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Introducing the project economy – the engine ready to power a Brave New World

(Image credit: Image Credit: Rawpixel / Pixabay)

When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, it was considered a downplay of the technological optimism that typified the period of change after the First World War. An early reviewer said Huxley had an “inability to believe really in anything”.

Fast forward the best part of a century and – emerging from a global pandemic – we too find ourselves in a period of historic transition. This time, however, we cannot debate the legitimacy of change. We have already witnessed an exponential surge in digital transformation – it has accelerated by seven years in just 12 months, according to McKinsey – which has put immeasurable pressure on IT teams to meet objectives in a short time frame. 

Behind these tectonic shifts, changemakers are driving the formation of the Project Economy. The future of work is project-based and, now more than ever, the success of business transformation is dependent on how successfully their people can lead and execute projects. Silos have fallen away, and the traditional boundaries of finance, HR, and IT, among others, are giving way for cross-skilled teams to move between functional areas and drive change.

Yet – according to our recent Pulse of the Profession report – project efficiency in the UK still leaves room for improvement. We found that more than half of UK projects miss their deadlines and nearly a third of UK projects failed to meet their original aims and business objectives over the past 12 months. It is for this reason that we all must assess how prepared our organization is to enter the Project Economy. 

Equip people with “power skills” to succeed

To successfully integrate the Project Economy mindset into any organization, upskilling the employees must become a priority. 

As well as adapting to the use of emerging technologies, we believe that the skillset previously referred to as “soft skills” – collaborative leadership, emotional intelligence, innovative mindset, and empathy – should now be considered as “power skills”. As routine tasks are increasingly automated, a higher premium will be placed on those with the ability to lead teams and think creatively.

At PMI, a key part of our role is to help both enterprises and individuals master these skills and develop the confidence to deploy them regardless of their seniority. One effective way to encourage this is by facilitating knowledge-sharing in business community groups, where stakeholders can share insights on management, collaboration, and complex problem-solving. We’ve seen great success recently with our NextPert program – designed to engage next-generation project leaders to advance innovative solutions – and have contributed to the development of rising stars from the likes of Airbus in recent years.

Develop changemakers to drive transformation 

Those that possess the most value in the Project Economy are those that proactively drive change and own their own development: the changemakers. They combine power skills, business acumen, and flexibility to effectively shape the future of both themselves and their organization. 

In the past, the responsibility to be a changemaker might have been restricted to those in leadership or project management roles. That is no longer the case. As we emerge into this new era of work, everyone from a student to a C-Suite executive can consider themselves empowered be a changemaker. Even the smallest of changes consistently compounded over time, can be impactful. This is reflected in our Future 50 list, which includes brilliant next-gen leaders of all seniorities from the likes of Adobe, IBM, and even the U.S. Congress.

By promoting the ethos that anyone can be a changemaker – and learn the skills to do so – organisations can empower their people to make their mark and feel comfortable in doing so. The freedom to innovate brings resiliency, a quality that we have all heavily leant on throughout a challenging 12 months.

Turn ideas to reality and deliver value  

The aim for embracing the Project Economy is for businesses to be able to turn ideas into reality. By building a network of changemakers within an organisation, leaders can best prepare themselves to thrive in the Project Economy and turn their ideas into reality. From rolling out 5G technology to cutting carbon emissions, every organisation has a vision upon which the next decade will be defined. By composing teams of individuals, at all levels, that take responsibility to drive change, the days of delayed timelines and unfulfilled objectives must surely be numbered.

Ultimately, the bottom line of any project is the value of its outcome, in terms of not only the goods produced but also the impact upon the individual, the society and the environment. In order to maximise impact, it is important that organisations evaluate the structure, profile, and management of their project teams before tackling their objectives. By taking the time to equip employees with the right resources and environment to develop into adaptable and resilient changemakers, businesses can set themselves up to make their mark and build a better tomorrow. But it all begins with a mindset.

And become gymnastic to adapt to Industry 4.0 

Organisations that empower their people to focus on outcomes rather than process – gymnastic enterprises, as we call them – will be those that progress quickly and efficiently. With Industry 4.0 underway, automation will soon become commonplace and, with it, our tolerance for delayed results will quickly disappear. AI and machine learning are two technologies that can accelerate change exponentially, but they will require human agility and collaboration to fulfill their true potential. 

Being gymnastic requires that employees think more like entrepreneurs – going deep in more than one area, but always keeping the big picture in mind.  In today’s ever-changing world, it means often paying even more attention to your customers and competition than to your day-to-day operations. 

Each person within a project team needs to deeply understand the business to ensure their decisions don’t have unintended consequences. And by project professionals taking on greater understanding of the broader business landscape, organizations are able to decentralise more decision making. 

By enabling their people to become changemakers – across the whole business – gymnastic enterprises are better able to sense and respond to shocks, and drive transformation, knowing that they have the mindset, skills, and tools that it takes to face a Brave New World and win.

Ashwini Bakshi, Managing Director of Europe and Sub-Sarahan Africa regions, PMI (opens in new tab) 

Ashwini Bakshi is the Managing Director of PMI's Europe and Sub-Sarahan Africa regions. He leads PMI's growth and organizational development in the combined region.