Change—What's Next in Project Management
The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.
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STEPHEN W. MAYE
Hello, I’m Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™.
As 2019 comes to a close, we’re looking ahead to what’s next in project management. And one thing that’s on many project and program leaders’ minds is change.
New technologies, shifting business needs, new delivery approaches and the move to The Project Economy—all of these things are changing the profession. And that shift is only going to accelerate.
Recently project and program leaders from around the world gathered at PMI’s Global Conference to learn and connect. My co-host, Tegan Jones, spoke with several speakers at conference and asked what emerging trends they’re seeing.
Narasimha Acharya is the assistant director in the client technology practice at Ernst & Young in Atlanta, Georgia in the U.S. He said project managers should be the voice of change and position themselves as strategic leaders.
What are going to be the top priority capabilities that people need over the next five to 10 years to succeed in this changing marketplace?
I really believe the future’s really bright for project and program managers. But the role, the knowledge, the experience that we need to be successful is of course changing. And it will continue to change.
The way we position ourselves will determine how successful we’re going to be. Right? So we need to adapt and keep with evolving trends. Some of the trends like digital art technologies, automation, so that we become more of a leader than just a manager.
And the other important thing is we need to be the voice of change in our organizations, advocate change and also make sure we have the knowledge that would be needed to provide strategic leadership.
So go ahead and get the knowledge. It could be taking a course; it could be talking to a mentor, getting involved in the community. Try to learn some of these strategic skills that would be expected from tomorrow’s leaders.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Change isn’t new, of course. It’s something project leaders across organizations and across industries deal with every day.
Mike Palladino is the head of the Agile Center of Excellence for Bristol-Myers Squibb outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the U.S. Mike told Tegan he thinks it’s time we live that reality and get excited about change.
We’ve been through change. There’s always been change. The current top 10 jobs today did not exist 10 years ago. Universities have to change the way they’re teaching because they used to teach skill sets. Now they need to teach how to think, how to adjust to change.
And I think that’s the same trend we’re seeing in the business community, where we need to understand change is just going to be there. Let’s just accept it. Let’s not worry about what the change is. If we’re keeping on top of our professions, we’re keeping on top of our industries, we’re building a self-learning culture, we’re building an organizational learning culture and just: Okay, next thing comes in, let’s learn it. Let’s be excited about it. Let’s understand it. Let’s figure out how do we adopt it.
That’s how we’ve survived the last 10, 20, 100, thousands of years. I think that’s how we’re going to have to continue going in the future.
It’s less about the technology; it’s less about the specifics. It’s more about the way that we think, the way that we manage that change. And what I love about agile is that’s part of what agile builds into it. It’s just building that in as what we’re doing, and we just keep moving forward, and whatever comes in 10, 20, 30 years that there’s absolutely no way we can predict today, we can handle it.
So if it’s impossible to know what my job is going to look like in 10 years and I really can’t know what kind of skills I’m going to need, what are some of the ways that people can develop themselves? If they’re not developing skills, how do they develop that certain way of thinking, that certain mindset that’s going to position them for success in the future?
I would say it’s curiosity. If I only look at what I’m just doing today, just my job today, I might miss out on parallels where maybe I’m seeing a trend over in a different industry. My wife is an eye doctor, so I watch what different trends that occur in her industry, and it’s like, “Wow, that’s interesting. I like that idea. Can I bring that back into my industry?” It may have absolutely nothing to do with the two industries, but if I can bring this other idea and adapt it, now I’ve got something powerful.
And so I think it’s being broadly aware of what’s going on out there and just kind of looking for those little nuggets that we can experiment with. And again, something built into agile with the retrospective, every two weeks, let’s just try that little experiment. What’s that one little thing we can do to improve what we’re doing? And if we can build that into our lives, we build that into the way that we work, we just kind of incrementally keep looking for different opportunities to improve and discover new ideas and different ways of working.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Developing a habit of curiosity and keeping an eye out for emerging trends across sectors can help you prepare for what’s ahead. And as things change, project managers will need new skills, including how they use data.
That’s something we heard about from Fernando Antonio Oliveira, the E2 program director for Embraer in São José dos Campos, Brazil.
FERNANDO ANTONIO OLIVEIRA
There is a lot of challenge on learning which questions to ask. We are trained a lot to not create questions but to answer questions, and that’s probably something that we will need to change over the next years.
First, everybody needs to get hard skills first, the softer skills, the strategic view, but we will see a lot of changing the way we treat data, the way we collect data, to the way we understand how the project is going, or a big program is going, and you need to use that capability of artificial intelligence or better tools or better management to see even further what will happen. Not to react from what has happened but preventing what will happen.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Data has really transformed our world. We’re more connected than ever—with each other and organizations and even the devices that we use. And the amount of data that’s created is only going to increase.
IDC predicts the global datasphere will jump from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025. Now 1 zettabyte is equivalent to a trillion gigabytes. That’s a lot of data, and organizations will need to know how to sift through it and what data they should focus on. And it’s not just how we use data that’s going to change.
Kaustuv Bagchi is the head of India operations for oil and gas offshore projects for LT Hydrocarbon Engineering in Mumbai, India. Kaustuv told Tegan he hopes disruptive technology like artificial intelligence will help new project managers be more efficient and allow them to focus on different skills.
Earlier the focus was on knowledge and experience. Now most of this is getting digitalized. We have got processes for cognitive learning. We have chatbots. We have artificial intelligence. We have technology to support project management to an extent that experience is getting digitized now, so hence the focus is going to be moving from knowledge to application of technology and application of knowledge and constantly innovate.
I think the old style of project management is going to become Jurassic very soon, and it will be more technology driven, application of knowledge and more importantly, the soft skill part, how we develop ourselves from managers to leaders, people who would share their vision with the team and have ability to get people to follow that vision.
So I like what you’re saying there about the idea of application of knowledge. As someone who is working to do that, is there a certain experience that you can work on, that you can develop? Is there a fast track to learning how to do this kind of thing better, or is it just something that you have to put in the legwork for?
I think you have asked a favorite question of mine. I’m in fact working to see that in another five years, our project managers’ average age should come down below 35. I see our average project manager’s age is around 45. With the kind of technologies that we have, we are trying to bring in these experiences in forms of cognitive learning software, so a young guy can actually come in and pose questions, and a lot of solutions will be thrown at him.
This technology will actually hold his hand and get him to manage projects. People who are coming in new now, their focus will have to shift from rote learning to more of application. How do you apply the knowledge, how do you apply the technology?
STEPHEN W. MAYE
As a new generation enters the workplace, they’re bringing in new approaches and new ways of thinking.
Olivier Schmitt, CEO of The Project Group France SAS in Lyon, said he sees organizations struggling to integrate those points of view, even as they deal with a new business landscape.
Today with the new methodology like agile, time to market, that’s reducing. If you want to stay in the game with a competitor, we have to find new ways and new models to make decision on those new methodologies such as agile and everything.
And I think the challenge for companies... Companies are organized this way, is the youngster coming out of school with those new methodologies usually hits the ground with the delivery of projects. But top management are people there, been there for 20 years, old timers, and you don’t change easily an old timer. So the conflict at the moment in organization is it’s moving very fast at the delivery level and still very conservative at the top management level, which makes a real problem in decision making, and people don’t understand each other anymore.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Current trends suggest it’s going to be a vastly different world for the next generation of project leaders, so we asked our guests what advice they would give the up-and-coming project manager.
Narasimha Acharya encouraged people to seek out a mentor—even if it takes time to find the right person.
So if a young project manager came up to you and said, “I need some advice on my career; I want to be successful. You’ve done a lot of wonderful things in your professional life.” What advice would you give that young person in order to position them for the best possible career that they could build?
The first thing I would tell them, like, get involved in your local project management community and build as wide a professional network as possible. Make the effort to know your team and spend time to develop professional relationships with the team.
As far as advice, something that I wish someone had given me when I started off is actively seek out mentors. I would very, very, very highly recommend this. You will not only benefit from the experiences, but you’ll also take advantage of their experiences and avoid some of the typical pitfalls they had.
And the other aspect of mentorship that I have seen now that I have tried to help a few people when they’re starting off in the profession is, it’s not a one-way street. Every time I have helped or mentored someone, I’ve also got something back out of it. So do not think, “Hey, I’m just starting off from work and if I seek a mentor, I’m a taker.” You will also help your mentor learn something he or she didn’t know before.
I do think that’s something that young people are a little intimidated to do, especially if there’s someone in their organization that they really respect or that’s a very important leader. They’re very hesitant to ask for that kind of mentorship relationship because they don’t really understand that mentors do get something in return out of that. So what advice would you give them in terms of how to start that conversation? How do you begin that relationship?
There are people out there who are more than happy to be mentors. You may not succeed with the first person you ask, but be persistent. There is someone who is going to be more than happy to be a mentor, and he or she is looking at it as a two-way street like I mentioned. Do not hesitate, do not be disappointed if the first or second or third person says no. Be persistent.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
The advice to seek a mentor, or many over the course of a career, cannot be overstated. Whether we’re talking about the great masters of Renaissance painting or the medieval tradesperson, the need for active mentorship has always been essential to rise to the top of a profession.
And as Narasimha said, mentorship goes both ways. I think the pace of technology change has given many young people a level of cultural fluency and digital literacy that allows them to give back to the seasoned people in their field. So even when the younger or less experienced person is actively seeking mentorship, he or she will likely have something of value to share in return.
Mentorship allows people at every stage of their careers to share their experiences and ask questions. But sometimes there isn’t a definitive answer. And that’s something Mike Palladino thinks we all need to be more comfortable with. He advised young project managers to not get caught up in the right versus wrong mentality.
We’re so used to did I get the right answer? Did I answer the test? Tell me what I’m supposed to learn so I can feed it back to you as the professor. So what I would tell people as you come out of school is don’t always look for that answer guide. We have to think differently. We have to think about our future. Think about understanding the principles, the key elements and what can we do to adopt them.
Now it sounds fuzzy, not a crisp, clear answer, but life isn’t crisp and clear. The future’s not crisp and clear. We’re going to have to deal with those ambiguities, and I think this is the way that, as coming out of school, we have to figure out a way to change our thinking that it’s not just about finding the right answer, it’s finding an answer, and that’s okay, let’s develop it. Let’s further explore it and improve it and continually enhance it.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Handling ambiguity is clearly a needed skill. Deloitte found that, of people who believe 21st century leaders face new and unique requirements, leading through complexity and ambiguity was the top skill needed.
Deloitte also reported there’s increasing pressure on CEOs to take a position on social issues. And Fernando Antonio Oliveira echoed that theme. He said project managers should ask themselves this question: How do you want to change the world?
FERNANDO ANTONIO OLIVEIRA
No matter where are you working or what are you doing, you’re part of a big project. We are responsible for shaping the future of the world from now on. And having that view, understanding your part of that role and having the willingness to participate in creating a better world on any project that you work and understanding the strategic value of where you are is key.
And then based on that, you don’t need anybody to tell you what to pursue. You have an inner fire that will guide you to learn more, to learn the hard skills, to learn the softer skills, to think strategically and to contribute a lot to that vision.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
What a great question to ask to really get people thinking about their futures.
We’ve had a great time sharing the insights we heard at PMI’s Global Conference. Thanks to everyone who talked with us.
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