Most of Callida’s consultants have extensive public-sector experience and have lived and worked through the ‘digital industry revolution’ of the last two decades.
During that time whilst some of the fundamentals of project management have remained consistent, there has been a transformation in the role and requirements of project managers of all levels.
Naturally, skills have evolved as new methodologies like AGILE have taken hold and new technologies have been introduced, but the changes go beyond the mere technical – they extend to the organisational, measures of success and the 360-degree skill-set a project-leader of today must be equipped with.
Current day complexities
Thirty years ago, the scope and structure of project management was clearly defined. Project management was a disciplined engineering practice with few moving parts; it was extremely task orientated. The main constraints consisted of cost, time and scope, and the key measures of success were how well the project adhered to the aforementioned cost, time and scope. The project manager had little latitude in the execution of their role and often relatively simple decision making had to be deferred to a higher manager.
Fast forward to the present day and the constraints and measures of success are much more complex. There is now a huge range of constraints; depending on the project these might extend to quality, project delivery, reputation, ethical, and occupational health and safety to name a few. All of these constraints compete for the attention of the project and many will result in trade-offs – higher quality might require more budget and so on. Most importantly, the measures of success of projects has shifted from the simplistic engineering view of the past to a much higher focus on outcomes and value. Project delivery is now strongly focussed on value creation and benefits realisation; did the project contribute to the wider business goals and generate a better outcome for the client?
This complexity also extends to organisational structure. Historically, an ICT project manager would manage his or her technical team and report to an equally technical project owner, usually a CTO, CIO or similar. Now, with the focus on whole of business transformation, it is increasingly common for deep collaboration between business and technical stakeholders. Projects today are more commonly embedded in the business area, rather than run remotely with occasional and highly structured interactions.
These changes have impacted the skills that create a successful project manager. Firstly, they must have a heightened aptitude and understanding of collaborative communications now that project leaders need to engage with diverse stakeholders and manage multi-disciplinary teams across a fast-moving collaborative work environment. Successful project implementation today is contingent on ensuring all stake holders are aligned – exceptional technical skills and a firm grip on cost and budget is no longer sufficient. Further, it is much more common for project leaders to be called upon to explain projects to the C-Suite and for project boards and steering committees to consist of more senior and diverse stakeholders. This requires an aptitude for relationship building with diverse stakeholders as well as presenting and public speaking; skills that would rarely need flexing by a project manager 30 years ago.
Secondly, a quality that has historically set a great project leader apart – someone who has taken the time to understand the context of the project and who has built business acumen and business knowledge, is now critical. With a focus on value creation and workplace collaboration, projects can no longer happen in a ‘silo’ and must be intelligently integrated into the wider business objectives.
Finally, the aptitude of project managers has also undergone a shift. Back when project management was a disciplined engineering process, the working environment was a more precisely laid out linear process. Today, project managers must thrive in ambiguity and find a way to navigate organisational complexity, or face failure. This demands a greater openness to intelligent, managed risk taking and free-thinking innovation than ever before.
There has never been a more exciting time to work in project management as its evolution has meant that engagements consistently offer a rewarding, diverse and fast-paced working environment.
However, for project managers in the public sector the changes have been even more dynamic. In today’s digital world, there is a high reliance on private sector organisations to help implement radical change which has closed the innovation gap and lead to a progressiveness across federal and state government that has never been seen before.
It is a time of immense opportunity for clients and project managers alike.
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