The new project-based economy

More businesses are harnessing the power of projects to drive social and economic benefits. Standards get practical about the future of work. 

Few minutes to read
By Roxanne Oclarino
Published on
Colleagues looking at cheerful businesswoman holding laptop in meeting at creative office

In an ideal world, a project economy is where people are empowered to have the skills and capabilities needed to turn ideas into a reality. It’s a phenomenon where organizations deliver tremendous value to exceed stakeholders’ expectations through successful completion of projects. Yet, research shows that only 35 % of projects undertaken worldwide are successful. This means that huge amounts of time, money, resources and opportunities are being wasted.  

Slowly but surely, projects have been dominating workplaces as a business-critical driver for innovation, growth and success. To some extent, the rise of the project economy means the end of job descriptions. The Project Management Institute (PMI) forecasted that the value of project-oriented activities worldwide would be at USD 20 trillion by 2027 – generating countless jobs for 88 million people. Even more interesting, these estimates were made before countries started spending on pandemic recovery projects, which means that the project economy is here to stay with a promise of significant value to the economy and society. 

To take advantage of this unique situation and ensure that projects do not fail, organizations need to adopt a purpose-driven approach that will enable them to reach their goals in a constantly evolving business horizon. It’s high time for companies and leaders to break out of old-fashioned ways and lean into an agile working style. 

Begin with the end in mind 

Managing projects goes beyond setting a target, defining the scope, meeting deadlines and deciding the budget. Projects give work meaning and can be particularly inspiring for team members – affording everyone a sense of purpose instead of having them just show up or do the bare minimum at work. A study by Deloitte reports that purpose-led companies have a 40 % higher level of employee retention. When people feel engaged at work, it keeps them motivated and gives them a broader perspective that their projects can be beyond just making money. 

Purpose-led companies have a 40 % higher level of employee retention. 

However, projects still fail at an astounding rate and it’s not hard to understand why. Projects are customized by series of teams working through uncertainties. Even managers can fail to anticipate everything, especially during these challenging times. Thus, effective project management, as well as having the proper structure, skills and tools to achieve it, is fundamental to an organization’s success. 

Less is more 

Since project, programme and portfolio management is a growing field and discipline, it needs to be carefully planned, directed and aligned with an organization’s strategic goals. Leaders and key players need to be familiar with the full spectrum of project management philosophies and techniques. This can mean having smaller teams, fewer methodologies, lesser tools and simpler projects. This business discipline, when done right, helps organizations: 

  • Get maximum returns by using minimum resources 
  • Reduce costs 
  • Increase productivity of employees or team members 
  • Achieve customer satisfaction 

In the current landscape where competition is tough, a business can only succeed if it adopts innovation and creativity, and effective project management ensures both these things. It helps organizations complete work systematically as everything is done in a proper sequence, from setting goals and objectives to implementing the right strategies to achieve them. The recently updated ISO 21503 and ISO 21504, two standards that help advance the governance and management of projects, will guide organizations towards greater efficiency and better outcomes.  

A programme is a group of projects that are similar or related to one another, and which are often managed and coordinated as a group instead of independently. ISO 21503 provides guidance on concepts, prerequisites and practices of programme management that are important for, and have an impact on, its performance.  

Effective project management is fundamental to an organization’s success. 

On the other hand, a portfolio is a group of different programmes within the same organization. ISO 21504 gives guidance on the principles of project and programme portfolio management. Typically, management of a project and programme portfolio supports the organizational strategies to deliver value.  

The main purpose for the standards’ revision was to harmonize the terms and their definitions, figures and text with the ISO 21500 series of standards devoted to effective project, programme and portfolio management. 

Looking ahead 

With the advent of new technologies and leadership paradigms, the project management landscape is changing rapidly with the latest emerging trends. Its beauty lies in its agile nature to meet the evolving needs of the workplace every single day.  

An organization can go through dozens, even hundreds, of organizational changes ranging from small adjustments of internal processes to total overhauls of a company’s structures and strategies. Latest trends like relying on digital platforms for remote work and deploying artificial intelligence and data analytics pose new challenges to the workforce. Increased adoption of projects and its methodologies allows organizations increased flexibility and can make it easier for them to embrace these substantial changes. 

A dramatic shift has taken place in our workplaces, and it looks like projects are here to stay. We’re facing these kinds of evolution at work because the nature of the work itself demands it. Gone are the days where workplaces are dominated by operational and repetitive work. We are now living in a constantly changing environment with massive creation of projects. Now more than ever, having successful projects is just as important as having them in the first place – it’s crucial that we do it right. 

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