Project-based work is the engine that generates the major accomplishments of our civilization. According to recent research, the number of individuals working in project-based roles will increase from 66 million (in 2017) to 88 million (forecast 2027). And the value of economic activity worldwide that is project oriented will grow from $12 trillion (in 2013) to $20 trillion (forecast 2027).¹
Those are millions of projects requiring millions of project managers per year. My prediction is that by 2025, regardless of the industry or sector, senior leaders and managers will spend at least 60% of their time selecting, prioritizing and driving the execution of projects. We will all become project leaders.
In this new landscape, projects are becoming the essential model to deliver change and create value. In Germany, for example, approximately 40% of the turnover and the activities of German companies are performed as projects. This is only going to increase.² In fact, similar percentages can be found in most Western economies. The figures are even higher in China and some of the other leading Asian economies, where project-based work has been an essential element in their economic emergence. The so-called gig economy is driven by projects. Make no mistake, we are witnessing the rise of the project economy.
And this massive disruption is not only impacting the way organizations are managed. Every aspect of our lives is becoming a set of projects. The main implications are as follows:
• Education: For centuries, learning was achieved by memorizing hefty books and mountains of written material. Today, the leading educational systems, starting from early ages, apply the concept of teaching projects. Applying theories and experimenting through projects has proven to be a much better learning method, and soon it will become the norm.
• Careers: Not so long ago, professional careers were made in only one organization. Throughout the 20th century, most people worked for a single company. Today we are likely to work for several companies, and at some point we will most probably become self-employed, working primarily on projects. This sort of career is best approached as a set of projects in which we apply the lessons we have learned from previous jobs, companies and industries while developing ourselves for our next career move, often not known in advance.
• Corporate governance: Boards play a critical role in value creation and long-term organizational success. In the current turbulent times, providing direction and prioritizing initiatives have become essential competencies for boards. When organizations execute too many strategic projects without clear prioritization from the top, they will be spread too thinly: teams will fight for resources, commitments to contribute to certain projects will not be respected, and most projects will fail to meet their initial cost, time and benefit estimates. Conversely, ignorance of the accountability duties by directors in these matters is a weakness in corporate governance that can have devastating consequences for corporations, destroying a vast amount of value and often bringing corporations to the verge of collapse.
• Democracy: The current crisis that we are seeing in political systems around the world has led academics and others to propose new ways of governing countries. One of the most revolutionary experiments was carried out in Ireland. The Convention on the Constitution, established by the Irish government in 2012, addressed a number of potential constitutional reforms, including whether to change the electoral system or to reform the parliament. The novelty is that each topic is being tackled through a project. One third of the convention’s membership consists of members of the Irish parliament, and two thirds is made up of ordinary citizens who are selected at random from the Irish population and work on the project in a limited time frame.
• Economic theory and prosperity indicators: Progress has traditionally been measured based on purchasing power or per capita income. But what really marks progress is something else in the background: throughout history, both societies and individuals have gained a greater capacity to carry out projects. Traditional indicators, stemming from economic theory, were fine when the world was more predictable, but that is no longer the case. In the near future, we might be looking at economic indicators based on the real capacity of a country, or company, to carry out its projects. That could be a more suitable indicator of economic and social power.
The good news is that project-based work is human-centric. My belief is that project-based work will increase the focus on people. Projects cannot be carried out by machines; they need humans to do the work. Humans must gather together around the purpose of the project, dividing up the work, bonding, interacting and addressing emotional aspects to create a high-performing team. Technology will of course play a role in projects. It will improve the selection of projects and increase the chances of success. But technology will be an enabler and not the goal. The Project Revolution will be led by people, not robots. It will be led by people like you.
1 Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report 2017–2027 (Project Management Institute, 2017), accessed 1 October 2018, https://www.pmi.org/-