For any professional currently working in the UK, projects are never far away. Be it the integration of a new IT solution, the execution of a creative campaign, or the first steps of a net zero strategy, change is being performed through projects. We call this state of business the Project Economy.
The Project Economy has benefitted greatly from the acceleration of digital transformation over the course of the pandemic. From the democratisation of video-conferencing platforms and collaborative tools to the accelerated adoption of emerging technologies such as AI and IoT, project managers were able to lean on digital solutions to manage, reflect, and improve.
For those successful in their digital journey, optimising data usage is the next step. According to a study by Google Cloud, 54% of companies who identify as “fully digitally transformed” or “digital native” are now using or considering using data analytics tools, compared to the global average of 37%. For project managers, intelligent use of data is the key to unlock more time, improve productivity and support innovation.
Following the path of leading project managers
At PMI, we recently partnered with PwC to produce the PMO Maturity Report that identified what the top ten percentile of global project managers were doing well and what set them apart from their peers. When it came to data, the difference was apparent. Leading project managers far surpassed the global average for the use of both data analytics (65% vs. 50%) and automation tools (59% vs. 45%) to make evidence-based decisions.
As a result, according to our recent Global Megatrends report, data collection will lay the foundations for the expansion of disruptive technologies and continued digital transformation over the course of the next decade. If we look at AI as an example, we predict that adoption will rise from 21% to 49% in the next five years. Adopting these technologies is a non-negotiable demand for any business that aspires for long-term growth.
For this reason, it is critical that we steer the discourse around data automation replacing humans towards how this tool can improve the way we work, and how we relate or connect to others. The pandemic has permanently altered our professional environments – there will be no going back to 2019, however hard people try – and only by embracing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) as common occurrences can business leaders ensure their organisation, and their people transition successfully into this new era.
Unlocking time for creativity and upskilling
To achieve this, it is critical to communicate the practical ways in which data sciences can benefit employees to provide clarity about how they will co-exist moving forward. For example, project professionals regularly tasked with executing repetitive, time-consuming admin will be empowered to delegate to technology and spend more time collaborating with colleagues on strategic and creative initiatives.
The use of data automation tools can also unlock time for employees to upskill and work on adapting their own skillset for the post-pandemic world. As routine tasks are automated, there will be a reduced focus on hard skills and, instead, increased value will be placed on those traditionally known as soft skills: adaptability, collaborative leadership and possessing an innovative mindset.
Such is the impact that these properties will have on the next phase of project management that we instead call them ‘power skills’. More than half (56%) of the agile enterprises we surveyed last year are now prioritising power skills over hard skills, compared to just 42% traditional businesses. It is becoming clear that they form the foundations of all project talent that will drive change over the next decade.
Pioneering data-driven mindset through changemakers
For digital transformation projects to be executed successfully, business require advocates and leaders from within to drive it in the right direction. We call these people changemakers. They are those equipped with the skillset – comprised of business acumen, power skills, and an understanding of new ways of working – to turn ideas into reality.
It is important to promote the ethos that changemakers can appear at any level of an organisation. From the intern to the CEO, all it requires is a proactive mindset and one that is geared to drive progress and generate value. Changemaker development is best manifested through a holistic learning approach – using modern and traditional methods to create a skillset that covers all project bases – and they are aware that lessons can be learnt from the past to ensure the future is better.
It doesn’t hurt that changemakers get results. Our Pulse of the Profession 2021 survey found that organisations that empower changemakers were more likely to successfully endure widespread business changes during the pandemic – such as undergoing a digital transformation or fostering an innovative data-driven mindset. The productivity increase for these hyper-agile businesses during the pandemic was also significantly higher than more traditional businesses (71% vs. 53%).
Embracing citizen development
A further trend born out of a changemaker mentality is citizen development. Project professionals are identifying gaps in the digital infrastructure they work with and proactively developing their own no-code or low-code solutions to address these issues and improve productivity.
Reaping the benefits and innovations of citizen development can create real positive change for an organisation during a time of constant disruption and adaption, but doing it right is important. To utilise citizen development in a risk-free environment means investing in training and development, building performance feedback loops, along with an understanding of global standards of practice.
This includes data ethics – a further priority identified in our Global Megatrends – and organisations must ensure that employees are aware of the guidelines they must adhere to, such as the UK government's Data Ethics Framework, when collecting data. Accountability is critical, from the employee that designs a solution to those who use it, and there is no excuse to overlook ethics or transparency in pursuit of a quick-fix solution. This is part of a wider, emerging need for professionals to consider vital issues – like trust and duty of care – as fundamental aspects of what they do and how they do it.
The project management sector lies on the cusp of entering a new era driven by data. It’s benefits do not come without risks, but the potential for productivity, time efficiency, and financial saving are infinite. It is therefore critical that organisations commit to building the employee skillset and agile mindset that can successfully integrate data-driven technologies into their existing fabric. Those that do will undoubtedly prosper for years to come.