Why we must re-imagine the future of project management 

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With project management currently employing as estimated 2.13m people in the UK and contributing over £156.6bn to the UK economy, the profession is well positioned for growth.

However, to realise its potential, we must adapt to the technological change disrupting and dominating a range of industries.

Here David Thomson, head of external affairs at Association for Project Management shares his thoughts on what the industry will look like in the next decade.

That comes primarily in the form of AI, robotics and big data but it is also set against a changing backdrop from a number of cultural, societal and environmental shifts. These include climate change, sustainability, digital transformation, an ageing population, smarter cities, the delivery of better major public infrastructure and autonomous vehicles.

All of this means the project manager of tomorrow is going to look vastly different to the professional of today and the skills and knowledge required to thrive are changing fast.

The next generation in our profession cannot however be developed in a silo. We will only ensure we are the ‘change profession’ and attractive to businesses and organisations in a fast-moving 21st century if we listen and adapt to those working within the profession now as well as those looking for a career in this exciting profession.

Following our recent discussion paper – our Big Conversation launch initiative “Projecting the Future”, it can be clearly seen that there is a great opportunity ahead.

The world of project management is evolving and the diverse talent pool available is widening. However, with automation set to replace many low and middle-skilled roles – approximately 1.5 million workers in the UK are at a high risk of losing their jobs– economic growth will depend on businesses upskilling and reskilling their workforces from the top down, starting with the CEO and business leaders.

Based on feedback we have received already from within our profession, we can predict five key trends:

  1. The ‘projectification’ of work will gather pace, whether for training needs or digital implementation or in the production and development of the new and varied products, services or operating models heading our way.
  2. Project management skills will continue to be in great demand, but those in the profession must get better at demonstrating the unique and specific value and benefits they offer to the businesses and society they serve. There is also a need to challenge long-established stereotypes held about the profession held by others and to ensure our chartered profession plays a significant leadership role in the transformation of the economy and society.
  3. The upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution will be driven by technology, but it will also need project professionals to chart its course and show why we as professionals should have a seat at the top table to set strategies. Demographics will play a role too, with an ageing society meaning Government – a clear beneficiary of project management – will have to adapt with people working until later in their lives and predictions that an astonishing 10m people alive today in the UK can expect to live until 100.
  4. More project managers will be working to achieve chartership status – driven by a growing number of employers making this an essential requirement for projects. This means their skills will increasingly be sought after. Project expert Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez predicts senior business leaders will typically spend 60 percent of their time on projects by 2025.
  5. The environment in which we all work will become more uncertain and more complex and chaotic than ever before. This is where project management will come into its own – it is all about anticipating issues and planning for them whether seen or unforeseen. Project managers will exist in an even more challenging and dynamic atmosphere so they will need to become increasingly adept at testing and learning and being comfortable that many solutions will often arrive through failure.

Project management plays a pivotal role and is central to so many organisations, yet is still looked upon as a key operation in the background rather than the foreground. We need to rethink our approach to challenge and change these perceptions. The Association for Project Management – as part of our role as the chartered body for project management, we ask that those with a stake in what we do get involved with our ‘big conversation’ and join in with us through feedback, new ideas and learnings.

We can’t be complacent. There is now a growing call and requirement across all industries for lifelong learning and progression and we can be no different. Whether you have been a project manager for one year or 30 years, this is now a must to stay relevant.