Thought Leaders

Project Management And The Fourth Industrial Revolution

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4IR – the 4th Industrial Revolution. I expect many of you will have heard this term, as it refers to the technological and digital era we are experiencing now (first coined as far as I know in in 2016/2017 by Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum).

Hardly a LinkedIn article goes by without some mention of the impact technology such automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having, or will have, on the world and our jobs.

There is lots of scaremongering going on, IMHO, about how technology will replace jobs – predictions were that the other ‘IR’ would hugely impact jobs and these predictions didn’t wholly materialise. For reference, the first IR was steam and mechanical, the second IR was industrial, and the third was IT.

Talking of the World Economic Forum (WEF), in their Future of Jobs Report 2018 they actually predict a net gain in jobs in the 4IR. Phew! What they talk about is moving from ‘automation to augmentation”:

“…an approach where businesses look to utilize the automation of some job tasks to complement and enhance their human workforces’ comparative strengths…”

As I understand it, this means if automation is being used for routine tasks this frees people for more complex tasks like reasoning and decision making. Humans can still outperform machines in their cognitive abilities – at least for the time being!

Sticking with the WEF for a minute, their Future of Jobs report 2016 stated:

“65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist”

This is driven a lot by the 4IR in my view and the technologies that we don’t know – yet – will be needed. That’s exciting for my primary school son as it provides boundless (infinite?) opportunities – less exciting for the future of the project management profession – how can it compete with technologies that haven’t been invented yet? Also difficult, I imagine, for careers advisors!

I floated the need for considering the skills of a project manager and how the profession can attract the next generation of project managers in my previous article “The Project Management Chameleon”.

Since I wrote this article, I came across a really interesting report from the Project Management Institute (PMI): The Project Manager of the Future: Developing digital-age project management skills to thrive in disruptive times (2018), which had this great image in it about the top six digital-age skills for project delivery (page 5):

Is there anything you think is missing?

Personally speaking, I consider there are two omissions:

  1. Change Management skills – not change control – rather the people and behavioural skills associated with transformations
  2. Agile skills – both agile project management skills, and embedding an enterprise-wide culture of agility

I certainly hope the above may appeal to the next generation of project professionals – including my 9-year-old son (he certainly has an innovative mindset in the stuff he makes up)!

There is more hope! The Association for Project Management (APM) is already thinking about the future of our profession in the launch of their “Projecting the Future. A Big Conversation about the Future of the Project Profession”.

The APM set out six key questions for the future of the profession, a vision for how the profession might change, and the questions that they want to explore with us all. Viz:

  1. What role should the project profession play in business and society over the next decade?
  2. What will project management look like in the future?
  3. What skills and mindsets will be needed by project professionals in the future?
  4. How should we manage the drivers of change?
  5. What is the future role of APM?
  6. Who else will help us shape change?

I have submitted my views to the above questions, and so here is my two-penneth – do you agree/disagree with me?

  1. What role should the project profession play in business and society over the next decade?

We don’t know what the future will hold, yet what we do know is that change is omnipresent – and therefore the need for project management is only going to increase.

We’re in the grip of the 4th industrial revolution (4IR) and there is a big focus on technical skills – yet organisations still need effective project management to deliver the digital transformation project.

  1. What will project management look like in the future?

If we believe the reports about the role of technology such as automation on jobs, then a lot of ‘routine’ and ‘repetitive’ project activities (reporting, data collection and analysis, for example) may be no longer be the domain of the project professional.

Instead, this digital revolution may ‘liberate’ the profession to focus on more high-value, and more ‘human’ tasks such as cognitive reasoning, problem solving. 

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2018 calls this “from automation to augmentation”. For the time being, humans still possess a competitive advantage over AI and automation in their cognitive abilities!

  1. What skills and mindsets will be needed by project professionals in the future?

To fully function in the 4IR, the profession needs to build on its soft skills. Project Management is still too focussed on the ‘hard’ technical skills (risk, planning etc.) – which is fine – but fundamentally, people run projects. We’ve always known the importance of the ‘soft skills’ – the digital revolution will make this even more important.

I’m passionate about attracting the next generation of project professionals. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2016 stated “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist”.

Therefore, why would anyone enter the project profession when there are ‘more exciting jobs to be had that don’t exist yet’? How do we overcome a perceived demographic of the profession being ‘pale, male and stale’? To answer this comes down to skills and mindsets…

Ian Clarkson
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