“It is increasingly apparent that many organisations can only survive and thrive by ensuring their projects can adapt quickly to new circumstances”
In turbulent times, the success of organisations will depend on putting adaptability at the heart of project planning and delivery.
Project management has long been an overlooked profession, associated mainly with construction and engineering. But this is changing as the economic contribution of the profession becomes clear.
Research by Association for Project Management (APM) and PwC, published in the 2019 report The Golden Thread, found that project-related work generates £156.5 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy annually, and employs 2.13 million full-time equivalent workers. A further report published in 2020 found that project-related work among SMEs, which represent 99 per cent of all UK businesses, contributes between £79-£94 billion of GVA each year. This is to say nothing of the benefits successful projects create for businesses and communities.
Project managers must embrace new skills and mindsets to ensure adaptability is at the heart of any project’s culture. APM’s latest Salary and Market Trends Survey found that developing the skills needed for the future workplace was the most significant challenge project professionals anticipated in the next five years. A subsequent survey asked project professionals what skills will be most important for them to develop in the post-Covid world.
Since project professionals are at the forefront of planning and delivering change to achieve social and economic benefits, businesses that prioritise the development of these skills within their project teams will have a distinct advantage.
The sheer economic power of this profession means skills development is a matter of significance, not only for project practitioners but for everyone with a stake in the performance of a business, a public service, or local or national government.
It is also increasingly apparent that many organisations can only survive and thrive by ensuring their projects can adapt quickly to new circumstances – for example, using digital communication delivery for remote work to bind teams together. One clear lesson from the Covid-19 crisis is that communication has become increasingly intertwined with technology and digital skills, elevating the importance of digital know-how in this new world.
Change on a cultural level
The disruption of a global pandemic is a significant impediment to business. This is not the only challenge organisations face, however. Ongoing issues such as digital transformation and the climate crisis mean workplaces are likely to continue changing at an accelerated pace.
New skills alone will not be enough to tackle these challenges. A shift in attitudes and behaviours is also required. Organisations in the public, private and third sectors must examine their cultures and consider specific changes that will enhance the conception, management and delivery of projects.
Diversity is rightly valued in most modern workplaces, including those within the project profession. APM’s latest Salary and Market Trends Survey found that, when asked how diverse the profession is on a scale from zero to 10, from “not at all” to “completely”, 46 per cent of respondents rated it as seven or higher. When asked how inclusive the profession is, 51 per cent of respondents rated it as seven or higher. There is a need, however, to address more than characteristics such as race and gender. Diversity must be embedded into how people think. Workplaces planning for the future must reflect on what “thinking differently” really means, so that leaders and employees can embrace changes and innovations that will support success.
The increasing recognition of the economic and social value of projects risks putting pressure on practitioners’ shoulders if not carefully managed. APM’s most recent survey of project professionals shows that 65 per cent have experienced stress as a result of their main project. Organisations that encourage a culture of resilience will be more inclined to take the bold steps necessary to overcome unexpected situations.
The government’s target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions has placed an onus on businesses to examine their own carbon footprints. Projects will play a leading role in this, with “net negative” rather than net zero rapidly becoming an accepted benchmark. Those tasked with delivering the projects that will help organisations meet their targets must be inspired and empowered to make environmental sustainability a priority.
In recent months we have seen the world transform at an astonishing pace. Skills and cultural elements that support the delivery of adaptable projects will be key to creating future workplaces that survive and thrive.
APM’s Projecting the Future series is a big conversation with project professionals, decision-makers, business leaders and others with a stake in successful projects. Our discussion papers share insights on the challenges and opportunities affecting our world, including the future of work and skills. Visit www.apm.org.uk/projecting-the-future/ to read the papers and join the discussion