The changing face of project management in our project-based economy
By Julie Sengl
Rampant innovation and digital transformation, across all industries, is instantly and forever changing businesses and their competitors. With sustained pressure to keep up, by continuously coming up with new and better business offerings, we’ve moved into a project-based economy. Today’s organizations are focused on executing multiple projects and programs at a time. Project management is no longer something limited to one or two departments. It is company-wide. Rapid project management execution is now vital to business strategy and it’s impacting business culture in all the right ways.
"A lot of traditional project management has been process-based, or what we call Waterfall,” says Candice Davis, a strategic change accelerator, product advisor and instructor at SAIT. “We’re moving to what’s called principle-based project management. Instead of following a clearly defined process to execute a project, we have fundamental principles and the flexibility to apply different delivery approaches to different tasks or projects in various environments.
One size doesn't fit all
Agile is one delivery approach that’s been around for a long time in the software development space. "We’re seeing a dramatic shift in the use of Agile outside of software development to support innovation and digital transformation,” says Davis. “It’s disrupting corporate cultures and becoming a must-have knowledge area for project managers.”
It’s focused on keeping the process lean and creating a minimum viable product that goes through various iterations. Project requirements and solutions evolve through a collaborative team effort of continual planning and learning. With the focus on customer goals, an Agile approach allows the team to deliver a high-quality product quickly and with predictability.
What this new principle-based project management lacks in structure it makes up for in flexibility and that is its primary strength. Disruptive forces can change projects on the fly, so decisions have to be both responsive and fluid. It’s an exciting shift for anyone in project management.
"Digital disruption is happening everywhere,” says Davis. To be fair, digital disruption isn’t the only thing that’s got SAIT looking at shifting gears in the way it delivers project management training into the future. The COVID-19 pandemic provided a global rude awakening to how the tried, true and trusted might be busted.
"One way of delivery in a specific industry or business just doesn’t work anymore,” says Davis. “Companies that are surviving and thriving are doing something different.” They’re leaning on people who can see the bigger picture, understand and align actions with values and define the next steps — without missing a beat.
SAIT has been working with industry to adapt and broaden the scope of project management training so that teams can execute in a more hybrid environment, blending process-based and principle-based approaches as appropriate.
Well-defined projects with a top-down mandate, clear timelines and predetermined expectations will likely continue to benefit from the structure of a formal, process-driven approach. New pursuits with a lot of unknowns and potentially competing priorities will do well with the flexibility of a principle-based project management style. Under the right circumstances, a blend of the two project management execution formats will deliver both structure and stretch.
“In our project-based economy, project management is an indispensable soft skill that everyone is going to need,” says Davis. There will always be a role for certified project management professionals, but more and more employers will be looking for a basic foundation in project management skills among their everyday workers. “Project management has to innovate in these times just like everyone and every industry,” says Davis. "SAIT is well-positioned to be a disruptor in this training space.”
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This story was originally published in the Centre for Continuing Education and Professional Studies guide in the Fall 2020 issue of LINK magazine.