Paving the way to competitive advantage

Demands being placed on project managers have increased significantly, and now include leadership responsibilities and the skills and talent to capitalise on the ever-pertinent issues around digital transformation.

It is time to strengthen the conversation around the value that project managers bring to an organisation, the issues they face and how they can better turn strategy into results in today’s volatile climate.

Large businesses are by nature complex and today’s challenging environment has only exasperated the situation further, leaving firms increasingly under pressure. Margins are being squeezed, stakeholder and client expectations continue to grow, and the demand on project managers to perform continues to rise inexorably.

However, harnessing the full potential of the project management function doesn’t happen overnight. Project managers are facing many challenges, as highlighted in Deltek’s own research. It revealed the top project management challenges to be competing priorities, with almost 70 per cent of firms citing this as a top-three issue, and the challenge created by inefficient processes, named as a top-three issue by some 35 per cent of responding firms.

These are issues driving the digital transformation agenda to do more, do it faster and do it smarter using more streamlined methods. It requires new ways of thinking and working to overcome the challenges faced. Transformation is the key to bringing about change, and the ability digitally to reimagine the business is determined in large part by a clear digital strategy supported by leaders who foster a culture of change. Without this evolution, the scale of the problem and business competitiveness will continue to intensify.

There is a need to look at the role of the project manager in driving digital transformation within their organisations in terms of innovation, as they are uniquely close to the client. They are in a prime position to propose true innovations to the company board, based on the challenges in delivery being experienced on a day-to-day basis.

By listening and acting on feedback from project and programme managers, businesses can embark on a journey that is true transformation and not just digital change. Value starts with the customers’ needs and project managers are now far more client centric, information orientated and commercially aware, and project managers should use this to influence positive change.

The adoption of new technologies is vital. Data and analytics, for example, provide among other key benefits swift insight when a project is not going as planned. However, truly successful adoption has to do with usability and the need to empower people, including the project managers themselves and delivery staff.

New technologies must be fit for purpose. They must meet the needs of the business and match their processes and facilitate new ways of working on the go, anywhere, anytime. Without the right technology selection, professional services organisations are more likely to revert to complex scenarios, where processes are over-engineered to the highest rather than correct common denominator, failing to achieve the crucial goal of making things simple and repeatable.

Project managers are becoming increasingly focused on technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things and big data, how and when to use them, and how these can enhance a business’s financial and wider organisational results.

A good example of the way that big data techniques are transforming how projects are managed can be seen in the work that Transport for London has been doing using Deltek software. The company uses the software to run scheduled analytics on their project plans. What used to take hours of analysis, checking the quality of a complex project schedule, is now being done within seconds. This has cut their total time of work by up to 95 per cent.

Far from feeling under siege from this proliferation of new tools and innovations, most project managers are beginning to see it as an opportunity to drive efficiency in their process, and rightly so.

The landscape for a project is continually changing, therefore frequently assessing and managing risk is paramount. It is equally important for businesses to be clear about the key performance indicators they wish to address. Being measured and metric driven provides confidence to business stakeholders, and project managers play a vital role in providing a data-driven approach to decision-making.

Project managers must also have the tools that give them visibility, control and accessibility, whether working in the field or on their clients’ sites, on a daily basis. Making these metrics available to senior management will help to ensure a secure buy-in and prove value in the project.

With their knowledge of and proximity to clients, and the delivery of projects that are fit for the future, the role of the project manager is increasingly important to the long-term success of the organisation. They need to strike a balance between innovation and complexity, and create more efficient operations for more profitable relationships with customers.

In essence, project managers have their boots on the ground; they can see what the business truly requires and can pave the way to create a competitive advantage.

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