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As Organizations Transform, the Role of the Project Manager Is Changing

Jason Brucker, Managing Director Technology Strategy
Thomas McKernan, Associate Director Technology Strategy and Operations

Project management as a function is undergoing rapid and profound transformation, and organizations are reconsidering the value project managers (PMs) can bring to their programs and projects.

Over the course of a series of blogs, Protiviti will explore the evolution of the project management function from an administrative role to a transformation agent, along with the impacts to organizations as they look to execute capital projects and organizational change, and adapt and plan for the future.

Not an Administrator, but a Business Partner

Project management is changing from an administrative role to a functional or, preferably, consultative one. This revolutionary change is driving a demand for more knowledge, skills and experience to align with the multiple perspectives and demands of project management from across all organizational levels throughout the project life cycle. Successfully aligning to this shift generates significant improvements to delivery and attained value for the enterprise’s strategic business priorities.

This paradigm shift requires a PM to now have the cognitive abilities to diagnose a business situation and provide reconciliatory recommendations supported by complex, domain-specific data internally and externally. The PM must holistically understand strategic intent to identify opportunities, translate organizational strategy into executable actions, and deliver results that satisfy the business priority vision. As shown in Figure 1 below, the new demands have shifted the expectations of a PM beyond the administrative role of the past to where now a PM is expected to be an effective business partner and organizational change agent. The highly sought-after PMs with these capabilities are result-oriented leaders who drive business value creation.

Figure 1 – The transformation of the project manager

Drivers of Change

Gone are the days of the check-the-box administrative or “paper” project manager whose responsibility centered around the coordination of easily understood and sequenced tasks.

As shown in Figure 2, continued globalization and the velocity of emerging technology and innovation are introducing new challenges and complexities, while the demands for rapid speed to market remain a constant. Team diversity is increasing as global economics have pushed work offshore to countries with lower cost and as remote working arrangements have aided global teams. Projects are becoming larger, more complex and lasting longer, factors that have made them increasingly difficult to harvest maximum value. As the world and business transform, the project manager must keep pace to deliver value and stay relevant.

Figure 2 – Drivers behind project management transformation

A Growing Demand for Next-Gen Project Management Skills

The drivers highlighted above underscore the need for a next-generation PM who has a broad set of skills and the functional knowledge to apply these skills to the initiatives driven by those forces.

Organizational leaders demand that PMs manage with tighter budgets, shorter timelines, scarcer resources and rapidly changing technology. While applying traditional project management processes, tools and techniques establishes the foundation for organizations to deliver and attain goals, this next generation of project management capabilities goes beyond the basics to enable the organization to rapidly unlock and deliver business value to remain competitive in the global economy.

Below are two examples of how applying advanced cross-domain capabilities can lead to successful project deliveries.

Example 1

At a global bank, a PM is tasked with delivering a global enterprise release involving 500-plus employees, more than 30 functional areas and multiple third parties. The PM is expected to reduce the number of high-priority production issues post-deployment significantly. Just applying the standard set of project tools would not suffice. A variety of system development life cycle methods, a diverse set of vendors and regulatory concerns are in play.

The PM draws upon his or her applied knowledge of IT risk management guidance from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council and of vendor contracting and negotiation, and the ability to integrate traditional waterfall methodology with agile methods to align expectations, maintain transparency, improve defect management practices and orchestrate delivery across the team and the business. This next-gen project manager is as accountable for success as the business-unit and technology leaders are. As a result, after deploying the first release, high-priority production issues are eliminated, while the process for enterprise releases going forward is significantly improved.

Example 2

A global equipment manufacturer is under regulatory pressure to establish effective controls over sample product inventories used by sales representatives in the field. A next-gen PM immediately takes several actions:

  • Assembles key stakeholders into a planning increment to align to priorities.
  • Increases transparency and builds trust by communicating the real status of the project.
  • Realigns dependencies across a variety of IT and business workstreams.
  • Recasts the entire scope, approach and plan to deliver the most critical regulatory features of the inventory system first.

The PM draws upon his or her applied experience with SAFe (the Scaled Agile Framework), collaborative relationship building, technology knowledge across all IT DevOps, information reporting and SAP. The PM also builds organizational readiness communications and training into the project and ensures their effectiveness. As a result, within six months, the project delivers the most critical sample product inventory capabilities, back-office reporting and enterprise supply chain capabilities. The achieved adoption rate by the field sales team is at 75% within 10 business days of deployment.

Closing Thoughts

The examples above illustrate the breadth and depth of project management skills required to handle the complexities of typical projects. In subsequent blogs, we will discuss the project management transformation in more detail, including how organizations are rethinking the design and operating model of their project management functions to meet the future head-on.

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