More businesses are switching on to the power of projects to drive and deliver social and economic benefits. Applying project-led approaches to business-as-usual activity is helping organisations succeed.
The project profession adds £156.5 bn of gross value to the UK economy each year, analysis by Association for Project Management (APM) and PwC Research has found – more than construction, financial services, accommodation and food, and entertainment and recreation. In the past few months, it has also been reported that a project management shortage could cost the global economy $345 billion by 2030, with Europe among the most heavily impacted areas.
The economic value of projects is clear, yet many businesses have historically failed to give their project experts sufficient voice at a strategic level. This is more important than ever at a time when all organisations face common challenges of unprecedented scale. The climate emergency, the global pandemic and the post-Brexit operating environment have created a perfect storm for businesses when it comes to planning their medium and long-term strategies.
Against this complex and shifting backdrop, the rise in the “projectification” of work – applying project management methods and practices to routine tasks – is emerging as a path to social and economic success. Project management methods are being adopted more widely in business. There’s also growing awareness at management and leadership level of the “accidental project manager”: professionals who aren’t officially tasked with managing projects but who do so without necessarily realising it.
Approaches and methods that have long been used only by project specialists are proving their value and finding widespread adoption across numerous sectors. The future of work is projects.
In some ways, this should come as little surprise. Project management is, after all, about delivering in the face of change, or delivering change itself. This is no longer a niche requirement and more business leaders are acknowledging the value of applying project-led approaches more broadly. Understanding of what constitutes a project is also changing. More employees in a wide variety of business
functions are evaluating their work in terms of projects rather than “tasks”, with outputs, outcomes or benefits del ivered in line with agreed acceptance criteria, timescales and budgets.
Leaders who are considering a more project-led approach, or who are in the early stages of implementing one, should bear the following in mind:
- Allow projects the time they need. Establish a framework that will ensure employees take the time to gather and analyse business requirements of any project they’re working on. The key benefits and drivers must be understood, along with the delivery methods. This can be challenging in environments where projects are likely to have tight deadlines, so it’s important to ensure that managers don’t apply excessive pressure to embark on the project without a clear idea of the requirements, the business objectives and the benefits. Without these, any project risks wasting time and effort.
- Incorporate project management and delivery at board level. As organisations grow their portfolios of projects, there should be a seat at the top table for those responsible for delivering them. This may take the form of a chief project officer (CPO). Bringing more project management experience into the boardroom will ensure that projects form a critical part of strategic development – essential in today’s fast-changing environment. This view is reflected in the views of the project profession itself. APM’s latest Salary and Market Trends Survey asked respondents what they felt was the most important validation of their work. The results showed that having a voice at the table when it comes to defining their organisation’s strategy is most valued.
- Have control of your controls. In larger organisations, collecting actual costs and collating them in a format to allow comparison with project budgets may be handled by a dedicated team. In small and medium enterprises, the person leading the project might have to become involved in this process, so training may be required to help them minimise costs from outset and identify areas of overspend.
As projects move the business closer from present state to desired future state, upskilling staff and consolidating project knowledge will be vital. There are opportunities for employers to incorporate successful project delivery as an integral part of business strategy and invest in structures, training and qualifications for project specialists and accidental project managers alike.
Larger organisations may wish to consider establishing a dedicated project, programme or portfolio management office (PMO). PMOs contribute directly to performance improvements in productivity, customer satisfaction, projects under budget and ahead of schedule, and cost savings. High-performing companies have more capable PMOs and those who can afford to invest in their growth and development should do so. In smaller organisations where resources may be limited, it may not be feasible to establish a PMO. Instead, SME leaders should promote training that focuses on risk management, change management, time management, and communication and interpersonal skills.
As the chartered body for the project profession, APM recognises the need to support the skills that go beyond project management process alone and are fundamental to success. My advice to business leaders and employers is to establish an approach to learning and development that creates a progressive structure for project experts to enhance their competency and, ultimately, their outcomes. A formalised approach to learning will establish a common language, embed best practice across business functions and set a consistent benchmark for defining project success.
In a changing and challenging world, the project profession has never been more important. While the environment for delivery is complex, it’s clear that projects represent the future of work.
APM offers a range of qualifications and training to support the future of your business. Visit www.apm.org.uk/qualifications-and-training.