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Project Management Priorities: Meeting 6 Big Challenges of a Fast-changing World

Project Management Priorities: Meeting 6 Big Challenges of a Fast-changing World

As Project Managers, we must adapt ourselves to the fast-changing world around us. But what exactly do we need to adapt to? What are our priorities in the coming years?

The Project Management profession has always been and will continue to be at the heart of creating change and building the future. And we know that there are some significant trends in PM, like adaptability, virtual teams, and the impact of new software tools.

I tackled project management trends in our article: What’s New? Project Management Trends: Your 2020 Update.

Project Management Trends: A Fresh Look

WARNING: this article contains a mixture of factual assessment and political opinion. You are free to disagree, but if you plan to take offense… You are excused. Please leave now.

The Bigger Picture

Project Management may be a big eco-system in its own right. But it sits within the widest human context: our global society and economy.

So, in this article, I want to examine the biggest trends that will impact our priorities as Project Managers. These factors will influence both the kinds of projects we are called upon to do and the way we will do them, to optimize project performance.

My Six Fast-changing World Trends

Project Management Priorities: Meeting 6 Big Challenges of a Fast-changing World

Here is my list if the six global trends that will have a profound influence on what projects we do over the coming years, how we do them, and the impacts they will have.

  1. Coronavirus and Other Pandemics
  2. Disruptive Global Climate Change
  3. Fights for Rights
  4. Globalization and Mega Projects
  5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  6. Smart Environments

Have I put these in any order?

None that I can justify. But it would be disingenuous of me to say there is no order here. It isn’t an order of importance. And neither is it a sequence of urgency. But it is a subjective order that combines the two in some way that I cannot justify. I haven’t done it in any auditable way. It just feels right to me. If you would place them in a different order, I’m fine with that.

Coronavirus and Other Pandemics

  • December 2019… minor indications, but nothing in the news
  • January 2020… small news items about a town in China
  • February 2020… Palpable concern about a new disease
  • March 2020… Many countries enact lockdowns and shieling to protect people and health services

This has been the very definition of a fast-changing world.

But, it’s worse…

Here’s a scary thought to start off with. Coronavirus is bad. But there are many coronaviruses in the wild.

And, for all the terrible losses people have suffered, the death rate due to COVID-19 does not compare with that of many other diseases we know of.

So, I think we will see three big impacts that we need to be mindful of:

  1. Project Management in a Locked-down, isolated world
  2. Recovery from Pandemic
  3. Preparedness for the next one

Project Management in a Locked-down, Isolated World

Some Project Managers work at the front line of their organizations. Some, indeed, work at the frontline of COVID response, delivering projects linked, for example, to:

  • Tracking, tracing, and isolating people with COVID
  • Rolling out vaccines
  • Providing logistical support to communities in need

And some Project Managers need to be on site, for projects like major civil construction.

But I would also guess that a large number of Project Managers and their team-members work in business projects and have been able (or forced) to work from home-based offices.

This has accelerated our use of virtual teams, and the software tools that support them. Check-out our article on virtual teams, Managing Remote Teams: How to Meet the Challenges.

Recovery from Pandemic

We have already tackled in detail the Project Management issues related to Emerging from Lockdown: Project Management in the Post-COVID World.

But the world’s nations and communities will be emerging from this pandemic at some point (soon, we hope). So, there will be new projects, and maybe new ways of working, that arise as your country starts its recovery.

Preparedness for the next one

Crucially, we need to be launching a raft of projects that will help our home countries and the world as a whole, to prepare for next time.

This Coronavirus pandemic was not wholly unexpected. For example, back in 2014, Bill Gates spoke at TED. The title of his talk was ‘The Next Outbreak: We’re not Ready’. And, what outbreak was he speaking about? Yup… Coronavirus.

So, the world’s leaders have no excuse. We must prepare for the next one… and it may be far worse than this one. And that means the world will need project managers to co-ordinate and lead these efforts.

Fast-changing World: Learn More

Disruptive Global Climate Change

The changes to the global climate are an existential threat to humanity. When we have dealt with the Urgent threat that is COVID, we must rapidly turn our attention to the bigger, more important threat of disruptive climate change.

I know there are still skeptics. But changes are happening, whatever your social or political assessment may be about where the blame lies. And the impacts will be devastating to huge communities and, possibly, to every human being on the planet.

And there is no other planet, by the way. For the foreseeable future, this is our only home, so when we pole it and break the thermostat, we need to bear the consequences.

Fast-changing World Climate

How pressing is this? It’s hard to be certain of the details, but the broad picture that has emerged from scientific research around the world is stark. The shape of ecosystems around the world and the structure of regional climates will be very different in 2099 to those in 1999. And they would be unrecognisable to someone in 1899.

Those 200 years. Is that really a fast-changing world? Yes it is – especially if you define pace of change by our ability to adapt to it. If we do nothing, the homes of between 10 and 20% of the global population today will be underwater by the end of the century. And their children and grandchildren will be refugees, looking for somewhere to live.

Addressing Climate Change

The scope of projects available to you to work on in this area is vast. If you feel passionate about this topics, project opportunities range across;

  • IT projects to optimize energy use, emissions, supply chains, raw material usage and more
  • Small and medium scale energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage projects
  • New energy technologies like Hydrogen reforming, Sodium ion batteries and many, many more
  • Potential future mega projects that may take on global scale geo-engineering

The Project Management Organizations

The Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK is now campaigning on this issue and I salute them for it. But, over in the US, the Project Management Institute (PMI) has done little more than identify Climate Crisis as one of five 2021 ‘Megatrends’ and devote one page of their website to a superficial analysis.

As far as I can tell, neither the International Association of Project Managers (IAPM) nor the International Project Management Association (IPMA) are doing any more than publishing blogs on the topic.

We need to start thinking and acting differently. We need to develop new methodologies and find better ways to deliver projects.

Fast-changing World: Learn More

Fights for Rights

The range of issues this heading covers ranges from the Democracy movements in many autocratic nations to Black Lives Matter to Gay Pride. Globally, there are plenty of rights that societies, groups, and nations trample upon daily.

And people everywhere want equality of opportunity for themselves and their families. And, I for one, can see no argument against them having it.

I have the freedom to earn money and then spend it as I choose. And I ha suffered little discrimination and none that has affected the choices I have been able to make. But I recognize and appreciate the privilege that this represents.

And this is not just about economic opportunity, but life expectancies. The Coronavirus discriminates. Poorer people and people with impoverished opportunities and life chances are dying in greater numbers than members of affluent, majority communities.

Our projects need to address these inequalities

Organizations – both public and private need to make a stand and actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. And they must launch projects to do so.

And every right-thinking Project manager must place these matters at the forefront of their thinking, in:

  • recruitment
  • role-allocation
  • career and professional development
  • promotion

In its new PMP syllabus, the PMI includes (Domain I, Task 2): ‘support diversity and inclusion.

This Goes Beyond the More Familiar Issues

I am very taken by the work that the APM has commissioned in the UK on two particular topics:

  1. Modern-day Slavery
  2. Mental Health

These highlight well how, even a society that may pride itself on its democratic ideals and equality legislation can still have a lot to do. And no, by the way, I am not implying that ideals and legislation are enough. Here in the UK, they are plainly not.

Fast-changing World: Learn More

Globalization and Mega Projects

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is, arguably, the biggest program of megaprojects humanity has ever conceived. But, for me, it is just one (very big) example of the shift in the world order that is underway.

The United States has undergone and is still in the grip of a major political shift and a battle for political control that could further redefine its role in the world. The pendulum swung back towards the Status Quo ante of 2015, in November 2020. But that may not be a permanent re-set. No-on knows.

And new nations are emerging as global players.

There are the four ‘top-tier contenders’ the BRIC countries of:

  • Brazil
  • Russia
  • India
  • China

But we also see the four insurgent ‘MINT’ economies of:

  • Mexico
  • Indonesia
  • Nigeria
  • Turkey

What will babe the next handy acronym, listing new global powers?

The Impacts of the Fast-changing World Economy on Project managers

I think the biggest impacts will be on:

  • where the best Project management jobs are
  • where the new cadre of international Project Managers come from
  • the languages and cultures of projects

Mega Projects get Bigger and Bigger

Megaprojects are large-scale, complex ventures that typically cost $1 billion or more, take many years to develop and build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people.

The Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management
Edited by Bent Flyvbjerg

Here is an arena that is growing daily. There are more and bigger mega projects than ever before. While not every Project Manager will aspire to lead these, every mega project will need a project leader. So there are a wealth of opportunities for anyone who cares to get involved.

Fast-changing World: Learn More

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Thinking machines are truly on our horizon. Beyond the automation of routine tasks, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can select and interrogate vast data sets and make decisions. And, often, these decisions are often more robust than those which our brains and societies can make.

But, equally, AI can make decisions so fast that we cannot always control them. We have seen this already in AI controlled securities trading. Following an algorithm too fast can lead to runaway events.

So, AI does not just offer technical opportunities and the chance of exciting project work. Nor just a set of tools to make projects more efficient and effective. No, they also pose deep societal and ethical problems. Yet, frankly, I feel we are poorly equipped to evaluate them – let alone solve them.

It is serious concern that the deepest explorations of some of the issues concerned that most of us may have been exposed to come from… blockbuster Hollywood movies.

And, of course, AI can only take as a starting point what we give it. So, we already read about serious bias in the programming and learning data fed to AI systems. These are creating systematic racial and gender biases in the way some AIs work. This could set back the fights for rights significantly.

Fast-changing World: Learn More

Smart Environments

AI may be an enabler, but I think it worth separating out the big impacts it can have on our lives in specific ways:

  • Smarter cities
  • The Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Deep Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • and other forms of disruptive technology

Together, these will mean that we will increasingly interact with our environments in new ways. I do not think it is hyperbole to speak of a deep integration between mind and technology.

Inevitably, this means two things:

  1. Large Scale Projects
    Bringing these technologies together to create smart environments that allow people to live and work in new and more sustainable ways
  2. Smart Project Technology
    Using these technologies to deliver our projects in new and more sustainable ways

Fast-changing World: Learn More

What are the Big Challenges You See in our Fast-changing World?

I will over to read your assessment in the comments below, and will, of course respond to any contributions.

A word of caution, though…

This article does contain opinions that are, in truth, political. And, you are free to express your opinions too.

However, I have been careful to express my opinions in a way that is respectful. I expect you to do so too.

I will feel free to not publish anything that I consider to fall short of this ideal. This is not a forum for rants, bile, nor hate.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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