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5 of the biggest external factors affecting projects right now

Societal shifts are having a profound impact on business right now, and projects are no exception. Project managers will have undoubtedly felt the tidal wave of change over their profession recently. So, what are some of the biggest external factors affecting projects currently? And how are these going to shape our future? Here we delve into what is happening here and now and look at how we can roll with the times.

1. COVID-19

Unless you have been living on another planet (lucky you), you will have noticed we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has affected nearly every part of our lives! Like most careers, the project profession has felt the effects of the coronavirus. We are tackling new challenges with remote working, issues with supplies, delays and even loss of business.

We have already entered a recession at the hands of COVID-19. Economic uncertainty will often put business perceived to be non-necessity on hold. Unfortunately for the project profession this may mean scaled back plans. It is likely to also result in greater client involvement as they keep a closer eye on risk and spending.

Whilst there's not a whole lot we can do but ride out the recession, having an awareness and understanding of the pending changes to projects can be of benefit. It can allow us to reassess the needs of our clients, stakeholders and senior management. We may review budgets and spending, and even look for innovative solutions.

2. Environment and sustainability

If you haven’t watched David Attenborough’s latest show - A Life on Our Planet, then we cannot recommend it enough. Not only does it highlight the devastating effects our ways of living are having on nature, but it also addresses how if we act now, we can work to reverse the damage done by recent generations.

‘What has this documentary got to do with project management?’ we hear you ask. Mr Attenborough and the clever documentary makers tell the facts in a way that resonates and really hits home. No matter who you are, and what your role is in the business world, this film’s powerful message really makes you sit up and listen.

“This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate.” [Source]

As we all learn more about our carbon footprint, we are looking to make changes not only to our personal lives but in our business decisions too. Low environmental impact is becoming an essential factor for projects. The need to act responsibly is set to continue to impact business regulations too. For practices to be sustainable urgent action must be taken.

3. Tech

We’ve entered the fourth industrial revolution, a time defined by technology advances such as artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning and virtual reality. As a project professional you may have already discovered the joys of automation, a host of tiresome tasks are being made much easier thanks to AI. But reports say that 80% of today’s project management tasks could be automated by 2030. So, does this mean our days are numbered?

Many would argue quite the contrary, and that AI is set to take on traditional functions of the project role such as data collection, tracking and reporting. Therefore, rather than being replaced by machines, our roles are being reformed by technology. We are already seeing the effects of this. Take reporting for example – Project Managers still need to understand, direct, and interpret reports, but we no longer have to spend hours pulling them together the way we once did. In that way, tech is allowing us to focus on higher value tasks.

Projects and project professionals alike are being transformed at the hands of tech. Project lifecycles are rapidly speeding up as automation capabilities improve. And so decision making too must be proactive and PMs must be able to be agile and reactive.

4. Longer working lives

Here in the UK studies have shown that by 2030 one in five people will be aged 65 or over. The age for claiming your state pension is creeping later and later to reflect this, meaning that people can expect to undergo longer working lives.

In terms of our careers, working later in life has been shown to pay off in more than just income. Older workers will benefit greatly from social engagement and mental stimulation, both of which have been proven to prevent chronic disease.

Of course, in order to remain successful in their roles, the aging workforce population must commit to lifelong learning. Retraining and upskilling is already becoming essential; as projects evolve, so must those driving them. Having the ability to adapt and move with the changing times is going to be paramount for the future of project professionals.

5. Change

Overall, we must recognise that change is a constant at present and will be into the future. Of course, COVID-19 has given us a crash course in that! How we react, adapt and manage change is of vital importance.

The priorities of our society are changing. As project professionals we must act with an environmental awareness, embrace technology developments no matter how rapid or disruptive, and embrace continual learning as we are set to work later in life than ever before. We absolutely must keep up or risk being left behind.

Project leaders must become empowered to harness each of these challenges and master change. As the core skillset for our roles are being reimagined, we must learn to thrive through change in order to future-proof projects.