Project Management Institute

What’s Next for Project Leaders?

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Projects have the power to change the world. But what does it take for leaders to harness that power? A change-ready mindset backed by an unrelenting focus on delivering value—and not just to the bottom line.

MARCELO TOCCI

Society and [the] environment, they’ll play an even bigger role for projects in the future. All project leaders will understand that better. Understand what is their role, what is the future that they will shape with their projects and the positive impact that these projects will deliver to the world. There’s lots of beautiful projects ahead of us, and that spirit, that culture that project managers know that they’ll create a better future, needs to be part of it. 

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified®, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

I’m Steve Hendershot, and this is Projectified®. Today’s a big day. We’ve reached our 100th episode. And as we hit this milestone, we want to look forward and see what the world of projects might look like over the next decade.

Right now there are about 90 million people working as project professionals, according to PMI’s new Talent Gap report. Now consider another stat: The global economy needs another 25 million project professionals by 2030. To ensure those teams deliver, organizations will need a new kind of leader. And it’s not just about managing the growing number of virtual teams. It’s about building a culture of collaboration. It’s about putting empathy for customers and colleagues front and center. All of this means project leaders must be willing to iterate and experiment with new ways of working.

We’ll take a look at how this evolution is unfolding. First, I spoke with Marcelo Tocci, program management office and deputy program director for commercial aviation at Embraer.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

It’s so appropriate to talk to an aviation expert for this high-level topic. Where do you think project leadership is headed over the next five years, 10 years?

MARCELO TOCCI

The next years will continue being increasingly digital, increasingly innovative and also see more of a diverse, international post-COVID world. That’s a new environment. Most of us now are connected remotely. That certainly will help a lot and play a big role in the future of project leadership.

Organizations will be more focused on the outcomes. They will choose the best tools and practices for that specific challenge that they have. The E190-E2 development, which was the PMI Project of the Year Award back in 2019, had a lot of that into its DNA. So since 2010, we’ve been working a lot with something very similar to that.

Fernando Antonio, our VP for programs, back then the director for the program, he created [an] analogy. He calls that mixed project arts. So it’s like mixed martial arts. You need to be [an] expert in several different types of techniques, so you can use the best one that fits the best for that specific situation, right? We use that a lot into a hybrid project management approach. So we combined the PMI standard, which is the foundation for us, with our critical chain and with agile and scrum. We built that into a very strategy-oriented culture that was connected with business model canvas, with design thinking, making sure that everybody was aligned on what was the value proposition that we were delivering to our stakeholders were then the customers or the shareholders. So that was an evolution for us.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Another idea you brought up there was adaptability. As we look over a year of remote work and speculate how that might translate in the future, we’re hearing about some people spending less time in the office, three days or two days, etc. And team leaders have to adapt to different styles through this changing world of work. Looking ahead, how much are leaders going to need to adapt themselves to lead teams

MARCELO TOCCI

I agree that it’s going to change. It’s a balance, right? We were running a lot of teleconferencing, working from remote places, either at our suppliers or customers or at home, so they could really focus on their work. So that was not new for us as Embraer when that all happened, and we were ready. But all of a sudden, it became something of a massive scale. So that’s really different. We need to adapt to what is the best solution for that specific project. So there are some projects that if you have everybody inside the same place working together, they will not be as productive as if you had like two or three days with people back home, focusing on their works. So project managers should always take that into consideration.

We have sites all over the planet. This last year, one of the feedbacks I got was that they were feeling more like part of the organization now. Because every time they were calling us, everybody was in the same room, right? And they were like off the room, although they were connected. And now they feel more like a part of this big company because they’re on a level playing field with us. They’re with us, just like they were with us in the room. We realized that’s something that we could use in the future, either for our remote sites or for our suppliers, or for our customers. It could certainly help.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

It’s interesting. So let me take that beyond just remote work then, because it seems like this is one example as we head into an era where maybe these substantial step changes are more common. So what can leaders do to prepare for the next unexpected seismic shift in the way things get done?

MARCELO TOCCI

As we talk about more innovation, and we’re talking about new technologies, new innovation verticals, and we’re talking about a new way of developing projects as well. Because we’re more into the PDCA, plan-do-check-act mindset, when you get into new boundaries, new tech, disruptive tech, you’re talking more about IPTL, ideate, prototype, test and learn. So it’s not linear; it’s circular, and that’s very different. People need to understand that there are some projects that were meant to fail. That’s part of the learning process, and that’s all right. They are there to scout, to discover, and that’s their mission. New leaders need to understand that when you get into disruption, that’s the kind of mindset. And that’s very different from what they’re used to.

Another aspect that is very different, in my opinion, is that the new generations are getting increasingly more challenged to understand the ESG side, environmental, social and governance. What is the purpose of their project? Are you disrupting? Great, but what is it that you’re delivering? Does it link with creating a better world or not? So we see engineering colleges, for example, our top schools here in Brazil for engineering, they’re starting to use that as well. As their projects they select for their students as they graduate are linked to solving humanity challenges. They are starting to get closer and closer, get inside their DNA that you’re delivering that to someone. So it’s an ecosystem, right? And how do you play your role inside this ecosystem. This is really important as they move ahead.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Your projects also involve a lot of back-and-forth with your customers. In the case of your E2 jet, a customer’s request for greater range forced you to do some pretty radical modifications to the aircraft—not exactly a project leader’s dream, but ultimately changes that improved the end product. How do you think about adaptability from that perspective?

MARCELO TOCCI

Project management is getting increasingly people-centric, which is beautiful, and you need to develop trust. Addressing complex problems with simple solutions is also another thing that is increasingly important. Because as projects grow more innovative, disruptive and they start to connect more into their ecosystems, you need to make it really simple.

There is one quote that I love from another aviator, Saint-Exupéry. He’s known by the book The Little Prince. He said that a designer achieves perfection not when there’s nothing else to include, to create, but when there’s nothing else to take away. And that connects with culture for us at Embraer also. So that’s one of our key priorities for culture for the company. We’re trying to become an increasingly simple company. Because we know that gives us agility. We know that gives us adaptability. Adaptability is totally connected. It resonates with everything that we’re saying here, right? So if you create projects or project guidelines that are too complex, it’s going to be really hard to be very adaptable. As you have new players coming in and getting out, as you have new scenarios coming, and you need to adapt. Simplicity is another key element I believe for future projects.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

Last year, while lots of organizations were just trying to figure out how to operate in the midst of COVID, pharmaceutical companies not only had to adapt, but also to kick their operations into overdrive—especially those working on COVID-related therapies. One of those companies was Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, New York, in the U.S. Projectified®’s Hannah Schmidt spoke with Kris Sprague, director and head of project planning and scheduling at Regeneron, about what he sees for the future of leadership.

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HANNAH SCHMIDT

What trends do you see coming in the next five years for The Project Economy? And how will these trends shift how projects are managed

KRIS SPRAGUE

That’s a great question, Hannah. So in terms of some of the trends that I’m seeing, remote working is going to become permanent for some percentage of employees. The demand for project managers and project management-oriented roles, it will most likely increase. Project managers are going to need to develop a broader skill set. Finally, I guess in the area of technology, artificial intelligence and automation is going to impact how projects are managed. There may also be the integration of project management and change management.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Let’s dive into each one of these. With remote work, I feel like that was increasing before COVID. But that has increased exponentially since the pandemic. Obviously, the world is in very different places with the pandemic, but as it begins to shift where people start going back to offices, how do you see that remote work versus a hybrid remote work approach happening? And how do you see that affecting how project leaders are managing their projects?

KRIS SPRAGUE

Sure, certainly. Remote working was really forced upon us in the year 2020. And what it showed is that people could work remotely and deliver results for their companies. So project work that is moved off-site during the global pandemic will not really go back to the way it was prior to the pandemic. In the future, I think there’s going to be a lot more flexibility around where and how project work is performed.

Let me give you some examples. We’re going to see more organizations that allow employees to work from home indefinitely. As a result, those organizations are going to be able to expand their talent pools because people will be able to work from anywhere. You’re also going to see hybrid work models that will be available for employees; for example, some people will be able to partially work from home, as well as partially work on-site. These team members may come into the office two or three days per week instead of the traditional five days a week that has really been the norm up until the year 2020.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

One of the other points that you mentioned was the demand for project managers increasing. So how have you seen that, and how do you see that continuing over the next few years? And how can organizations try to meet this demand of the increase in the need for these roles

KRIS SPRAGUE

The trend is really toward more and more knowledge work being run as projects, which means more career opportunities for those project managers. This is not only going to impact project managers, but really all types of knowledge workers. Today, for example, you have people that are managing projects on a part-time basis. For example, they may be a department manager or senior manager within a department. And they’re really being asked to run those projects even though it’s not being done in a full-time capacity and they really have another daytime job, right?

Due to this increased growth, you’re going to have people that are currently not in the project management profession being provided with job opportunities to work in a project management role or in the role of a project manager. I guess the scenarios that I see coming from this is that you’re going to have professional project managers, and by that, I mean people that manage projects on a full-time basis will be managing the strategic and/or complex projects within an organization. And the reason why is because they have the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to deliver these projects. Whereas you get the people that are either entering the project management profession or the people that are doing project management on a part-time basis while they’re also doing their day job, they’re going to be asked to manage the much smaller, less complex projects within the organization.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

You also talked about AI and automation. These are becoming more mainstream, whether it’s project leaders running these projects or using AI, automation to manage their own work. So how do you see AI and automation affecting project leadership in the next couple of years?

KRIS SPRAGUE

Almost every industry is probably going to be impacted by artificial intelligence or automation going forward. That’s pretty much a given. Where I actually see it impacting in the area of project management is helping to automate many of the administrative-focused tasks that currently fall to project managers. For example, allocating resources to projects, balancing projects, doing schedule and budget updates, maybe on a weekly or periodic basis. These are some of the administrative activities that are typically performed by a project manager and tend to eat up a lot of hours or cycles doing this, and it’s really a low value add. According to Gartner, 80 percent of project management tasks might happen autonomously by the year 2030. While some project managers may be concerned about the impacts that this automation will have on the profession, it also offers great potential. By automating these low-value tasks, project managers are going to be able to focus their efforts and energy on completing tasks that provide much greater benefit to the organization, allowing them to affect greater change, as well as increase the likelihood of achieving the goals of the projects that they’re managing.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Going back to one more trend that you had mentioned, project management and change management integrating, how have you been seeing that currently, and how do you think that’s going to change in the future?

KRIS SPRAGUE

Project management focuses on the processes and activities that are needed to complete a project, whereas change management focuses on the people side of how they are affected by the delivery of the product or service that is generated from the project. Because projects can have a significant and lasting impact on the business and its stakeholders, project and change management often work hand in hand to ensure a project’s long-term success. And what I see happening is the blending of these two to really help the project team and the project manager deliver the project.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

How have you seen these trends in your own work, in your own organization?

KRIS SPRAGUE

In terms of the application of artificial intelligence and automation, that is very applicable to what I’m doing in the planning and scheduling space. We actually worked with one of our teams, and they helped us develop a robot that really saves us probably about five hours on a weekly basis from doing a whole lot of analysis. And so that’s a trend that really hits home in terms of what I’ve seen.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Let’s talk about the next generation of project leaders. How will they impact project leadership or change how projects are managed? And do you think they have any experiences that they might be bringing into the profession that could influence change?

KRIS SPRAGUE

Based on really how this generation has been brought up, there’s a couple of significant ways of how it’s going to impact the work being done in the project management space. So let me give you a couple examples. They’re going to bring a shift in terms of how projects are focused on. Typically, it’s always been on the financial bottom line, in terms of delivering within budget and efficiency. And I think with this generation, they’re going to help the project team by bringing in social, environmental and economic impacts of the project into the mix. They’re going to bring new ideas and innovative approaches as to how the projects can best be conducted.

In addition, I think we’re going to see a focus on moving away from the traditional 9:00 to 5:00 workday as more and more millennials move into positions of management responsibilities, and remote working and leading virtual project teams becomes the norm. So what I happen to see over the next five years, as younger generations move into these leadership roles, is that those that are the most talented professionals won’t want to work the traditional 9:00 to 5:00 jobs. And the companies out there are going to really need to adopt with this lifestyle in terms of how this generation has really grown up.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

The essence of leadership is the same as it ever was: guiding teams as they create real-world results from plans and ideas. But the how of that process is always changing, whether that’s based on different organizational cultures, industries or eras. The challenge for the project leaders of today and tomorrow is to point the way forward, no matter the chaos swirling around them.

NARRATOR

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