Project Management Institute

EMEA Congress Special Episode - The Demands of Digitization

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified with PMI we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.

For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or PMI.org/podcast.

Tegan Jones

Hi. This is Tegan Jones. Welcome to a special episode of Projectified with PMI, recorded at the PMI EMEA Congress in Berlin. This year, presenters and attendees were focused on the future of project management. I had a lot of great conversations on this topic at the event, including one with John Daly, a director for Cisco Systems in Jacksonville, FL, USA and Henk van Huyssteen, a senior program manager for Deloitte Consulting in Cape Town, South Africa. Let’s hear what they had to say.

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This year at Congress, we're talking about the evolving role of project management and how the way that we work as a whole is changing due to digitization. So, I'd like to start by looking at the big picture. In your experience, what digital trends are really making the biggest impact on how project teams work together. Let’s start with you, John.

John Daly

Yeah. So when I look at that, right, when you look at the impact of digitization and kind of project manager or project teams, there's really two main things. One is the customer demands are changing, right? So as the customer demands are changing, we're requiring outcomes as opposed to deliverables; experience over necessarily price.

What we're delivering to the customer has to evolve and change, and that requires a different focus for PMs. And then on top of that when you look at digitization, it impacts the technology and solutions that we as project managers will use, right? So more immersive, collaborative solutions. We're seeing a trend where you have a lot more global teams working together as opposed to teams that have to be co-located in the same area, which leads to a lot of positive and negatives. The positives can be a lot more diversity, but you know, there's some negatives there with having teams that necessarily aren't co-located in the same area, but we're seeing a lot of trends in those two spaces from digitization from my perspective.

Henk van Huyssteen

Yes, I agree, particularly on the last point. I mean, in the past perhaps working with teams that aren't co-located-—so virtual teams, offshore work—is often driven simply by price differentiators, getting projects in turn at a level cost, but now increasingly, it's simply about skills.

I mean, the technology is moving so fast that the likelihood of all the people with the right skills living in your town is pretty low. So it's become critical to be able to work productively and effectively with teams all across the world. The irony is that while many of these teams are perhaps expert indeed in implementing some of these new technologies despite having fantastic collaboration tools out there, it's often quite difficult still to use, not because of the tools themselves, but because the organizations in which we deliver, particularly large organizations with established structures may put blockers on. There could be boundaries on actually using those tools across the fence, so to speak. So you could have pockets that use these tools well, but the ability for full teams to integrate across the globe is often quite challenged because of security and other concerns. So that will need to shift as well.

Tegan Jones

How does digitization or technology, how is that helping or changing the way that decisions are made, especially in an environment where they need to be made faster?

John Daly

So yeah. It's a good question, right? And I think when you look at it, there's really a couple facets. Number one, decision-making's faster because digitization is a catalyst toward requiring you to make decisions faster because if you or your organization aren't agile or you're not making decisions at a faster rate, a competitor will come along that will, and they'll dominate your industry. And we're seeing that all over, right? And this is a bigger challenge, I think, in larger companies where startups are popping up and being able to be a lot more agile and make quicker decisions and respond to customer demands. So one thing is I think digitization's a catalyst to that, but I also believe that there are solutions from a digitization perspective that enable teams to collaborate faster to make those quicker decisions, but again, I think the stronger point is the fact that it's a catalyst to you have to respond quicker, otherwise you're going to be disrupted.

Henk van Huyssteen

Yes. And I think certainly within teams, the use of tools and technology to make decisions faster in order to get the work done, I mean, that's something, I think, we've become quite familiar with. And this does not necessarily have to be sophisticated like these cutting edge collaboration tools. I mean, a good old WhatsApp group on our phones has probably had more impact on our teams rapidly move through their day than anything else I have seen to—if one is honest. At an organization level, you know, when you speak about the type of drivers for fast decisions that John spoke about, which is that you almost really have no choice. The customers demand that you have to respond. I think they will have bigger challenges because in the first place, the organization that has to make these fast decisions-—as fast potentially or close to the way startups can do it—will have to understand that the risk of not making a decision is in fact bigger than making an okay decision in itself sometimes. And that cultural shift is going to be key, and that has nothing to do with technology, of course. That is a different way of thinking about the world.

Tegan Jones

So what about problem-solving? Is digitization helping teams identify problems faster? Is it helping them solve them faster or in a more innovative way?

John Daly

Yeah. I would say when you look at what digitization's going to bring in terms of automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, what you're going to see are a couple things. One, you'll see proactive problems identified. And potentially even solutions proposed before we even, as humans, identify them, right? That's kind of the beauty and the benefit to having automation and AI. So I think you're going to see—absolutely see—acceleration in that space in terms of not only identifying, hey, here's a problem that's coming, but also here's a potential solution that can solve that.

Henk van Huyssteen

Yes. And I think there's, that's something that I look forward to quite a bit. I think a huge amount of energy is still spent on projects and programs to understand where we are in any given time of the delivery. So a lot of effort in tracking, measuring and in doing estimations. And none of that always that accurate. So the ability to actually process project data better, interpret it faster and smarter, and actually to leave that to machine learning to do, I think, would take a big burden off project teams, allowing the teams to focus on the real problems, the real creative stuff that they need to do.

Tegan Jones

And what are some of the skills that people need to be able to develop in order to take advantage of this new technology on their projects?

Henk van Huyssteen

Well, I think in the first place you—everything we just discussed is good and well, but you would need to be able to set that up appropriately, right? So if we want these problems to be solved in a particular way, if we want our project data, really, whether it's performance, tracking, the upwards we do, velocity, things like that, if we want that to be analyzed smarter and displayed visually better so that we can make better decisions, we would actually need to—it's not going to do that on its own. We would need to do the upfront investment to set that up right. So I think one skill that we will need in programs is the skill to do that smartly upfront, creating the right foundation for a program.

John Daly

Yeah. One of the other things I'd say, Henk made a good point earlier, right, he says as we automate, we're going to be focused more and more of our time on solving problems or interacting with the customer, creativity, things like that. So what that means is what we as PMs need to look at our role and say, "What are we really needing to do in the future if some of our job is going to be automated?" And this is where, like, leadership capabilities and skills are going to be so important and so critical because we're, again, we're driving to an outcome. We're not—it's not about a deliverable. It's about meaningful change to the customer and making sure the team is continually focused on that and understanding our customer strategy, how the project relates to that, and overall leading our team to that destination is really going to be the focus of project managers. So we at Cisco, we're focused very heavily on leadership skills and soft skills because we know that's what's going to be prevalent and required as we go through this transformation.

Tegan Jones

And what kind of timeline are we talking about here? How quickly do people need to develop these new types of skills?

John Daly

So yesterday is when you should have started. You know, this is one of these things you can't go to a class. It's not like a certification and in two weeks, you understand the methodology and you're proficient. Developing soft skills takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. If you go to a course for it, you know you don't come out as a leader. You come out with some tools and tips to help you develop yourself into leadership. So making sure that you not only have the information and you're continually reading how to develop these skills, you have a mentor that can help you develop it, you have post-it notes up on your computer to help you remember how to drive certain behaviors for yourself—it takes a lot of time and energy to make this habitual. 

So I would say you have to start now because if you wait and you realize, "Oh, jeez, I need to be an effective leader," it's too late at that point, right? Because the transformation's already occurred and you're left behind. So start now.

Henk van Huyssteen

And indeed, these aren't things that you can learn from a textbook or read. This is—these are habits that you have to instill and very much the right mindset that have to be brought to the table. I mean, the programs, the projects that we run now, delivering these type of methodologies where so much is changing as we go along, they're fundamentally complex. So there's a lot of uncertainty. There's ambiguity. So as a project manager in this age, you have to be comfortable with leading initiatives despite the fact that there is so much uncertainty in them. Despite the fact that there's technical complexity-—perhaps there are multiple objectives and goals that change over time—and that sort of openness to lead work despite not really being, having the type of control that traditionally project managers would certainly prefer to have, that is a fundamental mindset change, yeah, that project managers will have to develop if the organization can continue to rely on them to deliver.

Tegan Jones

So if they need to start immediately, what is one of the first things that they should do? How do they get started?

Henk van Huyssteen

The first thing is that we need to understand this future world or, rather, the new future world. I mean, fantastic things are being published. All these trends. People are working on it. They're working on explaining it. As a project manager, if you want to be relevant to your organization or your clients, you need to understand that as well, but not only that. As I said, you need to be able to ask yourself whether you are the type of leader that can lead those type of initiatives, and the type of leader you need to be fundamentally is a problem solver.

And so, it's not about you personally, of course, solving those problems, they're too complex, but you being able to lead a team that solves problems all the time. And we need to look at the projects that we run as really a series of complex problems that a team is solving, and if we look at it that way and make that mindset shift, establish the practices around that, the right structures, we will still be successful and project managers will continue to be relevant.

John Daly

Yeah. And that's a great answer. And the one thing I'd follow-up is say is, you know, make a plan. We're all busy. It's hard, right? This is a lot of work. It's not easy to schedule training and read and continually work on this stuff and self-improvement. Sometimes, our day jobs just take over. We can't let that happen. So make a plan for yourself. Hold yourself accountable to that plan, and you know, the best way to learn that I’ve found is once you learn something, train others about it. Help others grow. You become an expert in that area just by helping others, and you strengthen your overall team. So if you, frankly, if you focus on that and you drive that type of behavior, there is no question that you'll be set for the future.

Tegan Jones

Perfect. I think that wraps it up really well. Thank you to both of you for joining me today, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Berlin.

John Daly

Thanks, Tegan.

Henk van Huyssteen

Thanks, Tegan.

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Tegan Jones

Congress attendees also weighed in on the evolving role of project management. Let’s hear from Priya Patra, program manager for Capgemini Technology Services India in Mumbai; Dario Mariondotti, an independent consultant based in Zurich, Switzerland; and Emily Kallman, a student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada.

Priya Patra

Project managers need to evolve. They need to keep doing what they are doing, of course, the basics needs to be rooted, but of course, they need to evolve in terms of understanding the business, understanding the customer's problem, and they don't maybe understand the technology as well.

But the most important is to understand how people work together, how to get the entire team on board and aligned to the common vision, communication, and collaboration.

Dario Mariondotti

I think there are several dimension which project management is evolving. It's fantastic to observe all the dimensions are sort of evolving by themselves and at the same time, they are intersecting one to the other. One is certainly agility and support to a more iterative type of projects. The other one is a lot of evolution in terms of supporting new paradigm like at least here in Europe is industry for net zero. Another aspect is the evolution of requirement and business analysis, even the evolution of tools. They are becoming more dynamic, more collaborative to supporting not only the classical resource allocation or tasks, but also cross-collaboration across the team.

Emily Kallman

I find just a lot of, like, huge macro scale types of oversight will be very important for projects because in the weird projects that are going to evolve in the future, I find that there are ways to get lost in them very easily. And if you get lost in them, you might not see certain risks coming around.

Narrator

For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music and PMI.org/podcast.