They say data is the new oil. This newfound oil has propelled the world into the fourth industrial revolution, and concepts like digitalisation, digitisation and digital transformation are on everyone’s lips. We hear all the buzzwords: Big data, Structured data, Unstructured data, Data lineage, Data analytics, Data science, Data Mining and more. But have we stopped and wondered how this revolution is impacting the way traditional project managers manage and execute projects? What are the skills required by the modern project manager to deliver in this digital age?

It comes as no surprise that the average, process-orientated project manager is ill equipped to deal with the demands of today’s digital transformation ambitions that often involve rapid, iterative processes and new and evolving technologies. 

Mark A Langley, PMI President and CEO supports this notion, saying:

“In this new professional reality, project leaders (whichever title they use!) continue to need a thorough combination of technical and project management skills, leadership skills, and strategic and business management skills… we know that organizations need project leaders with an ability to learn and keep pace with technology.”

So, what type of project manager is best suited for this dynamic digital environment where priorities, scope and urgency is fluid and change (mostly rapid change) is inevitable? What skills should the modern project manager have in her armour to face and overcome the challenges of the fourth industrial resolution?

PMI research has shown that a truly digital skillset requires a combination of technical and soft skills. Over and above the traditional skills ascribed to project managers, the most critical additional technical skills required by the digital age project manager are Data Science skills, Security and Privacy Knowledge and Legal and Regulatory Compliance Knowledge whilst they require additional soft skills like Collaborative Leadership, having an Innovative Mindset and the ability to make Data-Driven Decisions.  

Data Science – By having the ability to extract information from data and visualising the findings in graphs and numbers, project managers can improve future project outcomes by drawing on lessons from past projects. They are able to manage projects more effectively from cradle to grave based on the data that allows them to track progress and predict deviations from plan before they occur. The different data sets become the main drivers of decisions during the various stages of the project.

Security and Privacy Knowledge – As projects are increasingly becoming dependent on information systems, the concern of cyber security attacks are on the rise. Project managers should therefore be aware of the type of data involved in a project and have the requisite security and privacy knowledge to protect it by all means possible.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance Knowledge – The modern project manager should be familiar with the rules, laws, and regulations impacting their organisation and more specifically the project they are managing. They should be able to answer compliance-related questions and must react quickly to changes in existing regulations or new regulations that emerge.

Collaborative Leadership – Cross-functional project teams are becoming the norm and the project manager must have the skills to offer security and trust, break down walls, encourage cross-functional communication and inspire everyone to work together as one team.

Innovative Mindset – In order to nurture and grow an innovative mindset, the modern project manager must not be scared to embrace change and act with speed in both thought and action. It requires the project manager to be creative and have the ability to think big. It also demands unrelenting courage to challenge the norm to affect change.

Data Driven Decision Making – Digital age project managers use data analytics to focus on the different levels of project, program and portfolio management to ensure better project outcomes from better decision making.

In addition to the above skills, Customer Focus and Change Management emerged as other essential skills required by the digital age project manager. 

Customer Focus – In its Future of Customer Experience Survey 2017/2018, PwC reported that 73% of consumers indicated that a positive customer experience plays a key role in influencing future purchasing decisions and 32% of cases, customers would stop doing business with an organization after just one bad customer experience. Customer service these days is all about Personalisation, Speed, Convenience, Friendliness and Knowledge.

Change Management – When Bain and Company conducted their Orchestrating a Successful Digital Transformation Survey in 2017, they found that a mere 5% of companies executing digital transformation programs reported them meeting or exceeding their expectations. The reason for this, in many cases being inadequate change management. This fact is backed up by the PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report®, in which 28% of project professionals said that poor change management was a primary cause of project failure during the preceding 12 months.

Recruiting the right skills is necessary for organizations to succeed at digital transformation. But recruitment alone will not ensure success. To be successful, businesses must focus on making training and development a priority while nurturing a culture of innovation brought about by constant change as a result of new tools and disruptive technologies.

Digital age project management will require organisations and individuals alike to be agile and quick to adapt if they are to survive, let alone compete in the rapidly evolving and highly competitive business environment fueled by the oil of the twenty-first century.  

Source references:

PMI’s Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report, 2018;; Egremont International, Stone & River

Article written by Nico Nieuwenhuis, Moyo Talent Solutions, part of the Moyo Business Advisory Group