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Project Managers Must Learn to Embrace Disruption through Disruptive Technologies

Project Managers Must Learn to Embrace Disruption through Disruptive Technologies

Three people looking at a holographic touch screen depicting the project management disruption compressor.

Last Updated March 8, 2024

Disruptive Technology Will Impact the Future of Project Management (and Managers)

To help identify what skills project managers of tomorrow will need, the Project Management Institute (PMI) surveyed the professionals who hire them.

For its September 2018 report titled, “The Project Manager of the Future: Developing Digital Age Project Management Skills to Thrive in Disruptive Times,” PMI partnered with Forrester Consulting to survey 523 project leaders and 469 human resources professionals who hire, direct, oversee and/or train employees whose focus is projects.   

From their vantage point, HR professionals see a business world being remade with disruptive technology. The disruption is so thorough, even the project management titles are evolving, according to the report. Project managers are taking on new roles that include team leaders, Scrum Masters, product owners, delivery, implementation and change managers and transformation leaders, to name a few.

Most significantly, according to the report, the project leadership role is becoming the project lead or even the project executive, an indication that these particular professionals are playing an expanded and essential role in managing projects while navigating through the disruption.

New Titles, New Duties

The titles are indicative of significant changes brought on by new technology, particularly automation, which is freeing project managers from their more routine tasks so that their time can be devoted to strategy, innovation, communication and management.

Specifically, the top six digital-age skills as defined by the report are:

  • Data science skills (data management, analytics, big data)
  • An innovative mindset
  • Security and privacy knowledge
  • Legal and regulatory compliance knowledge
  • The ability to make data-driven decisions
  • Collaborative leadership skills

Directly or indirectly, most of these skills are linked to the transformations brought by digital technology. Lack of these skills is already having negative effects on some organizations.

The Digital Talent Gap,” a 2017 study by LinkedIn in collaboration with French consulting firm Capgemini, found that more than half of the 1,250 HR and talent executives surveyed said the gap between the digital talent they needed and could find has been widening in the past few years, and that this gap is a major barrier in their journey to digital transformation.

New Mindset

Hiring project managers with these digital skills can be vital for a successful transformation, but it’s not a guarantee. According to “The Project Manager of the Future” report, the organization must undergo a transformation in its mindset in three vital areas:

Training and Development: Project managers’ roles are expanding, which will make training and development of new skills vital for the organization’s success and progress. This should include both training for new employees and retraining for veteran workers who need to get up to speed in order to function in the digital environment. New hires with specialized skills in data science, for example, may need training in security and privacy or legal and regulatory compliance.

Next-Level Tools: While project managers will have to embrace newer and emerging tools, they shouldn’t discard older tools with proven track records. Newer collaboration platforms such as IBM’s Watson’s Workplace will be part of organizational transformation, but so will tried-and-true tools such as spreadsheets. Organizations could be working with a full spectrum of approaches, finding out what works best for each group and developing hybrids that combine elements of different approaches.   

Culture: The past and current usage of the word “disruption” illustrates the impact the digital revolution has on language. Having one’s business disrupted in the 20th century likely wouldn’t have been cause for optimism or enthusiasm. But in the digital age, the word brings to mind new opportunities and the potential for new and greater successes. Innovative organizations tout their openness to disruptive technologies in the way some used to boast of their stability. In the digital age, it’s vital that the organizational culture views disruption in a positive light.

Understanding that disruptive technology is evolving the field of project management, project managers should be proactive in developing and honing disruptive technology skill sets to meet the need for future demand.