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Envisioning the Future – Trends, Developments and Strategies

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The future of Project Management will not be defined by the standards that have shaped the last 15-20 years, nor by the current status quo, but rather by the unfolding characteristics of the 21st century. The characteristics that are shaping the world in which we live, but also driving the business and project management landscape, are the following:

DACRI (sounding an awful lot like Daiquiri the drink) is the drink of Champion Project Managers! Being conscious of these ‘ingredients‘ will help you to better position yourself in this rapidly changing PM profession – and catch the tide to surf towards success! And one tip that I can’t stress enough is to stay ambitious and dream big, while also keeping in mind that you will never be perfectly prepared for each opportunity that comes your way – to quote Martin Luther:

“For truth and duty it is ever the fitting time; who waits until circumstances completely favor his undertaking, will never accomplish anything.”

Diversity

“Be curious, not judgmental” – Walt Whitman

We are living in an age of globalization, where the world has become “flat”; I would even emphasize “flatter than ever before” to expand on Thomas Freidman’s initial idea. Technology has given us wings to virtually soar across the world and interact with team members on different time zones. Thanks to this, online and virtual collaborations are becoming the norm. Project teams have become more global, managers must navigate a more diverse international environment with teams being composed not only of differences covering race, but also gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, education, background and much more.

One can say that we are working in a version of the matrix environment ‘on steroids’, where this diversity could be used to drive performance or to fuel petty politics. Diversity not only involves how people perceive themselves, but how they perceive others. Those perceptions affect their interactions and increase complexity. Therefore, diversity is a key component of human behavior that can lead to complexity in the business environment. A Project Manager’s success in this globalized world truly depends upon their ability to embrace diversity and harness its benefits rather than seeing it as a strict nuance. Project Managers without diversity awareness who must interact across organizational and cultural boundaries can quickly fall behind, which brings me to my first tip “Find a Mentor that Builds Bridges”.

 

Mentorship is about creating a trust-based partnership between two people (mentor/mentee) whereby a mentor shares with a mentee information about their own career path, as well as provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modelling. The objective of a mentor is to give honest feedback and to help the mentee to believe in themselves, while also challenging, guiding and providing encouragement. Choosing a mentor who has a track record of building bridges and fostering diversity can help young managers quickly progress in a diverse workplace, while creating an outlet for managers to ‘pass-the-baton’ of wisdom and lessons learned. Not to mention, mentoring is an integral aspect for enriching the succession planning in your organization as it encourages collaboration across different demographics and has great potential to create a healthy environment for diversity. My early career success has a lot to do with mentors and mentorship became a powerful personal development tool. In today’s hectic work life, that relationship can even be managed virtually or informally (over a cup of coffee or over Skype).

Ambiguity

“Processor speeds, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years”  – Moore’s Law

We are living in times of big data, and overflow of information, where clarity can take a back seat. In fact, business leaders are drowning in a sheer volume and variety of data. Recent headlines emphasize that 90% of the data in the world was produced in the last 2 years. Having the right information makes decisions easy; however an overflow of data leads to ambiguity and a more volatile climate than ever before.

The key question for project managers is how to take big data and transform it into information, knowledge and thereof into actionable solutions with a sense of wisdom to make better guided, sustainable and long-term decisions. This bringing me to my second tip “Leverage Technology to Create Collective Intelligence”The best way to make sense of big unstructured data sets is to tap into the collective intelligence. The observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, was that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future and as such the price of computing would drop appropriately. Moore’s Law has held strong for almost 50 years.

This has allowed companies who use software applications that manage their key business processes to save with mobile applications that cost a few dollars to a couple hundred dollars (nothing compared to a decade ago). Companies can use these apps to increase company performance. What Moore could not predict is the ability for his theory to collide with the Big Data to give rise to collective intelligence.

Collective intelligence has been around for a long time now brainstorming is best known example, but not necessarily the most efficient. What has evolved in collective intelligence is that combined with technology it has the power to create what has been described as a “global brain.”

Technology optimists like Thomas Malone from MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, points out that this trend will develop into powerful problem solving tool that will be feed humanity with solutions to what were once unbeatable problems. Collective intelligence is the ability for a group of people to solve complex problems together. An example of this type of thinking can be illustrated with the Goldcorp Challenge, where the CEO believed that a collaborative process could help the company with exploration efforts. And opened company information and processes to create a competition with a prize money was only a little over half a million dollars. The results were surprising where proposals cut two, maybe three years off the company’s exploration time. And the worth of this gold has so far exceeded $6 billion in value.

So it was a fantastic value for money investment (saved them 203 years in exploration time), and set a precedence of collective intelligence, which paved the way for empowering a collective and collaborative business approach.

Complexity

“All learning has an emotional base.” – Plato

More stakeholders, greater diversity, distributed teams, social media, new technology, and the need to do more with less, are some of the reasons why complexity has greater importance than ever before. The world is becoming more virtual, more global, and more complex, and thus project managers must be able to navigate this environment in order to be successful. A complex world leads to complex projects with structures of varying competencies and stakeholders (e.g., contractors, virtual, culturally diverse, outsourced teams), not to mention global constraints in the realms of the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental (PESTLE) factors.

 

With due diligence and judgment, project manager must establish a vision, mission and expected outcomes on a solid business case that is broad enough to be complete, yet simple enough to understand and become aligned. This brings me to the next tip “Understand the value of Soft Skills and develop your Emotional Quotient”. Today being a Manager is not only about control – but rather a boss must lead, inspire and motivate a team. Emotional intelligence (EI) is the foundation for success in this field. One simple definition of emotional intelligence is “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.” Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of emotional quotient. An important aspect of Emotional intelligence is not only how people perceive themselves, but how they perceive others. Those perceptions affect their interactions and increase project complexity. In The 1999 HBR article on “Managing Oneself” Peter Drucker speaks to the importance of, “better understanding yourself…not only your strengths and weaknesses but also your operating style, values and talents.”

Young people  who take the time to explore those factors that make up their EQ, to measure where they stand on the EQ scale, and to address those areas that need improvement are likely to be far more successful as leaders of people and organizations.

Rapidly Changing

 “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” Heraclitus said.

In 2015, the pace of change accelerated yet again, due to technological advancements and the level of global interconnectedness our society has changed and will continue to change. We are no longer living in the same society that has shaped the previous generation of managers. Rather, we are living in an ever-changing society where there are new and evolving risks, challenges and opportunities. In terms of challenges, we have seen Fortune 500 companies such as Blockbuster, Kodak and Countrywide fall behind because of their inability to focus on adapting to changes. Kodak, Blockbuster, and Nokia were at the pinnacle of their sector. Even, the founder of Kodak, George Eastman, was once the richest man in the world.

However, As Stephen Shapiro said “we can see that of the few certainties of today’s business environment is that it never stands still”, which brings me to the next tip Embrace Change because the Millennial is all about Change”.

To understand Millennials, it’s important to realize they are mostly “digital natives.” As Nick Skytland, a NASA project manager, explained digital natives are “the first generation to come of age fully immersed in digital technology.” We now live in a connected society where the modern norms of collaboration, connectivity and horizontal organizational structures are engrained in the working styles of the “digital natives”. For the first time in history, organizations are seeing five generations working amongst each other. Managing cooperation between generations in any organization can be an especially challenging task as Millennials clash with Generation X & Y and the Baby Boomers. Each generation has a different perspective as a result of historical events, social and cultural contexts and economic realities that have shaped their lives, perceptions and expectations. These differences can lead to intergenerational conflict. So how do we avoid conflict and spark cooperation?

Organizations can no longer function as hierarchies. Not to mention the rise of matrix organizations is adding another factor to add to the mix. Therefore, project teams of the future must be democratic and participative to succeed to keep their Millenials engaged, especially since approximately 60 percent of millennials globally exit their companies in under three years, with 87 percent of organizations reporting costs of up to US$25,000 to replace each lost employee, according to a 2013 survey by research firm Millennial Branding.

Interdependence

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” – Mother Teresa

In 1963 when Dr. Edward Lorenz had proposed the butterfly effect, the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that could alter the path of a tornado, would have been chuckled at. However, now more than ever this concept is applicable to the 21st century. The butterfly effects indicate that the world is a global, interconnected and perplexed system sensitive to occurrences of minor incidents that can lead to huge fluctuations and destabilization.

This idea was recently put to test when the world suffered through arguably the worst financial crisis in the history of mankind, which demonstrated our global interdependencies, but above all our sense of the fragility and dependence on our common humanity. During the financial crisis, those who were hit the hardest were young people. In Greece and in Spain youth unemployment rate rose above fifty percent. In the midst of this situation, I looked to opportunities to make a difference and applied my project management skills to volunteer initiatives as a volunteer Project Manager, for which I even won the IPMA Young Project Manager of the Year award, which brings me to my next tip “Go beyond your comfort zone and be a volunteer Project Manager”.

As Brian Tracy said “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” Why should you get involved as a volunteer? We all know volunteering is good for society and empowers community. In addition, federal US research finds unemployed individuals who volunteer are 27% more likely to find work than non-volunteers. This is compelling evidence showing a relationship between volunteering, employability and skills development.  Not only that but think of initiatives like TED and Wikipedia that are entirely community driven projects. I have been volunteering in student and community projects, because I believe deeply that we have a responsibility to positively shape the community in which we live.

Not only has this work allowed me to shape the community in which I live, but it has also given me the opportunity to lead large scale initiatives. This in turn, has helped me to hone my leadership, interpersonal development and expand my international networking, all while making a positive impact in the lives of others. To me this is a ‘win-win-win’ situation, which I encourage other young leaders to follow to see beyond their routine professional life and to practice the notion of “Volunteer Project Management”. It can be demanding at times, to balance professional, personal and volunteer obligations – but it is sure worth the ride.

Conclusion

Peter Drucker believed that the future must be created–day by day, person by person–rather than be left to chance or fate. Therefore, I hope that these tips allow you to prepare for the future and gear for a future-focused personal development mindset. And above all, when facing a societal crisis, the responsibility of a Project Manager “is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you”. This means to take charge of the energy around you and harness it to make yourself, and then society better. In this world of constant change, it’s up to you to take on the challenge and use the DACRI concepts to your advantage. Next time you have a challenging project to consider, have a DACRI and ask yourself the following 5 questions:

Diversity: How do I to build bridges to harness diversity? 

Ambiguity: How do I transform massive amounts of information into actionable solutions?

Complexity: How do I manage complex systems, stakeholders and processes to communicate interdependently?

Rapidly-Changing: How do I anticipate change and positively move towards innovation in my team in a time of changing business models and industry norms?

Interdependent: How do I harness global opportunities and challenges to create value?

 

- Author of this post

Certified P2 practitioner, Lean Six Sigma professional & strategic consultant (in BSC & EFQM techniques) combined with many years of experience leading projects for clients in Biotech & Pharma. He is deeply involved in the PM community as an International Correspondent for PM World Journal – regularly speaking at PM conferences, actively contributing to publications and enthusiastically sharing his experience with the next generation of project managers! In 2013 he received the prestigious International Project Management Association (IPMA) Young Project Manager of the Year Award for outstanding leadership and project management excellence, and since then he has been part of the yearly Global IPMA Jury to select future winners.

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