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The Past, Present and Future of Projects - An Australian Story

Business Case Development Checklist

Jenny Turner, MetaPM's new NSW lead, shares her reflections on 25 years of project management evolution.

The Past

I began working in Project Services in 1997. In the almost 25 years since, I’ve witnessed and contributed to seismic shifts in knowledge, adoption and implementation of ‘best’ and ‘right’ practice project management ways of working, both locally and globally.

At the beginning of my journey, it was evident that many individuals and organisations had a limited understanding of how disciplined project management could improve efficiencies and effectiveness. Fortunately, this led to thought-provoking conversations with clients who were open to considering ‘new ways of working.’ 

Back then, having a project manager lead an initiative was considered to be an added and unnecessary expense. Broad acceptance of job descriptions and titles such as IT Manager, Head of Project Services, PMO manager, Portfolio Manager etc. were yet to emerge and take pride of place in organisation charts. 

High project failure rates were well-publicised and there was a level of uncertainty in the market about what approach was needed to turn failure into success. But progress was being made and quickly. Thankfully, Australians are known for being early adopters and this was no exception.

This was a time for the emergence of Project Management Methodologies, Tools, Training and Certifications, to be a catalyst for change. While working as a founding member of PM Partners, I looked at trends in the UK and America to understand what was available in their markets and what might work in Australia. 

From there, an insatiable thirst for project management knowledge evolved and I established and managed a successful training business that provided individuals with the skills to competently manage essential and, at times, ground-breaking project initiatives. Plus, clients were comforted that project managers were better equipped to deliver consistently successful outcomes.

The Present

Today, the project management profession has grown, expanded and matured as a result of utilising standards, tools, publications, education and training. And there is now widespread acceptance and recognition of project and project management across industries globally.

Modern business leaders are confronted by a multitude of organisations offering competing standards, qualifications, tools and services, and they’re seeking Project Management Consultancies for advice, guidance and practical support along their journey.

Now that we have the basics of project management well established, there has been a shift to recognising other critical factors to project success, such as interpersonal or soft skills capability. Leaders now recognise the critical importance of improving collaboration and team engagement and are investing in communication, leadership, stakeholder management, teamwork and empathy. Businesses that provide training courses have responded accordingly and developed a robust portfolio of programs to help close the skills gap.

Generally, business leaders need to be adept at managing in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world and the past two years have been no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic has given many organisations an unexpected crash course in digitalisation, remote work and made organisational restructuring far more common. Delivering mission-critical projects is more all-consuming than ever before, and in some industries, it has been lifesaving.

The Future

The gap between the demand for project management skills and the availability of talent continues to persist, and with borders closed, the war on talent is more prevalent than ever. Being able to pivot between bringing in skills or upskilling is essential to longevity and getting the mix right is what’s right for each individual business.

Recently, I have seen a marked shift with business leaders wanting to gain a better understanding of their internal workforce capability and identify what types of targeted learning interventions are needed. I read an interesting McKinsey Global Survey stating that “69 per cent of organisations are doing more skill-building now than they did before the COVID-19 crisis.”

According to PMI (2021).  Talent Gap: Ten-Year Employment Trends, Cost and Global Implications, “The global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030”. And a recent study cited project management as one of the top five areas business leaders would like to prioritize.

Globally, business leaders have had to be agile, resilient, innovative and human-centred. 

With the predicted global demand for project management talent, organisations will require businesses to foster a culture of continual learning. Reimagining employee capability-building will be a core focus for the most resilient organisation. In a recent McKinsey study, nearly 80% of business leaders cited capability building as “very” or “extremely” important to their organization’s growth, compared with 59% before the pandemic. In their words, 

‘To foster their own talent, organizations will need to champion new learning initiatives and explore partnerships to equip employees with the necessary project management skills. These capabilities include power skills such as collaboration and leadership; business acumen to create well-rounded employees; and mastering new ways of working, like increased usage of tech-enhanced problem-solving tools.’

The thirst for continual improvement exists and will continue to do so in the future. New technologies will change how we work, who does what, and what skills will be needed, and the future is looking bright for the project management profession of change-makers.

New[er] Ways of Work

The world of work has changed forever, leaving business leaders with no choice but to adapt their workplace strategy. Workers want a hybrid working future. I read a recent global survey conducted by PwC found that only 10 per cent of respondents wanted to return to a traditional work environment. 74 per cent of Australian respondents reported that they wanted a mix of face-to-face and remote working of differing degrees. 

These factors have changed the conversation with clients who are looking at engaging consultants on a project basis. It is now acceptable to consider engaging with an expert to complete work remotely. This hybrid way of working requires leaders to adapt their style of leadership to balance rational behaviours with emotional needs, make data-driven decisions, and cater to different segments of the workforce and prioritise the needs and motivations of their teams.

I have read CEO surveys for many years and one of the top 5 concerns that persistently keeps CEOs awake is PEOPLE. The opportunity to create a workplace that is better for everyone is here and I implore you to embrace the change.

Redefining Project Delivery - Forward Momentum Starts Here

I’ve followed MetaPM’s journey over the years and was thrilled to be asked to join early this year and look forward to bringing their unique practice led client-centric approach to New South Wales.

MetaPM is one of Australia’s largest specialist project consultancy and accredited training organisations that exists to deliver maximum value through improving project performance to accelerate their Client’s growth.  It has been delighting clients since 2006 and due to its unique practice-led client-centric approach, has become a trusted partner to many of Australia’s well-known brands. 

Additionally, MetaPM continually supports the project management profession by contributing to research, authoring whitepapers, sponsoring events, establishing special interest groups and providing complementary services.

If you’d like to start a conversation about how MetaPM can solve your project challenges, you can book a time to meet with me on this page.

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