Project management will also inevitably be affected by the rise of AI, machine learning and data analytics. Just one impact of AI will likely be the automation of many administration-focused tasks that currently fall to project managers, including resource allocation, project balancing, and schedule and budget updates.” —Andrea Paparello, PMP, project manager at Modis, a tech consulting firm, and Gucci, in Florence, Italy.

Go in with a plan—and an open mind.

“As more and more organizations embrace digital transformation in the coming years, the biggest change for project leaders is the need to be more adaptable and flexible. Last year taught us that almost anything and everything is possible, and we can’t always plan for all scenarios. But as project leaders we must be open-minded in planning projects and always make contingencies.” —Martin Kaih Kasanga, PMP, senior electrical engineer, Ghana Grid Co. Ltd., Tema, Ghana.

Look for the silver linings amid uncertainty.

“In my field, I see that we will keep a large proportion of remote work and remote meetings adopted during the pandemic. This also helps to fight climate change, as the amount of travel we are required to do has been reduced significantly. In 2021, it will be even easier to work from anywhere, as we will soon be living in a pandemic-free environment. We’ll no longer have the fear to go out and have more possibilities to manage our own time more freely. We’ll soon be as social as we were before, shaking hands, hugging, etc. We must prepare our teams for this shift back to normalcy, but uphold our new ways of working.” —Jerome Huet, PMP, project manager, Sandvik Rock Processing Plant Solutions, Paris, France.

Expect an uneven rebound.

“Many project leaders will have to deal with radically altered supply chains. Many businesses have seen their development capacities and production capabilities reduced, which has increased lead times. On top of that, some projects may have been delayed, canceled or relocated. On the other hand, production capabilities of most Asian-based suppliers, particularly in China, have been back to 100 percent capacity since around April or May, and they continue to expand quite rapidly making up for the shortages from Europe and North America. In my opinion, the biggest change we’re going to see in 2021 is the quick rebound of Asian economies and accelerated shift of manufacturing to China and Southeast Asia.” —Val Kaplan, PMP, vice president, marketing, CIMS, an automated optical inspections solutions supplier in Suzhou, China.

New realities require new skills.

“Less focus needs to be on the traditional triple-constraints, predictive approach of scope, time and cost. Instead, project leaders need to adapt to a more agile approach of prioritizing scope, against a fixed resource capacity, within time-boxed sprints. There is also always the need for project leaders to further increase technical knowledge and skills, especially for software development projects. It’s also essential for project leaders to further embrace people skills such as improving emotional intelligence and empathy.” —Darryl Isip, PMP, director of digitalization, Credit Suisse, Zürich, Switzerland.

Move from resilient to “anti-fragile” with continuous learning.

“Our memories of this time in history will be shaped by two global issues: COVID-19 and cyberattacks used to disrupt society. This year, project leaders need to continue to combat these issues by building on two key attributes: agility and antifragility both at the organizational and individual employee level. The goal of continuous learning is to change what we do and how we do it. While our mental strength may ensure we are resilient, our ability to continuously learn and adapt is what enables us to go from resilient to antifragile. This is where leaders must and will play a major role to make tough decisions on how to maximize value within their respective portfolios. Antifragility is the antidote to black swan events.” —Diondria Holliman, PMP, PfMP, IT cybersecurity analyst, Medtronic, Houston, Texas, USA.

Forge real human connections.

“It’s a challenging time, but it reinforces the crucial role of the project manager to find innovative solutions, offer up alternatives and be a beacon in the tempest. Of course, we cannot foresee and figure out the lasting impacts of the crisis on each individual, but we are better equipped to respond in real time should something similar happen in the future. Project managers have an invaluable opportunity to put into practice hyper agility, people skills and to forge deeper connections to make a positive impact in the world. Also, this crisis has shed a light on the importance of internal networks and communities far beyond the workplace to foster balance and strong mental health.” —Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP, senior project manager at telecom giant Orange, Paris, France.


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