From pandemic-induced disruptions to supply-chain issues and a glaring talent shortage, there’s never been a more important time for robust project management. Across all industries, project management best practice can help stabilise organisations while driving them into a digital-first future.
As part of our series with experts from the Project Management Institute, PMI’s Ben Breen, Managing Director — Asia Pacific and Global Head of Construction, and Joe Cahill, Chief Customer Officer, share their insights on project management in Australia.
The most pressing trends facing Australian businesses
Many of the trends affecting industries today are not just tied to Australia, but are reflective of the global state of things. According to Cahill, while digital disruption might be the most obvious challenge, it’s merely an umbrella term that covers a multitude of micro-trends that are influencing how we manage projects.
“Digital disruption became more aggressive throughout the pandemic because of the adjustments we had to make to how and where we work,” he says. “But artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity — all of these technological advances are far outstripping our ability to actually absorb such changes.”
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Project managers are at the heart of helping organisations and employees navigate these changes. Part of transforming companies digitally means there is always a ‘project’ happening. When an experienced project manager is at the helm, they can help their team take an idea and turn it into a reality in the workplace.
“We’re also seeing very interesting demographic shifts in terms of the ageing population,” Cahill adds. “We’ve already passed the point where there is more of the older generation over 50 years old than there is of the younger generation. There’s a lot of implications for that. For example, when people in this older demographic retire, there’s just not enough people behind them to fill the slots, which is contributing to the talent shortage.”
Fostering stability despite disruption
In addition to these challenges, we’re also seeing rapidly evolving skills requirements for critical industries, economic shifts in Australia and globally, supply-chain challenges and the broader climate discussion playing a part in how businesses operate.
For Breen, companies need to bolster their project management strategies not only to survive in this disruptive market, but also to retain their best people — the people who make their business a success.
“If a leader can understand what an individual’s real priorities are, they can then align those aspirations to that of the organisation. When that happens, you create loyalty,” he says.
Beyond loyal staff, Breen says businesses need to be more nimble. “We must have the capability to adjust the way we do things. We need to recognise that things are no longer done in the same ways as before, and we need to look for better ways to achieve our desired outcome. That comes down to cultivating the right skills to improve how we deliver projects.”
Top four skills in project management
“Around 75% of Australian CEOs state that they see a large skills gap within their workforce,” Cahill says. “Project management always comes up as one of the top five skills that are needed in this new era of work.”
So within the context of project management, what are the attributes that leaders and their team members must acquire in order to function well amid disruption?
- Empathy: Cahill says: “Empathy for the customer, specifically, is something that makes for a successful project manager and also a successful businessperson. To really understand what they need and to be able to communicate that with them — that’s critical for the success of the project.”
- Openness: Breen says: “Create a team culture that allows people to be open, to not be concerned about getting into trouble. Show them that you will support them regardless of what’s happening around them. That level of openness is really important. Don’t throw them under the bus — support them and work together as a team.”
- Adaptability: Cahill says: “Be more adaptable and agile. You must be adaptable as a project manager, because you are right between the person who has the idea and the people who are getting it done. Being in the middle of all that uncertainty and anxiety means you need to be adaptable.”
- Diversity: Breen says: “Encourage diversity in your teams to generate the right discussions. You want people from all sorts of backgrounds to come in and give their input based on their personal experiences.”
Both Cahill and Breen agree that upskilling needs to occur more broadly than just at the project-management level. From the C-suite right down to the newest employee, getting people comfortable with change and encouraging them to adopt the right skills for the right scenario is what will help organisations come out the other side of disruption.
Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world's leading professional association for a growing global community of millions of project professionals and changemakers worldwide. Building on a proud legacy dating to 1969, PMI is a “for-purpose” organisation working to advance careers, strengthen organisational success, and enable changemakers with new skills and ways of working to maximise their impact. PMI offerings include globally recognised standards, certifications, online courses, thought leadership, tools, digital publications, and communities.