The Project Manager of the Future

This post is based on a presentation to the Project Management Institute Canada’s Technology Triangle Chapter on March 25th 2017 in Guelph, Ontario.

The recording of the presentation that was delivered is below:

Project managers work in the real world. The leading project management methodology, the Project Management Body of Knowledge from the Project Management Institute, stresses that the conditions in which a project is conducted will drive the application of the processes that it describes. Project managers are expected to decide which processes they will use in the project that they are managing and how they should be applied.

“the organisation and/or project management team is responsible for determining what is appropriate for any given project”

A Guide To The Project Management Body of Knowledge, 5th Edition, page 2.

The real world is changing very quickly today. Many factors are influencing this change with information technology being critically featured. At the University of Waterloo we study the impact that information technology is having carefully. We have examined the impact of information technology on society in a number of areas to better understand the impact of the work that many of our graduates will have on the world.

Our work highlights that there are few areas of life in which information technology is not having an impact today. A website has been created to discuss this topic – The Impact of Information Systems on Society. The contributions to the site are on topics ranging from globalisation and democracy to privacy and the impact the internet is having on how people think. Vigorous debates exist about the impact that information technology is having in many of these areas. The site is a useful resource in creating better understanding of the way that the world is changing today.

As part of this activity we have surveyed the views that people have of the impact that information technology is having on their lives. Our Social Disruption Survey has found that while most people have a generally positive attitude towards information technology, there are areas where there is significant concern, including the use of social media by terrorist groups, the impact of fake news on democracy, cyber warfare and the gap between rich and poor people. the full results of the study are available on the website.

Our work looks at the impact that information technology is having on business and organisations too. The Social Media for Business Performance program has created an archive of 1100 case studies focussed on how social media is being used in organisations for marketing and in other functions such as product development and design, operations and supply chain and employee participation. We also consider how social media can be integrated across organisations to improve performance and combined with new technological advances such as the internet of things and artificial intelligence.

The work that we do on the impact of the internet on society and organisations provides understanding of the context in which project management is being applied today. Rapid social and business related change is increasing demand for project managers and changing the nature of the work that they do.

The Project Management Institute forecasts that demand for project managers will dramatically increase during this decade. They estimate that 15.7 million new project management jobs will be created between 2010 and 2020 globally, with an economic impact of $18 trillion. Our work to understand the impact that information technology is having helps to explain this growth. Organisations are using projects as they change to meet the requirements of the changing world and to gain their own competitive advantage. Focus on the use of information technology for digital transformation will result in many new projects.

Governments are dealing with new challenges in many policy areas and projects are enabling their actions. In the US, construction of the border wall, changes in healthcare and new infrastructure projects will require large numbers of project managers.

While the number of projects and project managers is increasing we also wanted to understand whether the nature of the projects themselves was changing and to consider what this might mean for the role of the project manager.

Most students at the University of Waterloo participate in the Co-op program, spending work terms with employers within the field that they are studying. While they are with employers, students are expected to undertake online professional development courses that are provided by the university. One of these courses is in Project Management – reflecting the importance that the university attaches to project management knowledge for its students. Most co-op students are with employers in Canada but some are in other countries globally.

Student placement with their employers for their co-op term, while studying project management created an opportunity to undertake research on the project management activity within these organisations, and if the research can be continued from year to year, to gain understanding of the changing nature of project management in organisations.

Detailed results of the survey activity are provided elsewhere in this blog, but it is useful to consider some key results from the first year of the survey conduct, 2016. The survey is being conducted in 2017  and results will be available from that survey shortly.

The survey was completed in 98 organisations and comprised a broad cross section of the business and organisational community. It includes the public and private sector in a range of industries and in organisations of various sizes. The results suggest that project management is changing, its challenges are increasing and that the project manager’s job will be different.

Other surveys have reported rates of project success and factors that contribute to project success or failure. This survey also looked at these areas and has established a benchmark for future survey conduct. We will be able to see whether these are changing as project management changes in future years, as the project environment changes. We can see the rates of project manager certification which indicate that there are still many project managers without it. There are also many organisations that use no coherent methodology for their projects.

The area of most interest in the survey looks at how projects are changing. Most people who responded to the survey believe that projects are becoming more complex (55% vs 3 % who think they are getting less complex), larger (59% vs 5 % who think they are getting smaller), more strategically important (61% vs. 4 % who think they are less strategically important) and more likely to involve people in more than one country (43% vs 9% who think they are less international).

These results are important. The Project Management Institute believe that the demand for project managers is increasing strongly as a result of more project activity. That activity is strongly influenced by the rapidly changing world that we live in and our survey shows that the projects themselves are also changing, becoming more complex, bigger, more strategically important and global.

Recent changes that have been made to the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge and those that are planned to take affect in its next edition appear to be responding to these new realities. Three changes appear to do this. The creation of a chapter in PMBOK, in the most recent fifth edition, on Stakeholder Management acknowledges that this area is becoming more important. The new project environment will require more careful attention to stakeholder engagement. A large, complex, international project will usually have many stakeholders who will require management.

Planned changes for the next edition include more stress on the project management Talent Triangle, which emphasises that technical project management needs to be combined with Leadership and Strategic Business Management skills. Projects that are more complex, larger and more global and that are of significant strategic importance will require more general management skills.

Agile Project Management is also being added to the PMBOK later this year. Agile emphasises areas of project management that are especially relevant in projects with higher degrees of uncertainty. The business and organisational environment is changing rapidly. Information technology influenced change often involves higher degrees of uncertainty as organisations seek to gain competitive advantage through early adoption and novel technological applications.

These areas that the PMI are emphasising in changes to PMBOK, indicate how the role of the project manager is changing. This changing role is significantly influenced by the changes that are driven by information technology and which are expected to accelerate in the future. Our project management survey shows that change is happening rapidly today and suggests that the changes that are being made by the PMI are appropriate and will benefit the profession.

It is important to understand that project management is changing quickly. In a more slowly changing world projects were smaller, more stable and easier to manage. It is possible to suggest areas that will require more emphasis in the future. These are based on interpretation of our understanding of the changing world and our survey data on how projects are changing. Further analysis may modify this list:

  • Managing complexity
  • Managing uncertainty
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Managing the project team (which will often be bigger)
  • Using online project tools and managing virtual teams
  • Working with different cultures
  • Awareness of the impact of information technology on business and organisations
  • Awareness of the impact of information technology on people

The role of the project manager is changing, influenced by the changing nature of society and organisations. Awareness of the areas that will be more important in the future will allow the project management profession to prepare effectively and best contribute to project success.


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