Ashwini Bakshi, managing director Europe & Sub-Saharan Africa at Project Management Institute, provides expert insight on the steps project managers can take to set their team up for success
When it was announced in June that the costs for HS2 had risen by a further £1.7bn during the pandemic, a collective sense of frustration made its way across the UK. Two years after a delay to the country’s most high-profile project had been announced, its conclusion had never seemed further away.
Yet, despite the spotlight in which it sits, HS2 is far from alone in suffering from delays, rising costs and frustration. Our recent Pulse of the Profession research – surveying project managers across the UK, including those from the construction sector – found that more than half of projects have missed their deadlines in the past 12 months, with 40% also experiencing “scope creep” as objectives become entangled in operational complexities.
So, the professionals have spoken, and it is clear that a re-think is needed about the way projects are both planned and executed. Of course, the events of the last 18 months have produced hurdles that haven’t been seen in our lifetimes – from social distancing to site closures – so we cannot deny that the pandemic has hampered productivity and drained the coffers. But now, as restrictions lift, it’s time to look ahead.
Welcoming the Project Economy
First, it’s worth outlining exactly why good project management is so important. In recent years, we have experienced a paradigm shift in the business world to what we call the Project Economy – where organisation’s deliver value to stakeholders through the successful completion of projects.
With Industry 4.0 on the horizon – if not nearer following a year of exceptional digital transformation efforts across UK business – organisations will depend on their project efficiency – or ability to execute on time, on budget, and to spec – to power their adoption of emerging technologies. From IT teams to operational taskforces, project teams will be tasked with ensuring their organisation stays at the front of the pack when it comes to digitalisation.
The construction sector has historically been slow to adopt new technologies – be that due to traditional thinking or a need to keep contracts competitively priced – but, as Bob Dylan once said: “times they are a-changin” – and construction firms are seeing the value in taking the next step into the era of digitalisation.
Going beyond agile with a gymnastic mindset
Agility is not a new term in business – organisations have always needed to be able to pivot to navigate developing challenges – but the pandemic has taught us that the world as you know it can be turned on its head overnight. For organisations to future-proof themselves against such risk and thrive in a progressing, post-Covid world, project leaders need more than agility alone.
When speaking to our partners, we commonly endorse the adoption of a “gymnastic” mindset. By gymnastic we mean staying nimble and agile to adapt to rapid change, mastering modern ways of working, elevating people skills, and building business acumen throughout your team. We have observed that those that follow these practices are outpacing traditional enterprises in the use of emerging technologies to manage projects and – more importantly – they’re using technology to augment human skills and help their people continuously improve.
But becoming gymnastic is not easy. It requires a multi-pronged approach that draws upon both the traditional and the new – balancing structured project management approaches that have stood the test of time, a mindset that embraces change, and the capability to manage complex situations that involve multiple stakeholders. And to stay ahead, the people tasked with managing projects at every level must continue their development, so they have the rights skills to deliver on these expectations.
Prioritise upskilling to build a team of changemakers
When time is of the essence, it can be easy to put development to one side in the interest of meeting that next deadline. Be it a training course, mentor meeting, or even a simple line manager catch-up, opportunities to learn are easy to sacrifice. However, every delay or re-scheduled session represents a backwards step in preparing for the future.
For any organisation striving to future-proof itself, active upskilling must be a priority. With new technologies emerging, skillsets will need to be refreshed in a time-bound way to ensure that businesses can continue to prosper while their working environments transform around them. On top of this, over half of construction workers are concerned about the impact of the UK’s ageing population on the sector’s skills gap. As more workers retire, the need for skilled young professionals to take their place becomes more urgent.
By taking a proactive mentality to this issue, organisations can ensure they don’t endure a damaging skills gap in the coming years. By creating an environment that encourages upskilling – be that through running internal training sessions, providing skilled mentors, or enrolling new talent on industry-recognised certification courses – businesses can accelerate their new generation’s development, benefitting the individual and the future of their own workforce.
By openly putting value on upskilling, businesses can cultivate a changemaker mentality among their employees. A changemaker combines human skills, business acumen, and flexibility to proactively shape the future of both themselves and their organisation. They are strong project managers, with a skillset that is tailormade to prosper in the Project Economy and drive positive change. It is important to promote the idea that changemakers can exist at any level of an organisation – from the C-Suite to the work experience intern – and the sooner upskilling process begins, the faster the individual can progress into roles of responsibility.
Today is better than tomorrow
To conclude, I want to refer to a phrase that Aristotle once said – if you can believe what you read on the internet – “we are what we do”. It is our role, as business leaders, to ensure that we are setting a precedent throughout our organisation and promoting a changemaker mentality with our own actions.
The shifts I have mentioned may seem simple in isolation, but together they can make a significant impact on the efficiency of your project management and subsequent prosperity in this brave new world of industry. Our Pulse of Profession results outlined clear room for improvement when it comes to how we structure and manage our projects, and we have seen great levels of success with our partners that have adopted these practices.
Above all, they’re changes that can be made now and – if the last 18 months are anything to go by – the next megatrend or disruptive incident could arrive at any moment to put them into practice.
Managing director Europe & Sub-Saharan Africa
LinkedIn: Project Management Institute