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Are we on the brink of a revolution in project management?

Blog posted by: Ian Clarkson, 21 Oct 2021.

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There is a ‘perfect storm’ brewing in the project profession. Research shows there’s a global shortage of project management professionals, the pace of change is increasing (in case you hadn’t noticed), demand for project managers is on the rise, and some say (not me) that project management isn’t as exciting as other professions.

Are we in danger of not being able to deliver on the changes we need as organisations and, ultimately, a society because we don’t have enough project professionals? Don’t we need a revolution?

In a previous blog I discussed how we should flip project management on its head and put more emphasis on the soft skills as a way to attract the next generation of project professionals. I asked in this blog “are you bold enough to flip it?”.

I ask this question again here, this time looking at the changing demands of the workforce, and how the new/younger workforce has different expectations from our profession than, maybe, a generation ago. This different expectation fundamentally impacts our ability to attract (and retain) the future project professionals we need.

The rest of this blog discusses that the changing demands of the workforce (in particular the next generation) put huge emphasis on their work having purpose. I first came across this in the book It’s the Manager, by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter, Gallup, and it really resonated with me. Their findings apply just as much to projects as they do to organisations. Consider the below (from It’s the Manager) about what has changed in the workplace:

  • Today’s workforce has far more racial, cultural and gender diversity than prior generations
  • Remote working continues to increase
  • Most workplaces are now matrixed
  • Digitisation is radically changing the nature of work
  • Mobile technology is blurring work and life
  • The most desired perk is workplace flexibility

Aren’t these also relevant to projects?

As a result of this changing workplace, Clifton and Harter make the following statement:

"The new workforce wants their work to have deep mission and purpose. They don’t want old-style command-and-control bosses. They want coaches who inspire them, communicate with them and develop their strengths."

If we want to attract the next generation of project professionals who want their work to have deep mission and purpose, then I contend we need a revolution whereby project managers become coaches who inspire their teams, communicate with them, and develop their strengths.

What if we don’t have a revolution? Then there is a high risk we will not inspire the next generation, and we will not have enough project professionals to go round. According the APM Salary and Market Trends Survey 2021, this risk is real:

  • More than 1 in 4 people (26 per cent) are likely to change employer in the next year
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of people are not completely satisfied with their career in project management

So how do we project professionals (and let’s include sponsors and senior responsible owners (SROs) in the mix) meet these expectations on our projects? Fortunately, It’s the Manager gives us an answer; five traits of great managers:

  1. Inspiring teams to get exceptional work done
  2. Setting goals and arranging resources for the team to excel
  3. Influencing others to act; pushing through adversity and resistance
  4. Building committed teams with deep bonds
  5. Taking an analytical approach to strategy and decision-making

I accept it is a provocative statement to say we need a ‘revolution’, and I know lots of people will say they already fit this new mould. But I’m not looking at the ‘micro’ level and at individuals – I’m speaking to the industry as a whole and giving us all a ‘call to action’.

Inspiring the next generation of project professionals is something I’m particularly passionate about, and that’s why QA is incredibly proud to be sponsoring the Young Project Professional of the Year 2021 at the APM Awards.

It’s incumbent on all of us to make sure we have enough capacity and capability to meet the future needs of the profession. And this starts with the project manager.

Celebrate the project profession with us at the APM Project Management Awards on 15 November 2021.

About the Author

Ian Clarkson

Ian is a highly experienced consultant, author, trainer and speaker with over 20 years’ experience in project management, and programme management (PPM), organisational change and learning – working with organisations in all sectors.

Ian was an author of the APM Body of Knowledge (BoK) 6, a member of the Reference Group for PRINCE2 6th Edition, and a member of the Global Review Group for MSP 5th Edition. Ian was on the technical advisory board for the development of the APM Higher Apprenticeship in Project Management, and also for the update to the APM suite of certifications for BoK 6. Ian is a regular contributor for Project Manager Today Magazine, and APM blogs, and the APM Projecting the Future initiative.

Ian is passionate about helping organisations improve PPM delivery, and encouraging the next generation of PPM professionals. When he’s not helping organisations transform Ian reads the latest articles and research on the topic. Maybe he should just get out more instead!


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