Sunil Prashara, President and CEO of Project Management Institute (PMI), describes his vision of the new work ecosystem.
The world has entered uncharted waters: Covid-19 has altered everything. Teams are now virtual to minimise physical interactions. Organisations are pivoting their products and services to meet changing customer needs. Engineering companies and the fashion industry have switched their focus to manufacturing ventilators and PPE. Retailers have shifted online. Media owners have re-imagined content suitable for people stuck at home, including education, fitness, well-being and entertainment.
But when the pandemic ends, this constant change will only continue. There will be no “new normal”.
There is nothing new about change, of course. The workplace has for many years been undergoing disruption, much of it driven by technology. It is reshaping the very nature of work – driving the growth of The Project Economy, a global shift in which the principal way we create and transfer value is through projects. In response, organisations are changing their core business models and growing more nimble and “gymnastic”, capable of pivoting quickly to meet changing demands. Employees are embarking on lifelong learning, as they seek to deliver financial, business and societal value streams.
According to PMI’s Tomorrow’s Teams Today report, more than half of all organisations are reorganising their activities around projects and programmes. And as organisations migrate to a virtual workplace, projects are becoming increasingly complex.
This constant change provides opportunities as well as risks. To prosper in a virtual world, organisations must rethink how teams get things done and must have the capacity to change direction rapidly.
Develop new skills
As more teams were forced to move to a virtual work environment overnight in recent months, organisations and individuals had to establish new ways of working together effectively, even when physically apart. Part of this involved developing different “power” skills, including greater communication, emotional intelligence and empathy, to make up for the difficulties that online communication causes.
Through virtual teaming, the structure of dialogue among colleagues changes profoundly. Teams are no longer coming together in conference rooms for huddles, in which everyone can talk at the same time. There is now a need for discipline and team members must talk in turn. Body language – which once gave us social cues to understand how our team members react to certain things – is now often hidden, meaning misunderstandings can occur more often.
When new opportunities and problems arise, you must be able to think of new ways to address them, while also questioning existing assumptions about what is possible and what may work best for the given situation.
Innovating in a virtual setting can raise a new set of challenges without the immediate stimulus of working in the same physical space as others. It’s important to create a shared virtual work environment – much like you would have in the office – to foster “collisions” that spark fresh thinking and greater collaboration.
Leaders will need to recognise this and take the necessary steps to enable teams to maintain a creative and problem-solving mindset. This is a skill that must be actively developed by organisations, so that teams can challenge conventional thinking, question the status quo, and propose innovative ways to look at new and old situations.
It’s also important to continue to listen to your customers. Innovation and customer needs go hand in hand. For virtual team members, the voice of the customer serves as the centre of gravity, the common purpose that anchors and unites all. High-performance teams will build customer feedback into their project workflows. They know that customer-centricity is the essential ingredient keeping the team focused on delivering meaningful value.
Use technology to enable people
Most executive leaders understand the importance of emerging technology. In PMI’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession report Ahead of the Curve: Forging a Future-Focused Culture, senior executives said they expected to make the most considerable investments over the next three to five years in technology advancements (49 per cent) and digitalisation (44 per cent).
Technology represents enormous opportunities for businesses focused on developing new products and services. But it can also help teams overcome the problems that working online creates. For example, online teams may face problems like low engagement if they perceive that their autonomy and freedom to think creatively has decreased. As a solution, technology can help by building comradery around a shared vision or goal despite physical distance.
Technology has made it easier to work across borders by connecting more time zones, countries, languages and cultures than ever before. With these tools to support distributed teams and new tools such as AI automating mundane or routine tasks, teams can focus on the more important work. In fact, a 2019 survey by Globalization Partners reported that 46 per cent of global workers interact with team members in another country every day.
Disruptive technologies can also enable businesses to leapfrog competitors. But these technologies are only as smart as the people behind them. While project professionals must embrace how artificial intelligence and game-changing tools can empower them for the future, they must also have the training, processes and talent to get the job done right.
It’s a project leader’s world
Because change is constant, no one can predict the future. Instead we need to be extremely flexible and adapt to new situations as they arise. It’s challenging, but there are good things that come out of constant change and we need to embrace the opportunities to mitigate the risks. Above all, we need to look closely at everything that is happening and challenge any assumptions we hold.
Who is going to make this happen? Project managers. Senior executives are increasingly recognising the value highly skilled project leaders bring to the success of their organisation. In the 2020 Pulse report, 69 per cent of project professionals reported that their leaders respect and value project management. But project professionals will need to continually maintain their relevance and ensure they upskill themselves appropriately to navigate this new ecosystem of work. They can start by turning to PMI’s new digital offerings, such as online courses on Disciplined Agile that help users navigate hundreds of agile frameworks to choose the best ways of working for the project at hand, or the soon-to-be-launched Organizational Transformation I, which helps ensure professionals have the awareness and skillset required to respond to change and play a role in their organisation’s transformation efforts.
After the pandemic, the world will only continue to shift rapidly. This is the new ecosystem of work that we must navigate. In The Project Economy, it is project leaders, armed with a wide-ranging set of competencies, who will drive and implement change for organisations faced with a constantly transforming environment.
For more information, please visit PMI.org.