The Future of Project Management in Design
Sarine Sahakian, LEED GA, urban designer at evolveEA, is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Project Management at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
By 2027, I think one of the most important things that will affect project management— that we are already seeing and will only keep growing — is the massive public and private investments into combating climate change. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act allocates “$400 billion toward promoting domestic production of clean energy technology and generally retrofitting America to survive climate change.” (The White House, 2022)
I see shifts in business models like Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard transferring the company “to a specially designed trust and a nonprofit organization” (Gelles, 2022) to fight climate change only increasing. Heralding a “new form of capitalism” that puts people and the planet first . Regardless of the intentions of these actors and outcomes of these actions, I think our response to climate change will shape the future we are moving towards. As the Global North keeps pushing for more green and clean energy, the gap with the Global South will only grow and climate migration will be an added strain on the infrastructure of the cities we live in.
This look into the future is paired with the continued growth of the “project economy” or project based business models. Nieto-Rodriguez, the previous chairman of the Project Management Institute (PMI), claims that “the value of project-oriented economic activity worldwide would grow from $12 trillion in 2017 to $20 trillion in 2027” (Niet-Rodriguez, 2021) with an accompanied massive growth in jobs in the field. So with climate action at the forefront of everyone’s mind and project management as a tool to help us through it, I think the PM field will have to be flexible enough to integrate a wider range of professional fields from urban planning, governance, academia,to healthcare. If it wants to serve as a common language, project management has to shift away from its focus on IT, construction, and manufacturing.
As a project manager and designer, I think this shift implies that projects will include a wider range of technical disciplines and PMs will have to develop the soft skills — communication, leadership, creativity, interpersonal skills — that support project management methodologies and tools to become the “common language” to tie everything together. The PM will have to be a generalist with a multi-disciplinary perspective built on a technical foundation. They will have to focus on managing multiple projects within an integrated approach. As mentioned by globally recognized PM expert Harold Kerzner, over-management of projects is not needed anymore and project managers can handle more than one project given the proper tools and training, support from senior management, and shared accountability with other line managers. (Kerzner, 2017)
I think the job of the project manager will have to evolve to focus more on people and the agility needed to jump scales from project to project and detail to high-level bird’s-eye view.
So here are a few suggestions of skills to develop for any current or future project manager, especially those in a design field:
- Focus on Change Management with agility: This is especially important when responding to complex, fast, and unexpected situations. “With the increased pace of change communities are experiencing in all five trend categories (societal, technological, environmental, economic, and political)” (Hurtado, Shah, DeAngelis, & Gomez, 2022) project plans and solutions will have to be more flexible.
- Consider Interdisciplinary collaboration outside of the fields that relate to the built environment such as IT experts, public health, … This is where project management as a field will help me expand my ability to collaborate with others from different backgrounds.
- Remember the Interpersonal People Skills, which have come to the forefront especially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we work in teams that span the globe a nuanced cultural perspective must also be brought into the soft skills needed to manage projects.
Gelles, D. (2022, September 14). Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/14/climate/patagonia-climate-philanthropy-chouinard.html
The White House (2022, August 23). New OMB Analysis: The Inflation Reduction Act Will Significantly Cut the Social Costs of Climate Change. Retrieved from Briefing Room: https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/briefing-room/2022/08/23/new-omb-analysis-the-inflation-reduction-act-will-significantly-cut-the-social-costs-of-climate-chang/#:~:text=The%20Inflation%20Reduction%20Act%20represents,a%20year%20in%20energy%20costs.
Hurtado, D. Ph.D., Shah, S. Ph.D., DeAngelis, J., & Gomez, A. (2022, January 18). 2022 Trend Report for Planners. Retrieved from APA: https://www.planning.org/publications/document/9228382/
Kerzner, H. (2017). Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling (Twelfth Edition ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.
Niet-Rodriguez, A. (2021). The Project Economy Has Arrived. Harvard Business Review, 38-45.