Evolution of a growing career

Faced with a recovering economy and a highly competitive business landscape driven by new technologies, project managers are quickly adapting to fill more challenging and strategic roles, says the Project Management Institute 

The role of project managers is continually evolving, as are the business and technology needs of organisations. New tools and technologies automatically introduce variables into a project that can impact scope management and lifecycle, particularly in dynamic, fast-paced sectors like IT, computing and telecommunications.

These dynamic conditions require that project managers maintain a certain level of ongoing training and education in order to maintain their abilities to bring projects to completion efficiently and effectively. As a result, today’s project managers are more likely to be key drivers at the forefront of their organisations’ strategic technology efforts and are more likely to be valued as high-level, strategic resources than project managers were in the past.

PMI's Talent Triangle

More significantly, project managers are now among the first of a new generation who are being required to do more than just “manage projects”. Ten years ago, project managers were expected to focus on the details of individual projects, their associated budgets and delivering them with maximum return on investment (ROI). With limited resources available for change initiatives, every dollar counts. Organisations no longer have the capacity to absorb the short or long-term financial ramifications of poor management and planning, which is why project managers are now required to be strategists as well as tacticians.

Project managers need to truly understand the business, understand how their project portfolios fit into their organisations’ overall vision and strategy, and effectively convey this information to stakeholders. It’s more important than ever for these practitioners to have a deep, balanced skill set that incorporates all facets of the Talent Triangle: technical project management skills, business and strategic management skills, and leadership skills.

“Against the backdrop of constant change, increasing complexity and technology advances, organisations are demanding leadership, strategic management and technical skill from their project managers – essentially turning them into project leaders,” says Mark A. Langley, president and chief executive of the Project Management Institute (PMI). “With these expectations comes an urgent need to gain advanced skills that are necessary to meet the challenges of today’s competitive business environment.”

Business leaders have learnt that using project management lowers risk, brings profit, increases ROI and improves quality.  Project managers are expected to do more with less, using fewer resources while getting projects done with improved organisation and planning. They are also under increasing pressure to deliver products and services more quickly to keep up with rapid market changes and more stringent customer expectations.

The availability of new tools and technologies, along with near-constant upgrades of existing technologies, are big catalysts for change. Project managers, particularly in IT and other technology sectors, must continually improve their skill sets in order to maintain their abilities to bring projects to completion efficiently and effectively. In addition, new technologies, combined with evolving business needs, have given rise to new implementation approaches. For example, there has been explosive growth in agile methodology, spearheaded by the IT community. PMI has been an active participant as agile approaches have been incorporated into the skill sets of project managers in many industries and has expanded coverage of iterative approaches into the latest edition of the PMBOK® Guide.

Project managers are expected to do more with less, using fewer resources while getting projects done with improved organisation and planning

Globalisation is also a key catalyst for change in project management. Resource-strained organisations now require project managers to handle several projects and project teams across varied geographic regions. Project managers must therefore be skilled at managing remote or virtual teams, overcoming challenges related to time zones, and navigating cultural and political sensitivities. As a result, these professionals have become more valuable and versatile by developing new skill sets and gaining experience which falls outside the traditional project role.

Recognised as the gold standard in project management certification, the PMP® (Project Management Professional certification) is sought after by organisations around the world to ensure the quality of projects and project teams. Unlike other project management credentials, the PMP® is a universally recognised certification which has a pre-requisite of at least three years of PM experience for practitioners.

“PMP® credential holders are uniquely positioned to lead project teams that are working on emerging project challenges,” says PMI’s Mr Langley. “These professionals have demonstrated solid skills and real-world experience in attaining the credential and are continuously updating those skills to keep pace with the rapidly changing environment that defines the modern business landscape.” Project managers can leverage these newer skills and responsibilities to align with high-level strategy and effectively implement the initiatives which drive that strategy into action.

As the project management profession grows and changes, a new generation of project professionals will be called on to take action. Introducing project management skills to students at younger ages, and actively working with colleges and universities on standards, curriculum and accredited programmes will allow budding project practitioners to build stronger skills earlier in their careers, and enter the workforce better prepared than their predecessors.

At the organisational level, companies will be well served to create dedicated project training and career tracks to nurture new talent that will grow and thrive as the business does. Leaders are recognising this necessary shift in their internal training programmes. In PwC’s 4th Global Portfolio and Programme Management Survey, 64 per cent of chief executives said that enhancing their skilled workforce is a priority over the next three years.

The evolution of the project management role is already well underway.  Technology will continue to drive new skill sets and levels of knowledge. More significantly, however, the coming months and years will see project managers delivering more value and having a more direct link to strategy, knowledge, influence and ROI. Organisations are ready for this – they’ll welcome it.