2020 Jobs Outlook
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The PM Network 2020 Jobs Report is out, and it’s sort of a tale of two outlooks. On one hand you’ve got emerging technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence that are driving a lot of really cool projects all over the world. But on the other hand, there’s also this looming threat of a global recession, along with all the uncertainty—and, potentially, austerity—that a pullback may bring.
So it’s impossible to say whether people should prepare to charge forward or hold on for dear life. And what’s more, the upheaval isn’t limited to global economics. There’s also the matter of how all this technology is beginning to reshape work as we know it—not only for clients and customers, but even the way that project teams operate. It’s going to take some figuring out, and it’s also going to require team leaders who are not only able to see the path forward, but who are also able to calm nerves and allay doubts on the way there.
If a project manager looking to, you know, landscape right now and looking at all the stuff that’s potentially coming down the line in terms of changes to your organization, you know that it’s all going to be about the people side of it.
That’s Lindsay Scott, career columnist for PM Network and co-founder of Arras People, a U.K. recruiting firm focused on project talent. We’re going to spend the central part of this episode with her, trying to put the jobs landscape in perspective. One theme is that project leaders should focus on building the skills required to lead cohesive, engaged, productive teams, and also those that enable them to propel their projects forward by winning over external stakeholders along with allies in the C-suite.
First, though, let’s take a beat for some housekeeping.
This is the first episode of Projectified®’s third season, and you may well be listening to me and thinking, “Who is this complete stranger, and what indication do I have that he knows his way around a Gantt chart?” Well, hi. I’m Steve Hendershot, a journalist in Chicago, and I’ve been covering projects for years in PM Network. I’m thrilled to join the Projectified® team as your friendly reporter and host.
And that’s not the only change this season. We’re also shifting in late February to a weekly format, so you’ll get a double portion of Projectified[TM] as we traverse the globe in search of the projects, trends and people shaping the profession.
And, at the end of the episode, we’re going to tell you about a new partnership between PMI and TED that could help you share your big ideas with the project community at the 2020 Global Conference.
Today, our point of departure is the jobs forecast for the coming year, and to help us process all that information, we turn to Lindsay Scott.
Let me ask you a couple questions about the economic outlook starting with, from what you’re seeing, are companies cutting back or preparing to do so?
It’s an interesting one because I’m based out of the U.K., and you probably all heard about Brexit being a thing for the last few years here. So that’s kind of been a dominant theme here in the U.K. and I think through that, there has definitely been recession-like behavior during that time. And I think generally what has tended to happen is that larger organizations scaled back on the investments that they wanted to make because of the uncertainty of what was going to be happening around will the U.K. leave Europe, and if they do, how are we going to do that? And I think it’s a very similar thing and definitely a very similar feeling to how it was back in 2008 in that it feels quite stagnant. It’s not as catastrophic as 2008 was where it felt like everything just fell off the edge of a cliff, but I think certainly here in the U.K. for the last certainly two years, it’s felt very, very stagnant.
One theme during the expansion, looking back to the last recession, is that we’ve grown wiser. And now, we know never again will we cut back on customer service. Never again will we stop investing in innovation because of this realization that the downtimes present a competitive opportunity to emerge stronger, but if there actually is a pullback, that’s going to be when the rubber meets the road. So do you suspect that those are lessons actually learned or will they fall away and/or any other best practices that we may learn from or may not?
Oh. It’s a good question. I mean it’s almost like you’d like a crystal ball, but I’ve got to say I feel that it doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a change and that we must carry on doing great things with our customers and all that kind of stuff. It’s like, you know, your fear that you start to retract, and kind of like go insular, and very inward-looking rather than the kind of things that we’re hearing about—there’s digital transformation and disruption and change, and all of those kind of things that start to feel quite a long way away because it’s, okay, so if we’ve got a recession potentially looming, we kind of want to retreat into ourselves and just go into survival mode.
I think when I look at practitioners, project management practitioners, have their behaviors changed since 2008? Because we learned a lot with that last recession in terms of individual project managers losing their jobs and all that kind of stuff. I sometimes, I wonder whether we have actually learned our lessons because the two things that came out of that recession was that actually, the people that weathered the storm better had a strong network. I know it’s mentioned in the report, but it absolutely was key for a lot of people, was that when times are tough, you look for your network.
I think the other thing as well is that it also is a wake-up call for people that have been working as a project manager within a particular organization working on particular projects for quite a while that how resilient are you going to be if the market changes and indeed downturns and things like that? Are you really putting all your eggs in one basket? And I’m not convinced that actually people have taken that lesson to heart because I think we still see exactly that kind of behavior that, I’m a project manager. I work in telecoms. I worked in telecoms for a long time.
If that market was to get hit, you’d be in trouble because you’ve not been keeping up to date with potentially your training and all the changes that have been happening over the last ... what is it now? 11 years. Because lots and lots of things have changed around project management across different sectors, and to be caught out like that, I suspect that I think a lot of people will still get caught out.
So, which sectors might provide the greatest opportunity whether or not there’s a pullback?
Yeah. No. I think in my experience when you tend to get this kind of level of uncertainty, again if I cast our minds back a few years ago, that governments will always be governing, and projects will always be happening and being kicked off. I think the public sector is always one in which there will always be opportunities because those projects don’t tend to suffer as much from, in terms of private-sector type investments. Certainly here, as soon as you got a change in government or as you’re probably aware that, now, Boris Johnson, he carts forward with new legislations. For him, a lot of stuff is the infrastructure-type projects. It’s the things that are coming down the line in terms of healthcare and all that kind of good stuff. I think those kind of project opportunities will always be there.
But in terms of the private sector, what we’re finding here is that the biggest keyword, I suppose, is digital transformation. And through that, what has been interesting is that when you delve deeper into what does it mean to be digital or to go digital or what is digital transformation, what we’ve found is that there’s a lot of different types of project roles that have come out of that as well. So we’re not just talking about project managers when we look at careers and jobs outlooks in project management. It’s that there’s a lot of roles, different types of roles that come out of that.
Digital transformation and other tech advances are driving a lot of projects. So let’s use that as an opportunity to shift the conversation toward interpersonal skills, because I’m interested in the way that digital disruption creates a greater need for flesh-and-blood leadership. The magazine package includes an article that looks at empathy, for example, as something that project leaders are becoming attuned to generally, but that also has a specific relevance to digitization.
So what AI and its broader technological brethren are doing to disrupt and remake our world causes the anxiety and uncertainty that sort of opens up a need for greater empathy. Does that track, does that match with what you’re hearing from either project professionals or teams that are hiring, this broader emphasis or a greater emphasis on leaders who excel at this empathetic relational ability?
Emotional intelligence has been a field that a lot of project practitioners have explored already, probably because you can start to see, you can see benefits in that if you’re open and honest, transparent as a leader. I mean, a lot of the kind of words that come out of great leaders, they’re honest and they’re positive, authentic, that they’re an open leader. And especially with the rise of agile with the whole servant leadership.
So there’s all these different types of focuses and angles on leadership and leading teams. And I think any good project manager worth their salt will be looking at the different kinds of management theory and practices that are coming out of the whole leadership institutes. I think it’s part of the job to make sure that you are not just being aware of what these things are, but being able to actively use them and try them and try out within the role that you’re doing.
But the problem is, is that we don’t tend to focus that much on developing our human skills. And I don’t know if that’s because people find it a difficult subject or actually it’s not that easy to, you know, you go on a training course, you don’t miraculously become more emphatic in the way that you do your work. It’s something that you have to keep doing, to keep practicing to change your habits. It’s difficult. It’s hard. But it is something that we know makes a big difference within the managing of projects and of people.
So just having that thing there of like, okay, so being empathetic is not new. I think what probably has helped have a bit more of a focus on it... I don’t know, this is an interesting thing, is that there’s a lot more focus these days on the mental health within work and within projects. Especially here in the U.K., we’ve seen a lot more emphasis on pastoral care of teams and that as a project manager it is up to you to be making sure that your team is not under undue stress or under stress for long periods of time and that’s negatively impacting their health.
And I think also in a wider world, where the communities that we’re all talking about mental health is that little bit more. And I can’t help but think that there’s some tie-in here in that we are perhaps thinking a little bit more differently about how we won’t work in the future. Who wants to go to work to be stressed out? You want to go to work to have just the right amount of stress that you get from a good challenge. In project management especially, that’s part and parcel of why people get into project management. There is that unknown about your work, but there’s also the feeling of, I think what they call it now is psychological safety, in terms of what it is they’re doing, which is just the right amount of stress and strain in a team, that they can challenge one another but nobody’s getting singled out for failure. Let’s go a bit wider than just looking at empathy, because I think actually there’s quite a lot more for us to explore in better workplace in totality as well as obviously how our project teams are working together in their small environments as well. It’s interesting stuff. And I think it’s wider than just empathy.
Pull the career columnist cap on tight and give me a New Year’s resolution both for project leaders looking to do something to position themselves well for growth in 2020, but then also for the organizations hiring them. What’s a point of advice for each?
Okay, so New Year’s resolution for project managers for 2020 wanting to make more of their career. All I can say is things that I really like at the moment is learning more and understanding what it is that you need to be learning more of. But also, and the flip side of that, is unlearning. So unlearning some of the things that actually are not helpful anymore to your work. And I think one of the things there is about a real understanding of what is changing through 2020 because I don’t think we’re going to get a big bang. It’s not going to be suddenly everybody’s using AI technologies and you’re going to be at 25 percent more time on your hands.
But I think 2020 is going to be a year where you’re starting to see little bits of change. And I think for you, it’s a year of thinking about what is happening to my role in my organization, my wider industry sector? So being more aware and I think being able to think about, well, what things do you know and think that you need to be learning more about?
And from an organization’s point of view, it is just to look at thinking more about hiring, not against job profile, but against skills, and that does mean about being able to be better understanding project management within your organization. It’s too easy to take the existing project management job profile template you have within your business and use it repeatedly over and over again.
You’ve got so many different types of people out there in the marketplace, so many different types of approaches to doing projects, and I think it’s time to dust off the old job spec that you’ve always gone out to market with. Take it back and really look at what are the key skills here? Forget about a title for a moment, what is it that would really make that person a big asset to your business in terms of the kind of skills that they’ve got?
One of the key sectors highlighted in the Jobs Report is healthcare, where all kinds of players—insurers, providers, governments—are pushing to use technology to make care more effective, consistent and efficient, while also controlling costs. That focus puts project leaders like David Paré in the spotlight. David is the chief technologist for the healthcare division of DXC Australia, the regional arm of global tech consultancy DXC.
I first interviewed David a year or so ago for a PM Network piece on AI applications in healthcare. And now we’re turning to him again for a front-lines account of what’s required to run successful tech implementation projects in an industry where patient safety and privacy are paramount.
David, as you think through the different DXC projects that you’re undertaking at the moment and the different sorts of institutions where those are happening, what skills do you see that are particularly in demand, what are project leaders and professionals called upon to provide this year or what are they finding particularly valuable in 2020?
I think you can probably split it into traditional and the new things. Because like it or not, in Australia at least, we’re still implementing EMR, so electronic medical records solution. And these solutions are still being implemented with traditional way of project management.
And there’s a lot of experience in that field, there’s a lot of people who have been there for a long time. Where it gets more difficult is all the new things. So the agile way, your artificial intelligence, machine learning, robot process automation, all these new technologies. This is where it’s pretty new. And healthcare, to be honest, is quite behind other industries that have been doing it for quite a while. I think in healthcare there’s pockets, there’s lots of startups doing clever things, but nobody really has done it at scale, in terms of implementing that across a country or a very large organization, I would say.
I know you’ve written, I was reading all of your blog posts over the last couple of years this afternoon, and I think last time we spoke, we talked about AI, machine learning, and that, the influence. That’s a theme, not only in healthcare, but in project management as well. So I wonder what’s your insider’s guess as to how significantly all of our workflows and potentially organization sizes, basically, how big is the upheaval that we know is coming?
Massive, it’ll be everywhere. But we have to understand that today, it’s quite low maturity. I mean, in Australia some hospitals they don’t even know how many patients they have at any point in time. We start with very little base, and automation is everywhere. The key message here is, it won’t really cut out jobs. You won’t replace your doctor with an AI, but you will augment that clinician with the tools to allow him or her to do a better job quicker and better. That’s really, really important because people are afraid of losing their jobs and it’s not true.
If you automate a process, it might change your job. If I give you a tool that is able to look at a rash and identify that or look at an MRI and identify breast cancer better and faster than me, then it’s great. But your job, first of all, is to validate that the AI support has done its job, and then it’s, what’s the treatment? How do you deal with the patient? I think project managers will have to engage with those clinicians and hopefully the good project managers will also engage with the patients or on the other end of that implementation. I think the shift is having skills like empathy and collaboration, and be able to deal with all these people, bringing all these people together is a really important skill for project managers moving forward.
I’d say PMs don’t need to be experts in AI, machine learning. But I would say that today they need to have a major, they need to at least either understand the healthcare spin to it, what it can do, a little bit of the landscape. But also understand what it is, because otherwise they’ll feel lost.
Another challenge for healthcare tech projects is bringing together very different players. You might have a project, some modules or components that DXC might have developed in some other corner of the globe, or maybe you’re bringing in some third technology from a smaller vendor, and then also working to implement all of that in these very particular systems across Australia and New Zealand. So what are some of the challenges and most relevant skills to successfully pulling off that sort of implementation?
That’s a great question. I mean, part of the challenge is, these organizations are at very various levels of maturity. For instance, the payer, so your health insurance type thing, is usually a lot more mature than your traditional public hospital. And I think you need people, and it’s a bit like me, like I do, to broker those relationships around, if you have a large program of work, implementing an EMR in a hospital, for instance, in a five-year program of work. And then on top of that, you have 18 startups that provide niche capabilities, you need to integrate all of that together. And not only from a technology standpoint, from a change management standpoint. And just, how are you going to bring these different ideas and perspective?
Because all these companies will have somewhat overlapping capabilities, although they have their niche view. So you have to be able to marry all that. So on the one side you have, you need to have the deep technical expertise and you need to have some project managers who are kind of used to working into a complex environment. And not only from a technology standpoint, again, but from a business or clinical point of view. Because in healthcare, the challenge is always having to deal with clinicians.
So nurses and doctors are a very special breed of people. And even if you deal with it, like let’s say state of government CIO or a director of digital for a large hospital or private system in New Zealand, they will have a very different view. And we’ve seen this a lot. Right? We’ve seen projects run by CIOs, and typically, there’s some really good ones out there, and they actually do engage and do the right partnership with the right people from the business side. But where we see this project fail is when clinicians are not involved in those decisions. And then you shove those down their throats, and then it just doesn’t work.
How do you figure out the stakeholders? You’re going to figure out what problem you’re going to solve, and it looks glorious at that point. But these organizations, there’s so many moving parts. How do you go about figuring out who is affected and sort of working all that out in terms of both outcomes and also change management?
Well, that part I don’t think is very specific to healthcare, but I think it’s really finding your champions. The champion, the biggest influencer, might not be the chief of nursing or the chief medical officer. It might be a very influential clinician somewhere that people trust and listen to. So you need to find those people, and they’re the ones that are going to drive it. Because they’re going to do it with or without you anyway. Because they’re the ones you try so hard and do things, so they’re the ones who are going to help you make this a success.
David mentions people skills as central to successful tech projects, and there’s one more related angle here that I want to mention in closing. Another trend in the PM Network Jobs Report is how AI is likely to reshape all kinds of industries, ranging from financial services to healthcare to telecom. And AI’s ascendance will not only affect the sectors that employ project teams but will also change the way projects themselves are run.
That’s because AI—and I’m using that as an umbrella term to cover all things related to machine learning and robotic process automation—AI is likely in the coming years to automate some of the core functions traditionally performed by project leaders. The computers of the future will be exceptionally good at scheduling, for example. They will be able to parse and track a litany of contractual and stakeholder requirements like nobody’s business. You don’t even want to know what they can do with a Monte Carlo analysis.
But let’s not panic. In fact, let’s resist the natural urge to wonder if AI is coming for our jobs, and instead contemplate how we might coexist alongside it. If an algorithm is blocking and tackling, what’s left? What are machines bad at?
That’s the back way into this people skills conversation. We live in an age of great upheaval, transformation, complexity and anxiety, and the anticipatory and interpersonal skills required to guide people through that are absolutely foreign to AI. It’s already a central pillar of project management and will become only more so.
So, recession or not, let’s make 2020 a year to embrace leadership and people skills as central to the way that project leaders can prepare themselves and their teams to thrive in a new era.
2020 could also be the year you share your big ideas at a special [email protected] event happening at this year’s Global Conference in Seattle, Washington, USA. Yes, I mean that you may get to give your own TED Talk. And not only that, you could be one of 15 people trained by a TED speaker coach. They’ll help you sharpen your amazing ideas so that you’re ready to hit the [email protected] stage and enthrall an audience of your peers. I can’t promise that from there you go on to rack up quadrillions of YouTube views and sign a lucrative book deal, but, you know, we are talking about a TED Talk here.
So go ahead, apply now. You’ve got until the 19th of February 2020. Find out all the details at PMI.org.
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