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Episode 118: “Future Trends in Project Management” with Stephen Carver

In this episode we hear from reknowned Academic, Businessman and Speaker Stephen Carver.

Stephen is rated as one of the top three lecturers at one of Europe’s leading MBA business schools – Cranfield University in the UK. As well as lecturing, Stephen runs a successful project management company, drawing on his experience of working with corporations such as Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, and Virgin. He is a regular contributor on national radio and TV and his gift for storytelling is legendary. In this bonus Project Management Paradise Podcast episode, which is a recording taken from a webinar, the project management guru Stephen Carver discusses future trends in the project management industry.


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Transcript from Episode 118: “Future Trends in Project Management” with Stephen Carver

Welcome, good morning, perhaps good afternoon, depending on what part of the world you are in. We are delighted to have you here for today’s webinar on future trends in the PPM industry by the one and only, the great Stephen Carver. Delighted to have you all here today, we’ve had a huge turnout. It’s no surprise given Steven’s popularity. So, it’ll be really interesting for us to hear him talk about this topic. It’s such an important area, given the coronavirus crisis we’re all in, at the moment.

It will be interesting to see him take a peek at how the world might look after the crisis. He’s going to touch on some really interesting topics – artificial intelligence and leadership in the industry. And a lot of you will know Steven already, he’s an infectious character in person and a brilliant speaker. I guess what I enjoy about him the most is his storytelling ability and he has the expertise to back it up. He’s actually at the coalface himself, he has his own project management consultancy business and of course, he lectures at one of the best business schools in Europe – Cranfield University. Now, over to the great man himself.

Over to Stephen

Thank you and welcome everyone. It is nice to see so many here and I can see lots of friends and friends I’ve yet to meet, as they say. So, let’s go back in time because that’s our business, we are time lords, we are project managers, we control the future. In February of this year, Cora said: “Can you actually tell us what’s gonna happen in project management over the next five years?” This is February, remember. So, I scratched my head and I did some work and some academic research and three things came out very, very strongly indeed. And that was demand, demand for project management skills, secondly, management was beginning to turn into leadership, and finally, automation.

Now, predicting the future, Homer Simpson, my goodness me, had some good words to say about this “Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future.” But then, the world turned upside down, we suddenly had a pandemic. Somebody decided that eating bat soup and keeping pangolins was a smart idea and it turned out not to be. And so we are now living in extreme change times and how did people respond? Buy more toilet paper. It’s amazing, isn’t it? You’re facing almost death on a daily basis, what you really need – toilet paper. People are not rational in times of change and extreme change makes them even more baffling in their behaviors.

And so hopefully we’ve got over that phase, the panic phase, and now people are beginning to say “It’s terrible, most governments have done the right thing but hey what’s going to happen afterwards because there will be an afterwards?” because changes just take you from where you are to somewhere else. So, did my predictions start to wobble with all of the Covid-19 stuff. Actually, no. When I sat down and looked at it, they were even more relevant. Why? Because all that has happened in the future is now speeding up towards us. I think most experts agree about that. Things like video conferencing the thing we’re doing, it was going slowly, now it’s gone exponential. Homeworking was going slowly, now it’s going exponential. So, this crisis has just pushed the future onto us, sooner than perhaps what we would have wished. So, the future is now rapidly going towards us, what do you do afterwards?

Very quickly, who I am, what I am, some of you know me already, originally brought up as an engineer in the oil business. Look at that, I had hair. And I was brought up as an engineer, everything was about the projects, all about the methodology, the people, the equipment, the materials, it all comes together. After that, I got packed off to do an MBA at Cranfield business school and then they packed me off to go work for Virgin, to discover what it is like to work in a non-project supporting environment.

And then went back to Halliburton, paid my dues, became head of the strategy, which is an extreme change, and how you can predict the future. And then I set myself up and again with hair, as a consultant in the 1990s, making money out of banks, believe it or not. I am an unusual member, I’m not an academic, I’m not very clever. I take the clever ideas and see if they actually work and then bring that back to academia. So, that’s my role.

I work with companies across the globe, across all sectors, I don’t care what they do. Basically, they’re all doing change, and change is just universal. It’s just a bunch of people trying to make the world different. I also spend a lot of time in the military now, pro-bono, both in Ireland actually and in the UK, because they know all about leadership in extreme times. So, I do a lot of work for them and they teach me about leadership.

Let’s talk about the future. We’ve got three things, we’ve got the demand, leadership, and automation. Now, just to give you a heads up how are we gonna spend the 40 minutes. 10% of the time on demand, 80% on the big one – leadership because that is where all the changes are coming out, and finally a bit on AI that has a massive impact, but not perhaps this year, perhaps the next year is taking off. I will start with demand then. So, the Majesty’s government in January 2020 stated that 90%, that is an awful lot of money, is actually to buy major projects. In the same report, they, unfortunately, said that 30% of them can’t be amber or read.

What a frightening thought, all those billions and billions and billions of pounds being wasted on projects that are out of control. Now, as a result, this man became a chief advisor. You are gonna love him or loathe him but he does actually have the ear of the British Prime Minister and so, therefore, he is dictating a lot of policy. In January 2020, he said that the project managers are experts and assorted weirdos. I thought “Hallelujah, my time has come, as a weirdo, as a project manager, my time has come. Thank you, Dominic” He said “If you think you are one of the small groups of people in the world” and I think it is a small group, “who are truly great project managers, then we want to hear from you.”

More Project Professionals required

It’s obvious that improving the government requirement is fast improving the project managers, improving people and skills already there. So a lot of civil servants are thinking “ We got to up our game now because it’s been professionalized”. If you want figures that international PMI 2027 and they reckon that 90 million people will be required as project professionals around the globe. That is a lot of people, a lot of qualifications. APM in the UK and Europe with PWC did a major survey this year until the end of last year. One of the top 10 UK fastest growing professions is project management. Two million people, full-time equivalents generating 156 billion, bigger than financial services. I never thought I’d say that – bigger than financial services. I hope we could get salaries to go with it, which actually brings me onto this one – the salary survey just released by the APM. And again, interesting figures, 41% said about £50,000, I trust that’s a week, 53% of consultants more than £70,000, not bad. 63% expect a salary increase. It is not “Could I possibly”, it’s “I expect it” and 9% expect a significant increase, “because I am in demand”. 84% optimistic of them expect an increase in the next five years. We are the profession in demand, the numbers are there, it’s going very, very rapidly up. That’s 10% on-demand.

Let’s move on to something that we can really chew over and a lot of these things are going to cover, it’s my opinions and my observations over the last few decades and how things are changing. Leaders, I was brought up to be a project manager and there is a big difference as I said, you get really clever people, good methodology, get all the equipment and put it all together. It’s all dumb. That’s the way I was trained but a few decades ago, 20 years ago, I began to realize that actually that works in some situations, but in other situations, it was completely the wrong thing to do on your project.

At the time I used to say this, it’s all about the process, it’s all about the book of knowledge. I’m not knocking the book of knowledge or any of those good things. Not all of those methodologies are that bad, they are all absolutely fine, but they are situational and they are part of the solution, not a solution itself. The APM actually publishes and this one I’m going to read out because I think it’s so important. Sarah, if you’re there, one of the co-authors on this one with Mike, with Cranfield and APM put this research together and I found the findings really quite extreme. I will read them.

Future Skills for Future Projects?

The skills required, there are three major implications from this project, and let’s just move this out the way, so I can actually read it whilst I do it. Okay, splendid. Very different to the skill development of project management, leadership is more about the future, setting direction, working with people, working outside of projects with stakeholders, where many aspects of project management are inward and backward-looking. Across my own value last week, project leaders just have to let go of many, if not all of their project management activities to become the project leader for some typical transition and in my experience, for some people it’s impossible. This is strong stuff.

Going on then, project leadership is different from general leadership. Besides the pace of change, project leaders have to deal with creating, organizing, developing and dispersing the project team and the project organization, put them all together and in much more unstable and volatile environments and have to make fast judgement calls in ambiguous situations, like the Covid-19 that we got a moment. Although many project management leaderships overlap with general leadership skills, we have concluded that simply developing general leadership skills is insufficient preparation, developing the relationships needed for complex major projects.

Finally, there has been an overemphasis on project management skills in many of the competency frameworks, are you a level 1 or level 5, and has it fit in for the matrix, not knocking this, but I see some companies getting obsessed by it. Although this is changing, greater emphasis needs to be placed on developing our understanding of project leadership skills, competency frameworks, so leadership scheme. So, more judgement, more leadership, less management. We have got over management, in my view, I’ve seen it creeping in the last 10 years. I’ve got nothing against compliance and all these good things but depending has gone too far. First trousers, then your shoes. Look, if you treat people like idiots by saying “Turn off your brains and just follow the methodology and we will be on this” then you will create idiots. Lots of books at the moment rebelling, breaking the rules. Ouch. I thought compliance is all about obeying the rules. It means that occasionally you need to break the rules.

“…learned helplessness…”

This guy, project guru, told a great story, watch on YouTube, about learned helplessness. I love this expression, I heard it from him.  He tells a story about 7 monkeys, you might know it, I’ll just do it in two minutes, not with his style but there you go. Seven monkeys put together in an experiment, put in a room, and the ladder was there and there was a little trap door with bananas coming down. Monkeys thought “Great. I will go up there and I get bananas.” Monkeys are not stupid. Then what happened was, one day, a monkey went up, took the banana, and immediately got covered in cold water, it went down the steps.

The rest of the monkeys were thinking “What the hell happened up there?” They ran up the stairs, they got covered in water and every monkey that went up got covered in water. And no matter how many bananas came down from the ceiling, the monkeys thought “I’m not going up there, I will get covered in cold water.” Then what they did, they took one of the monkeys out, put in a new monkey that never saw any of this. He thought “Bananas!” and went up the stairs. And immediately, cold water sprayed all over him. And the other monkeys were going crazy because they were getting sprayed as well. So the monkey stayed on the ground. And they took out two monkeys, put in other two monkeys that never saw any of this.

They immediately saw the bananas. They started running towards the ladder. Immediately, other monkeys went crazy and pulled them down “Don’t go up the ladder, we will all get sprayed with water!” And you can see where this story is going. Eventually, they changed out all of the monkeys, so the only monkeys that stayed in the room are the ones that never saw the water being sprayed, but they knew that is what might happen, so the monkeys stayed and did not eat the bananas. And that is how many companies are nowadays.

You have a bunch of smart, clever people saying “What is the point of driving this project through, compliance and governance that will drag me down? Forget it.” And that’s bad. That’s really bad. The computer says “No.” The computer is just people. And yet somehow we’ve allowed it to take over. You can take this one on a serious note, the Manchester bombings. A bunch of young people are being blown up. Appalling. And yet the Manchester crews said they were ashamed over their delay. Why? I have met these people, they are brilliant people too but they were held back, frustration, embarrassment, feeling ashamed, that prevented them from doing anything that night.

What happened? Well basically, they could be there in 6 minutes and many of them were, but they were held back, compliance, rules, and they were actually held back for 2 hours. That is appalling and it brings tears and frustration. Lucy Powell, the Labour MP for Manchester Central “We have cleared national protocols in relation” and failed to recognize every incident is different, and every project is different, every change is different. Flexibility and judgement is needed. The report highlighted how firefighters had stuck to the rules, but they were the wrong things to do. I see this all the time on projects. We have to liberate our people.

“Sully” Saved Lives

Dalai Lama once said “Know the rules well. And then you can break them even more effectively.” You want an example. Let’s take the landing on the Hudson. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, the genius pilot that landed that plane. By the way, just when we take a look at that picture, how many people are actually wearing life jackets? This idea that people will follow the government rules. I will put on my life jacket… just doesn’t apply in extreme change situations.

I watched the film and they tried to find Sully guilty, that he made the mistake and in fact, he had actually deviated from standard operating procedures. So, they had him on the stand, we can blame the pilot, it’s not the plane, not the procedures, not the governments, you can blame an individual. Lovely. Thank goodness, in the end, they realized that if that man followed exactly the operating procedures then possibly everyone would have died and he had the judgement and the experience, you need the two, to be able to say “No, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do this. And I’m gonna do that.“ And as a result, all of those souls were saved.

Notes

Watch the full Stephen Carver Webinar referred to above “The Future is Positive – The Future is Projects” here.

Stephen Carver has also produced a Guidebook on the topic of future trends entitled ““Post COVID19 Trends: “The Future is Projects – The Future is Positive”. Download it here.

Connect with Stephen Carver on LinkedIn.

Follow Stephen Carver on Twitter here.

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