Predictions for the Future

Predictions for the Future

This Story is part of a series.

  • Andreas Rieger
    Andreas Rieger Executive Director Internal Operations, IT & Project Management, designaffairs

How can we predict how project management will change over the next 10 years? Look into the past and extrapolate from that? Desk research? Read a book? Ask Elon Musk? For a variety of reasons, I don’t think any of those options are going to work. I operate in an environment of innovation and creativity – of doing things differently – so I should know. That’s where you find new beliefs, thoughts, and gut feelings.

Future assumption I: Automating project management

One interesting area is how project management may well become something like a Level 5 car, where the car doesn’t need a driver (project manager) at all. So, what are the chances of automation for the three main competence categories of project management?

Technical Competences

Chances of automation: 70%

Approach/Prerequisites: Projects generally follow the same principals – or at least there are limited variants as to how projects are conducted (e.g., realization of project, R&D project, organizational project – remember the project type matrix in Chapter 03 | Project Management: Potential Hazards). Today, a lot of project-relevant data is stored in different systems – people’s skills, levels, and rates, resource availabilities, historical project data, contact data, project-relevant documentation, timecards and time bookings, calendars, activities, policies, templates, etc. In future, I can see a system which connects all relevant information, interprets it, and automatically generates and configures variants of project approaches.

As a project manager, I will be offered system-generated suggestions I can pick from, which I will then be able to adjust, configure and optimize.

Personal and Social Competences

Chances of automation: 10%

How nice would it be if humans weren’t needed to manage projects at all? The whole area of PM would become obsolete. Since I do not see projects without people within the next 30 years, people just cannot be removed. Where people negotiate, motivate, communicate, and navigate difficulties, conflicts, and crises, I don’t see much room for automatization. As described earlier, I can imagine that a machine would be able to neutralize different opinions and expectations. It could perhaps identify alternatives more easily. And it could help in moderating between the contracted parties by telling them what was defined previously and what disbalances were caused.

Context Competences

Chances of automation: 20%

What is happening out there? On the one hand, we see a rising number of start-ups; on the other, we have a concentration of business due to mergers and acquisitions. The gap between small and large organizational units is getting greater and greater. Project management must be able to adapt to any kind of environment and project size by taking the relevant rules, laws, policies, cultures, process requirements, etc. into consideration.  Similar to Technical Competences, I can see robots taking care of some of the contextual aspects, such as the auto-generation of non-calculated efforts due to the field analysis and changes during the project, and self-adapting tools and processes based on strategic changes by the agency, the client, or even the solution itself.

Keep discussing what should be changed with the Project Management procedures you have in place.
Keep discussing what should be changed with the Project Management procedures you have in place.

Future assumption II: Drill instructor or laissez faire?

Another aspect to consider is the increasing need to properly manage the complexity of products, technology, processes, dependencies, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), etc. in projects. Recent developments have removed content responsibility from project managers and made them more like a coach or enabler of the specialists in their team. Is that the end game? I doubt it. People will always need leadership and direction. Imagine the army being a democratic organization – no way. I guess the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle – and it depends primarily on the maturity of your team too. The client relationship will play a big role too.

Businesses have a tendency not to care about the leadership type they want to define.

In most organizations, leadership is a bit of a mess and most managers have the freedom to manage their business the way they want to. From my point of view, this is a missed opportunity for enterprises to be much better. Since project managers are leaders too, here are my recommendations:

  • Everybody in the team should think about what kind of superhero they want to be. We are currently doing this with our clients to find out what kind of superhero their product or service should become.
  • From the very first moment, assign a deputy project manager – somebody you trust and are sure you can rely on to get the job done, even if you’re not with the team for days or even weeks.
  • Even if you’ve have handled many projects before, every project team deserves that you fight for their respect.
  • Sometimes waste time! Just sit with the team in the daily or weekly team meeting and let the time go by without following any agenda. If a project runs for months or years, it’s hard to tolerate the same repetitive structure over and over.
  • Try to transform every project manager into a businessperson too. Explain the context, educate the team to be ready for surprises, make them resilient, and develop their character and profile.
  • Establish rules and make sure the team follows the rules they have set – until the team agrees to change those rules.
  • There is no success without discipline. Be in time, do your homework, communicate properly, and on time.

Future assumption III: Education and work

Research suggests we’re going to need an awful lot more project managers within 10 years. These people will need to be educated and they’ll need to have the opportunity to gain the experience to become good, great, and outstanding project managers. As you know, learning is much easier and efficient when we are young. Here is my manifesto for what needs to happen (take note, Ministry of Education!):

  • Starting in the 7th grade, project management should become part of the school curriculum.
  • Teachers should learn about project management during their studies.
  • Universities should offer specific project-management courses, lectures, and classes.
  • Since project management can’t be learned by theory alone, students should get projects assigned to them to gain experience and knowledge. It might be a school party, a school sports day, a school play, school renovations – any kind of interdisciplinary project where their language/mathematical/economical/ethical skills are called upon and where they learn the value of bi-directional transfer between all the other subjects they are learning.
  • Companies should offer mandatory project-management training to their employees.

Thank you for reading this four-part reflection on the wonderful world of project management. Please feel free to send me your feedback:

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