Digital Age: What Challenges Await Project Managers? Jiju (Jay) Nair

Digital Age: What Challenges Await Project Managers? Jiju (Jay) Nair, PMP Originally published in In the new brave world of digital startups causing market disruption and driving phenomenal growth, it is no secret that, project managers are looked up to for providing situational leadership and guidance in steering the ship in the right direction. Young project management practitioners, who are relatively new to the profession and had started their career during this exciting new age of landscape shattering business paradigms and technology innovations, holds the key to the next phase in successful project management to organizations globally.

New age organizations like Uber, AirBnB, Google and Amazon are continuously challenging existing project management approaches and driving practitioners to closely align with their dynamic business goals and desires. It also need to be noted that not all these organizations always favor a hierarchical structure that would put the project manager in the driving seat. The world had heard of the story a few years back when Google experimented with self-driving project teams that had minimal to no management oversight. After a few iterations, Google leadership found that skilled project managers can indeed make projects successful in all aspects. However, the takeaway from such an experiment is that project management approaches as well as project managers should continuously evolve if they need to be relevant and contribute to the bottom line.

Young project managers who understand, acknowledge and live the ground realities of modern days business are well poised for taking the organizations through successful project executions. Remote is the new order Organizations understand that Project Managers are the glue that holds a project team together. A project manager, apart from understanding the aspects of the project scope, stakeholders’ beliefs and the funding challenges also need to grasp and drive the dynamics of the project team.

This involves an intuitive as well as an analytical approach on how project teams work collaboratively to deliver essential functionalities. Nowadays, more and more organizations report a spike in their employees working remotely, albeit in a partial way. While project management has traditionally worked better where team members physically see each other, the reality that remote teams are becoming more and more prevalent need to be accepted. In a 2017 Gallop poll that was conducted on telecommute preferences, 43% of American workers reported that they had telecommuted in some capacity and 58% of the surveyed workers believe that they are as productive as their on-site office counterparts. The survey also indicates that 55% of the surveyed population were college graduates and were white collar professionals. These results point to an increasing shift in organizational attitude towards remote work in general in the United States.

For a Project Manager, this means that creative strategies need to be formulated to manage team members who may never meet in person. This scenario does offer challenges for Project Managers who are used to managing teams on site all the time. However, for the generation of Project Managers who are brought up in the social media age, remote team development may not necessarily be a challenge even though their skills will need to be refined to match corporate reality. More and more organizations are moving towards agile collaboration tools that helps geographically dispersed teams to think, collaborate and execute as if they are in the same room. Project Managers who are adept at understanding the nuances of remote collaboration tools and still have the savviness to connect with agile technology teams with an ‘A game’ mentality will flourish and contribute to the cause of project management practice’s relevance in modern day organizations. ‘Pick me up’ Manager Another Gallop survey conducted about job satisfaction in US organizations report that 67% of the respondent feels disengaged at work.

This can be translated as boredom, lack of interest or fearful of their role in the organization. Most of these respondents feel that their immediate bosses were either unavailable to did not inspire them to understand the importance of their role and work. Millennials who will don the cloak of Project Management will sense this effect as they get more and more ingrained into the realities of organizational management. The survey also found that Millennials join an organization with a highly defined set of expectations and want to have a meaning to their work. Project team members might not feel the need to get engaged in projects if the Project Manager does not offer an engaging environment where team member’s grievances are also addressed. The current higher level of disengagement found amongst the employees and the desire of millennials to bring true value to work presents an interesting challenge to the new breed of Project Managers. While they are favorably positioned to understand and possibly address the workplace needs of Millennials, motivating and leading existing workforce towards successful project executions will take more than technology savviness. It is essential that modern Project Managers elevate themselves to the level of inspirational leaders to provide relevance in an ever changing, geographically dispersed and remote work environment.

Technology Continuum Organizations that provide technology as a product or service has continued to revise their position on employing Project Managers for their business delivery. Startups usually shun away from the concept of having a full time Project Manager within a flat delivery organization. However, as such organizations grow into bigger enterprises, they are observed to understand the benefits provided by a mature and skillful project management practice. Polls done in technology organizations suggest that the team members will not seek leadership from Project Managers who do not understand the technology they deliver. While modern Project Managers are knee deep in the new age work culture, they should also make themselves relevant to the industry they work in by being a subject matter expert who can be called upon to make product delivery decisions.

Unfortunately, this learning process will need to continue as technology and business drivers undergo rapid changes. It is clear that Millennial Project Managers are well set for managing the challenges of the modern-day businesses and projects, both from a management and technology perspective. It also need to be noted that Project Managers who are not Millennials are also are equally equipped to handle the dynamic nature of modern day projects delivering continuous value as demanded by market realities. Staying moored in good project management practices, remaining flexible and open to change will guarantee continued relevance of project management practices and Project Managers for many years to come. State of the American workplace, Gallop News, 2017:, 2018:

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