The Project Economy and the End of Job Descriptions | Webinar Q&A

Roxana Dude, Company-Specific Programmes Portfolio Manager at Solvay Executive Education 16/06/2020 Leadership

On June 10th, Solvay Executive Education hosted a webinar on the rise of the Project Economy and the End of Job Descriptions, as the final instalment of our 10-part “Leading in Times of Uncertainty” series. If you couldn’t join us, you can watch all these information and experience-packed webinars here

The business world is currently undergoing a major transformation, one that will see traditional hierarchical oriented companies give way to an economy defined by projects. In fact, it’s predicted that by 2025, senior leaders and managers will spend at least 60% of their time selecting, prioritising, overseeing, and implementing projects.   

Considering the significance of this transition, we simply didn’t have enough time to cover everything during the webinar itself. That’s why I caught up afterwards with our guest speaker Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Head of the Project Management Office at GSK, PMO Director and PMI past Chair, to ask him some of your most pressing questions.   

What are the qualities of a good project sponsor?

Nieto-Rodriguez: First and foremost, a good project sponsor, or project owner, must be present. It is extremely important that the sponsor be accessible and be present in steering committee meetings. They must also actively promote the project within the organisation. Good sponsors are also good decision makers as quick decisions are often needed to avoid delays.

In summary, a good sponsor is defined by three key characteristics: they are present, they are an active promoter of the project, and they are decision makers.

What role do ‘generalists’ play within the project-oriented company?

Companies need generalists now more than ever. When projects are transversal across an organisation, employees tend to work in silos and focus on their specific area of the project for years – if not decades. In other words, they are specialists. This specialisation, however, makes it very difficult for individuals to work across teams and functions – which is how a project-based organisation operates. As a result, generalists, including project managers, are now in high demand.

Can you clarify the importance of process mapping?

Process mapping is not only important for project management, it’s also important for operations and taking action. It's important to know, for example, what steps need to be taken. Although every project is different, most share a similar process, such as defining the project plan, drafting the project charter, and reporting. Having processes in place is how people learn and avoid making mistakes, and process mapping facilitates continuous improvement.

Having a plan B infers that we don't believe in plan A. Is a plan B always necessary, or is it better to rework plan A?

I find the question an intriguing and interesting challenge to our implicit trust in the planning we develop on a project. Nevertheless, I think having a plan B is absolutely essential. Sure, there is always the risk that we spend too much time on risk management and not enough time on the project itself. However, all too often having a Plan B is part of getting the project done. For example, let’s say your project is organising an outdoor graduation party and barbecue. What do you do if it rains? The answer is your plan B. The same can be said for any project. In other words, plan Bs are often what keeps your project on track.  

Does a project-based business need a project control tower approach to project management? 

The project control tower, also called a programme office, is one of the most widely used ways of organising a project management office (PMO). Although I do think they are necessary, as there needs to be some control in the work we do, it should not be the priority. 

Too often a company’s sole focus will become controlling the project, at the expense of creativity and innovation. So, in the end, the project control ends up being what prevents a project’s success. That’s why I think you’re starting to see a shift towards project coaching, with the PMO being an ally – or consultant – instead of just monitoring and policing a project. This shift will add significant value to project management in general.  

What shall we do when it’s difficult to convince senior management to give the project manager the power and accountability to lead people? Is it time to change jobs?

Absolutely not. I think project managers must play a stronger role in managing their bosses, or sponsors. In the past, project management and project managers mostly focused on the internal matters of a project and not so much on the sponsor or the stakeholders. 

Today, the opposite is true. You need to be an externally focused project leader, meaning you need to engage with the sponsor and teach them not only why projects are important, but how they can play a very important role in a project’s success. In fact, 30 – 40% of a project’s success can be attributed to sponsor involvement. So clearly a project manager must spend a lot of time cultivating sponsor engagement, even if it means delegating some other traditional project management tasks to others. 

I think this is the future of project management, and instead of jumping ship and changing jobs, project managers must evolve towards this new role.

What are the main takeaways from your presentation?

Although we covered a lot of key elements, the two main takeaways from the presentation are the importance of customer centricity and fixed deadlines. For example, I discussed the importance of prioritisation, especially when confronted with conflicting objectives. I also talked about the project economy and the consequences it will have in organisations and individuals. 

I believe the future is projects, and that most of us will spend our lives working on projects and that our careers will be based on projects. As a result, job descriptions will become a thing of the past. This was all illustrated in the iPhone case study that I presented, which is one of the best projects I've ever seen. There's a lot of lessons to be learned there.

Considering their bitter history, what kind of relationship do you recommend between project managers and change managers?

Indeed, there has been a lot of friction and confrontation between project managers and change managers, but also between journey and Scrum masters and product owners. In the future, all of these functions will merge into a single role. 

Projects are all about change and transformation, and for that you need project management skills. But you also need to be good at change management, be able to manage the scrum, and understand the product. That’s why I see the project leader of the future combining these four skills and really driving the business, and the organisation, towards meeting their strategic goals.

> Download the webinar recording here <

About Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez is the global champion of project management. He is the creator of concepts such as the Hierarchy of Purpose featured by Harvard Business Review, or the Project Revolution, which argues that Projects are the lingua franca of the business and personal worlds from the C-suite to managing your career or relationships.

Antonio's research and global impact in modern management has been recognised by Thinkers50 with the prestigious award "Ideas into Practice" and is ranked #17 in the global gurus Top 30 list. He is part of Marshall Goldsmith 100 coaches.

Antonio was the global Chairman of the Project Management Institute in 2016 and co-founder of a global movement – the Brightline Initiative.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez is now Director of the Project Management Office at GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines, as well as a faculty member of our Executive MBA, where he teaches project management, and is currently working with our team on the development of an executive programme in project leadership, due to launch in 2021.

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