Project managers can survive and thrive in the 4IR

Written by Debbie Dore on 16 October 2019 in Features
Features

The fourth industrial revolution is shaking up project management. Debbie Dore reveals the skills you’ll need to navigate the new digital age.

Reading time: 3 minutes

Change is coming. We’re experiencing the early stages of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and technologies such as machine learning, automation, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and the internet of things are opening up a wealth of new possibilities for the workplace.

In fact, they’re completely reshaping it. With project professionals often at the sharp end of delivering change, it’s important that the profession is flexible and adaptive. This technological revolution will drive the evolution of the project profession in the years ahead and the emergence of what we have dubbed project management 4.0.

In every sector, project professionals will be tasked with delivering the future and realising the benefits promised by new technologies. Whether it is implementing digital transformation programmes in business, digitising key government services, or building technology-enabled infrastructure – project professionals will have a key role.

These new technologies bring risks and potential rewards along with them. Around 35% of jobs could be at high risk of disruption thanks to automation, and the Bank of England predicts that automation could result in the loss of as many as 15 million jobs over the next decade. Globally, reports have suggested it could be 800 million.

But such forecasts are far from certain. As eye-catching as they are, they can risk overshadowing the enormous upsides and opportunities created by 4IR technologies.

The automation of standard tasks will generate huge productivity gains, which could add billions of pounds to the UK economy.

New jobs and new companies will be created, and they could bring richer, more rewarding and engaging roles, oriented around creativity and human relationships, rather than the execution of repetitive tasks.

Project managers are in a good position to take advantage of this brave new world of work

Fortunately, project managers are in a good position to take advantage of this brave new world of work, as management, planning and advisory skills are among those least at risk from automation, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The profession is also feeling positive about its future – with our latest Salary and Market Trends Survey revealing that 65% believe the profession will be enhanced over the next five years.

With that in mind, here’s how we think project managers can make the most of 4IR.

Automate as many processes as possible

Automation tools can be used to drastically cut the time project managers spend managing budgets, organising workflows and generating reports.

By pulling data into one place and having it update in real time, project managers will have a holistic view of the project at any one time, allowing them to make better decisions.

Be more people-focused

With repetitive tasks taken care of by technology, project managers are freed up to do valuable, people-focused work.

For example, project managers can work more closely with business leaders to deliver strategic objectives, build strong relationships across the organisation and work with stakeholders to ensure the project progresses smoothly and teams can hit the ground running once it’s complete.

Become a valued member of the leadership team

As digital transformation and constant, iterative improvements become the norm in many workplaces, senior project managers have the opportunity to step up and become as important as other C-suite members.

Chief project officer and chief product officer are new roles that have been created by several organisations in recent years. I believe we will see this role become prevalent over the next decade or two.

Keep learning

Increased globalisation and more diverse workforces mean that project managers will be required to manage shifts in flexible arrangements – including virtual workforces.



Organisations will require a mix of traditional business skills such as leadership and financial management, but they’ll also be looking for technical, digital and risk/opportunity skills too.

To ensure our profession is at the vanguard of new thinking, we’ve recently launched our own debate about what the project profession needs to think and do to address future challenges.

Entitled Projecting the Future, it’s a ‘big conversation’ that we’re leading throughout 2019 and we encourage you to get involved.

It’s fair to say, however, that the project professional of the future will require a diverse and flexible skillset to be able to cope with future challenges.

The good news is that the project profession is set to become a more permanent – and more valued – part of the business, so it is well worth investing in professional development to stay relevant.

 

About the author

Debbie Dore is chief executive at apm.org.uk

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