From the industrial to the knowledge era - moving into a new world of project management

The first IAPM Network Meeting of 2021 was held on February 17. This time the Network Meeting was organised as an interactive workshop and questions were answered and ideas were developed together. The topic was "From the industrial to the knowledge era - moving into a new world of project management" and the evening was focused on the following workshops:

1. Which changes can we anticipate? - Let's do crystal ball gazing!
2. How can we gain new perspectives to eliminate this thought error? - Our paradigm shift!
3. What new needs can we expect in the future? What do goods and services have to offer for this and what do they look like?
4. Which projects will we work on? What will the project management look like?

Read on to find out what results were developed!
Woman covering her face with a book. [1]

Are you in a hurry? Then read the summary of the results here!

What are the characteristics of the knowledge era and what does this change mean for us project managers?

The internet produces information endlessly.
  • Advantage: The knowledge is available to us just one click away
  • Challenge: Relevant knowledge must first be extracted, and ambiguities must be avoided.

For us as project managers, this means: We need to develop mindfulness to overcome this challenge.

We are already experiencing changes in our professional and private lives. These will intensify in the future. Such changes include the following:
  • Collaboration, which is changing dramatically as a result of COVID-19.
  • Climate change, which is progressing faster and faster with noticeable consequences.
  • The internet, which will lead to a further acceleration of business processes.
  • Artificial intelligence, which is developing rapidly and will affect private individuals as well as entire system.

For us as project managers, this means: We have to master the challenges that are associated with it. We have to realise that digitalisation is not simply a continuation of industrial processes. We know that the pressure to adapt can make us vulnerable.

There is a paradigm shift: the previous linear development is being displaced by exponential development in many areas. How can we deal with this?
  • The known planning methods must continue to be used.
  • Alternatives must be identified.
  • Contingency plans must be developed in advance in case the unexpected happens.

For us as project managers, this means:  We have to work small-scaled and combine the "old world" with the "new challenges". We have to make the right decisions and nevertheless act quickly.

Project management will change:
  • The key lies in interlocking the different project management approaches.
  • Bottlenecks must be detected and eliminated at an early stage.
  • Key figures must be used to make decisions.
  • Reviews will become essential to gain insights and make decisions for the future.
  • Project staff must have knowledge and experience in project management, and they must be willing to apply it.

For us as project managers, this means: We have to take on different roles, e.g. as empathic facilitator, quality manager or as strategic communicator.

Dealing with mistakes must be improved:
  • Mistakes can occur and are sometimes unavoidable.
  • A culture of constructive criticism must be established, which allows feedback and makes this indispensable.

For us as project managers, this means: We have to communicate that one can learn from mistakes. We have to live the culture of constructive criticism ourselves and set a good example. We have to show our teams that pointing out a mistake is not a personal attack, but an opportunity to improve themselves.

Are you interested in the exact findings? Then read on!

The tangle of networked data and the scarce commodity of sensitive mindfulness

Within the bubble of the internet, information is produced indefinitely. Figures, data and facts – everything we know is available to us only one click away. And yet, as this is all mixed together with nonsense, unimportant information or irrelevant data material on the web, the relevant knowledge is difficult to access. The situation is similar in our projects. Our communication within the project team, with clients and suppliers, provides plenty of opportunities for ambiguity and multiple meanings in addition to valuable information; we experience the grapevine, hear alternative facts or fake news and in addition are faced with half-truths and untruths daily.
The deeper knowledge about our project and its environment, about our clients and fellow campaigners, about our supporters and opponents, about well-founded scientific insights or about relevant, project-influencing issues; to have the mindfulness for all that – even if we have to deliver our results under time pressure – that is the real challenge. The search engine matches with human judgement; intuition – gut feeling – matches with sensitivity, warm-hearted sensibility and personal knowledge matches with accumulated experience.

Changes caused by exponential functions

We are faced with fundamental changes because of digitalisation. Our thinking, both positive and negative, is used to the linear and not the exponential function. That is why we are not even able to rudimentarily grasp how drastic the expected upheavals will actually be.

Workshop 1: Which changes can we anticipate? - Let's do crystal ball gazing!

The COVID-19 pandemic is showing us new ways of collaborating. Many things learned in recent months will be retained because they have proven to be useful, cost-saving and efficient.
Climate change is accelerating, spurring alternative mobility concepts and the entire energy sector.
The internet leads to a further acceleration of business processes and thus also enables short-term reaction to change and pinpoint access to target groups for companies' product and service offerings.
The entire field of artificial intelligence will also develop rapidly. The emerging development here will lead the revolutionary unfolding of exponential change to an unimaginable pressure to adapt. This will affect complex systems, but also every single individual.
The pressure to adapt to the new circumstances, to deal with the dynamics and complexity of new systems, will make us much more vulnerable than we currently anticipate.
The new technologies and the digital machines are therefore not simply a continuation of the industrial processes and the machine tools positioned within them. Seeing it this way would be a crucial mistake that we as project managers must avoid. 

Workshop 2: How can we gain new perspectives to eliminate this thought error? - Our paradigm shift!

In many areas of our lives and our work, the previous linear development will be displaced by exponential development. However, which areas will these be? Let's start with the games! Sandbox games can help us to build new paths, sculptures and castles in the sand: They show us very easily and at the same time very clearly what the innovation could look like. We have to develop scenarios, colourful, greyish and dark, comprehensible and logical, but also abstract and abstruse ones. Based on this, we can assess the consequences of our actions and omissions. We can recognize where there might be unrest or pressure in the system. In order to identify, perhaps eliminate, errors, our familiar planning methods must be used. The development of plans, of road maps, must show alternatives and provide the basis for what may be small-scale decisions. Nevertheless, the unexpected will happen, and for this we need contingency plans, reserves and security systems. Above all, however, we need humanity and a willingness to help.

From future needs to a new project management

The market economy system is successful because supply and demand can come together there. But for the big and new issues in the world, there is (still) nothing that can be traded. Without goods and services, there is no supply. Without concrete needs, there is no demand. For the new things that will be important, perhaps even essential for us in the future, there is neither supply nor demand, i.e., no markets.

Workshop 3: What new needs can we expect in the future? What do goods and services have to offer for this and what do they look like?

Describing the appearance is very difficult, we don't know whether it will be more like a family home or a cathedral, but perhaps we can assume with a high degree of probability that it will be a building constructed of stones and glass panes. Then we will get on very well with a modular system, a construction kit. Therefore, we will have to become small-scale. How can small parts be assembled? There will have to be glue that can connect the "old worlds" with the "new challenges". The glue has to work fast, because we have little time, the speed of implementation stretches us to the limit. This builds up the pressure towards the decisions we have to make. Fast, but right decisions, require the right analyses, but also reliable data. In order to construct a building, we also always need people. These people must be qualified and motivated to make things "good". These people need to be identified, their competences must be assessed with certainty and they must be integrated into the system. There will always have to be master builders and architects, different hierarchical levels will have to make use of their decision-making space and fill it with life. But these levels are also where the leaders are to be found, who have to give a good feedback when something good has been done. 

Workshop 4: Which projects will we work on? What will the project management look like?

Modular projects require modular project management: the key lies in interlocking the different project management approaches. Traditional and agile project management will be made hybrid. In the project, it is important to focus on the limiting factor, the bottleneck. We can use the critical path to identify the time-critical work packages and thus determine the bottleneck in the project process. Risk analyses help to identify the riskiest work areas and impediments are revealed in a project processed with the Scrum framework in the Daily Scrum. Much more attention needs to be paid to these areas of work in the future. The bottleneck must be professionally detected and then eliminated. In order to control, regulate and get a grip on processes, comparatively simple key figures need to be used to monitor what is happening in the process, measure the key figures of the process and use them to make decisions.
However, initiating the right actions requires additional feedback processes. Reviews, retrospectives and assessments must be further professionalised and the findings quickly and reliably transferred into rules and instructions.
This now leads us to the people who carry out such assessments and the people who are subject to assessment in the project: The project managers and their teams. Project staff must have knowledge and experience in the subject of project management, but the willingness to apply the available knowledge and accumulated experience is essential. Project managers must be found and evaluated. The selection process takes on a new challenge. Profiles have to be built up and the right people need to be found, possibly trained. In many projects, the project manager has to take on the role of an empathic facilitator and quality manager, his communication has to be geared to the respective interlocutor. He will have to become a strategic communicator to be successful in project work.
Human beings make mistakes that is nothing new. However, it can still be bad, which is why a culture of mistakes must be created that allows mistakes, but also openly addresses them in order to learn from them and to be able to do better the next time. Often this disclosure of mistakes is perceived as destructive criticism and the person concerned feels personally attacked. The development of a culture of constructive criticism, the recording of mistakes and deviations and the open handling of mistakes is not malice, not bullying, but indispensable in order to be able to learn from mistakes. Project managers and their teams need to develop themselves in terms of self-assessment. Self-awareness, self-criticism and the willingness to develop further must be flanked even more strongly in the future, e.g. by coaching the project managers and their teams.

Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Co-authors: Guillaume Saint-Amans, Udo Schmidt, André Zaenker


Keywords: Project management, news, employee management

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