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Project Management 2019

Are you prepared for the 5G project management revolution?

iStock / Getty Images Plus / metamorworks

Sylvia Lu

Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Digital panel, Senior 5G tech lead at u-blox, Advisory Board Member for UK5G and Board Director for CW (Cambridge Wireless)


Dr Cathy Mulligan

CTO GovTech Labs at UCL, Co-author of 5G Networks – driving digitalisation by Elsevier

If you ask the average project managers what’s making them lose sleep these days, it’s a good bet that the answer will be time and budget.

Their worries are justified; according to Standish Group’s CHAOS report, the chances of delivering big technology project successfully – on time, on budget, and with the desired technical objectives met, are roughly one in ten.

The failure cost is also high, estimated between 100 – 170% of the investment cost.

However, these worries are not stopping business leaders making decisions to embark on large-scale initiatives to implement 5G technologies – the next generation wireless technology that is expected to redefine parts of our economy and society.

Huge investment in 5G means more projects are needed to implement it

Globally, operators in the telecom industry are investing up to $1 trillion in 5G networks between 2018 and 2025, which accounts for 17% of operator mobile revenue, according to the GSMA.

There are 239 operators in 98 countries that are already actively investing in 5G, in the forms of trials and demonstrations, according to GSA.

The heavy investments bring opportunities to a huge number of new 5G projects globally, demonstrating the capabilities of the technology to meet new demands from a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, automotive, smart cities, gaming, consumers, retails, logistics and healthcare.

5G implementation projects will need to overcome multiple barriers

At the same time, it raises new issues for project and change managers. Previously the implementation of projects has mainly been enacted for operators – i.e. within one enterprise boundary.

While complex, such projects have been manageable with traditional project and change management techniques.

5G, however, demands that projects are not just complex but managed across multiple enterprise boundaries at the same time – this pushes such projects to be closer to the types of projects run in the construction industry.

Specifically, the new challenges that such collaboration between the telecoms industry and other sectors bring are multifaceted:

  • Bringing multi-sector stakeholders together and combining their resources effectively for the project increases complexity
  • Organisational culture differences can be exacerbated by joint projects – different requirements and appetites for control, co-ordination and innovation can cause project delivery issues
  • Language barriers – 5G is a globally developed product and as a result many parts of the industry speak different languages – miscommunication can be exacerbated by the large-scale complexity of 5G project implementation
  • Risk and security – when several enterprises co-invest in a project such as 5G, the issues of risk and security management add an extra layer of complexity – who is responsible for risks in what parts of the project? What are the security requirements for different stages – these can often differ between the systems that need to interact.

As an example, 5G-SMART (, a 10 million euro, large scale, European Commission project that focuses on exploring new use cases, business models and value created by 5G for the manufacturing industry.

The 5G-SMART project consortium goes beyond previous 5G initiatives by bringing together 16 leading industrial partners from nine European countries from the manufacturing sector, telecoms sector and world-class academic institutions to tackle the complex challenges of connectivity solutions for the factory of future to enable Industry 4.0.

5G is an exciting new opportunity but, as illustrated, requires some new aspects that may be unusual for the telecommunications industry and those that they now need to collaborate with.

The existing 5G testbed projects – such as the one in Worcestershire – have illustrated the benefits of working across corporate boundaries to successfully deliver on the promise of 5G.

These included developing a shared vision across the entire project – not just the operator and the vendors involved but also across the entire project delivery all the way to the factory floor.

Coordinating multi-sector stakeholders and project management teams is challenging

The management of multi-stakeholders was a key issue and required an increase in coordination between the different project management teams, as well as the introduction of an overall project manager responsible for final delivery.

In future 5G projects, assessing the key success factors for the overall delivery from all angles of the project and supply chain will be critical, as will partnership and collaboration across traditional enterprise boundaries.

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