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Analysis_

The future of projects

Are robots coming for our project jobs?

This article is based on a series of roundtables and a report from ICCPM and John Grill Centre examining the important topic of leadership of large scale complex projects.

Project leaders will have to understand and adapt to the impact that digital disruption will have on the successful delivery of complex projects. This includes embracing and exploiting the power of technology in managing project risk and uncertainty, how project managers understand and manage stakeholder and project interdependencies, using technology to make better decisions, how technology is enabling virtual project teams to collaborate etc.

The really big challenge about Digital Transformation is, because it’s so big and ethereal and out there somewhere, it’s easy to put it onto, “Oh, I’ll worry about that tomorrow” and the trouble is, tomorrow has already arrived.
Participant quote

Roundtable dialogue highlighted that there is a fair bit of hype around robotics and the future of work. Developments that are already starting to deliver results in various areas include Big Data (combined with predictive analytics) and autonomous systems. 

"With robotics, artificial intelligence, parts of or whole industries will change, and we have to adapt to that. That’s the biggest thing in our lifespan that we yet have to adapt to.
Participant quote

The obvious question is; what are the implications of these developments on roles such as a project scheduler or a cost estimator if roles like these are to a significant extent about data collection and creating an autonomous set of rules for project decision making?

Some Roundtable participants expressed their concerns in regards to robots potentially taking over their jobs. However, we argue that Industry 4.0 should not be seen as being about replacing project management roles. It’s about identifying what tasks can be delegated to machines so that humans can focus their experience and insights more productively. Therefore, Industry 4.0 is really about improving project delivery performance by enabling project leaders (humans) to make better decisions. 

Roundtable participants suggested Industry 4.0 design principles for how project and program leaders should leverage digital technology to enhance their leadership and decision-making skills, including:

Stakeholder management:

  • Leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning to extract and analyse data from stakeholder groups for early identification of any issues that may be festering, or new coalitions that may be forming.
  • Use technology to collaborate with customers and suppliers who can make valuable contributions to problem solving.

Project governance and planning:

  • Use digital technology to enable project leaders to more quickly model scenarios and obtain better decision information faster.
  • Use digital technology to give governance structures access to real time project performance data.

Scheduling:

  • Automate the management of the scheduling process.
  • Use technology to visualise and identify interdependencies and schedule conflicts as the environment changes. Machines are very good at keeping track of a lot more ‘things’ and with AI being able to work with humans, it will enable us to take in a lot more data.
  • Keep track of things that otherwise are just too much work for a project manager but might just take projects to the next level.

Skills required for industry 4.0

TQ (Technical Quotient) has been used to describe a person’s ability to assimilate or adapt to and integrate technology changes, which is obviously important when considering Industry 4.0. However, somewhat less obvious are the top 10 skills needed to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution which include; complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation, and cognitive flexibility.1

Roundtable participants quickly acknowledged that technology alone would not guarantee project success. We therefore argue that, amidst all the digital transformation hype the human factor should not be underestimated as it is the creativity of project leaders (humans) in using a combination of IQ, EQ, PQ (political intelligence) as well as TQ to know when, where and how to employ appropriate project management related digital technology. In the end, the key to future project success will still be about enabling the people who deliver the project.

Read the full paper


This report is based on the Roundtable series in 2018 builds on previous themes through its focus on Project Leadership as the game changer in large scale complex projects. Combining the complementary expertise of International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) and its Series Partner, the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership, this report examines the important topic of leadership of large scale complex projects.

Roundtable workshop participants were asked to consider the leadership paradigm shifts that are needed to successfully deliver large scale complex projects. This report is the distillation of the contributions from events held across Australia, Canada and the UK. It draws on the experience of the participants and the expertise of ICCPM and the Series Partner, The John Grill Centre for Project Leadership, to present insights that individuals and organisations can use to improve their project performance.


Dr Maurizio Floris, Director of Leadership Programs, John Grill Centre for Project Leadership

Collin Smith, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, International Centre for Complex Project Management

Professor Suresh Cuganesan, Chief Executive Officer, John Grill Centre for Project Leadership


1 World Economic Forum. 2016. The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/ [Accessed 29 January 2019].