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Home » Project management » Time to embrace new ways of working

Sunil Prashara

President and Chief Executive Officer, PMI

The last several decades have seen the emergence of a project-based approach to everything from manufacturing and construction to software and medical devices.

Driven by technological advances in such areas as automation and artificial intelligence, we can see project-based approaches demonstrated by organisations as diverse as music streaming pioneer, Spotify, and global electronics giant, Haier, and in enabling the gig-driven unicorns like, Lyft, Uber, TaskRabbit, and Airbnb.

These are the world’s new ways of working. Here at PMI, we recognise that this integration of strategy and execution­, physical and digital approaches, and speed and precision is taking hold in broader, more sophisticated ways.

More and more, work is organised around a series of defined tasks and workers are being organised accordingly. They are grouped – and regrouped as needed – according to the knowledge, experience, and capabilities they bring to specific projects. Enterprises, organisations, and governments of all sizes, and in all sectors, are rethinking how work gets done.

Teams are built for tasks and must be agile

Esteemed thought leader, Roger Martin, one of the world’s top management thinkers, has called this ‘projectisation.’ Executive Antonio-Nieto Rodriguez, whose resume spans GlaxoSmithKline, BNP Paribas Fortis, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, describes this as ‘The Project Revolution’ in an incisive book published earlier this year. Both Martin and Rodriguez are describing a powerful organisational/institutional/enterprise paradigm shift.

What Martin, Rodriguez, and progressive leaders recognise is that the disruptive impact of new technology has rendered formerly best-in-class practices too slow and static; that traditional hierarchies can now be fatal to an operation; and that next-generation knowledge workers increasingly are less interested in lifetime employment (itself an anachronism) than in fulfilling, engaging assignments that allow them to build skills and experiences they can take anywhere.

A flexible working approach may come with its own set of challenges

This shift in approach is not without challenges for organisations. How do they best mesh the efficiency of linear systems with the agility demanded by digital processes? What are the most important skills to enable success? Which longstanding assumptions and ‘best practices’ will need to be shelved – and what new rules should be embraced in their stead?

So how do other organisations embrace this new project-based global economy and structure themselves accordingly?

  • Leadership: Managing everything from big organisations to small teams will require new perspective and insight, as expectations of stakeholders on all sides shift and intensify.
  • Organisational structure: As standard systems give way to more creative and varied processes, the range of structures and how best to operate within them will diversify — leading to a wider range of challenges and greater opportunities.
  • Transformation: Moving from one system to another is never easy, yet is increasingly required. Making these shifts successfully, efficiently, and fluidly will determine success… or something less.
  • Careers: Skill-building has long been an imperative, but the ongoing growth required by our new age puts new pressure on individuals to guide themselves. Lifelong learning systems need to be more deeply embedded in the structure and practice of work in the years ahead.

Flexible working offers freedom to leaders within organisations

While these new ways of working raise challenges, they also offer liberation. Once leaders start thinking of their entire organisation as a series or a portfolio of projects that deliver value to stakeholders, they have much more flexibility in how they hire, train, assign, schedule, understand, and retain the workforce – for today AND tomorrow.

There are already numerous examples of how ‘projects’ deliver value. Both operational teams and manufacturing teams are largely structured around taking products to market. Law firms are structured around cases. Consulting firms are structured around client engagements. Advertising agencies bring the right combination of talent together to craft winning campaigns.

Operating in a global project-based economy requires new openness, new structures, and new skills. These specifics are something that PMI – where I have the privilege of serving as President and CEO – is dedicated to providing to its three million global stakeholders and the rapidly growing ranks of project professionals everywhere.

Many organisations are increasingly looking to the project manager as the specialist who can deploy global technologies to help the company move faster. And, with the state of flux we see today and change in organisations, it means more strategic responsibility and even more operational responsibility for the project manager.

These new ways of working offer rich potential, as we optimise and extend the amazing achievements that technological advances have put at our fingertips. Let’s embrace that potential and take full advantage of all that projectisation offers to our society. Yes, it is a revolution – and PMI is proud to be leading it.

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