Be a project management professional

Your development journey for 2018

The Future Work Skills 2020 report identifies six drivers for change in our learning practices and ten skills for the future.  What are these skills? How can we as project managers use them in the way we define and follow our professional career path in 2018?

Future work skills 2020




Skill 1: Sense-making

Definition: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed

 As much as 70% of our learning comes from experience – not the classroom.  But for experience to be translated into sustained learning, we need to connect it to the way we think about and act in the world.  We need to make sense of it in the context of our environment.   70:20:10 is one example of the frameworks suggested to encourage experiential and work-based learning.


  • What do you do to create opportunities to reflect on your experiences and draw out lessons to be learned?
  • Do you recognise when you have experienced informal learning in your work life? Do you identify them before or after they happen?
  • Are you creating the time and space to reflect on your own learning?

Skill 2: Social Intelligence

Definition:  ability to connect with others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.

 Projects demand that we create and maintain relationships with stakeholders.  Some projects need us to become involved with very varied stakeholder groups, some who are important because of the role they have, others because of their personal agendas.  That means engaging with people who may have very different views and perspectives from those for who the project was primarily intended.  The soft skills for project management, such as emotional and social intelligence  – the ability to empathise and communicate effectively with different groups – are increasingly recognised as essential to project success by professional PM bodies.


  • Were you satisfied with how you engaged with people who took an interest in your projects?
  • Have you sought out feedback about the approach you take to connecting with stakeholders? What do they think of you?

Skill 3: Novel & adaptive thinking

 Definition: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based.

“A professional is anyone who does work that cannot be standardized easily and who continuously welcomes challenges at the cutting edge of his or her expertise.”, David Williamson Shaffer

Methods and frameworks have been an essential aspect of the professionalisation of project management, but it takes more than ‘fancy Prince2’ to make a  successful project manager.  More and more, the challenge is to ensure that project managers are sensitive to stakeholder needs.  Templated reporting is rarely the answer to providing meaningful information for decision making.   Critical appraisal skills are essential for evaluating and ‘mining’ those precious nuggets of information from the data available – what is helpful and what will help is far more important than being a source of unprocessed ‘good ideas’.


  • Consider what you do routinely in your projects: When did you last question the value of the processes being used?
  • What do you do to inspire good decision-making by others?

Skill 4: Cross-cultural confidence

Definition: ability to operate in different cultural settings

 At the PMI Congress in San Diego,  Sue Gardner reported how Silicon Valley (with a work-force of 70% white males, below the age of 35) was severely impacted in its innovation by the lack of cultural diversity.   Projects benefit from appropriate leadership and the structuring of the project to exploit the benefits of diversity in the project team and broader stakeholder groups.


Skill 5: Computational thinking

Definition: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning

The critical challenge for the project manager is to add value to the data that is available about the project.   There are a variety of ways you can convert data into valuable knowledge – here are just a few:

  • Store information so others can find it
  • Curation of information to bring relevant information in digestible formats to the people who need it
  • Validation of data to ensure that the reliability and currency of the information is communicated
  • Synthesising data to derive insights


  • Is the level of uncertainty of the information being processed clear enough to support the decision-makers make good decisions? Have you made explicit the source and possible agendas of the information providers?

Skill  6: New media literacy

Definition: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication

Effective communication is a fundamental success factor for projects.  Getting the attention of our stakeholders can be difficult with so many demands on their time and decision-making capacity.  Communication needs to be audience-centred – a ’spray and pray‘ mentality, which sometimes appears to be adopted by projects just doesn’t work.

The combination of short attention spans and smaller screens has increased the need for data visualization. If the audience can be engaged in the first few fleeting moments, it raises the possibility of higher involvement later on.”Atma Shetty

A variety of communication tools and approaches exist to aid communications – it’s about picking the appropriate ones for the audience’s needs.


  • Do you deliberately adopt different media for different audiences and different content?
  • Are you clear about what works best, and when it is best to engage with your audiences?
  • Have you tested your approach and sought feedback from your audience?  When did you last consider new ways of communicating?

Skill 7: Transdisciplinarity

Definition: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines

Today’s project managers need to be more of a polymath than a specialist.  Being a ‘techie’ will only you take you so far.  As projects get more complex, the ability to manage across multiple-disciplines, and being able to deal with the socio-political aspects become more important.

The PMI and other PM professional organisations are now emphasising the importance of so-called ‘soft-skills’, suggesting that these are at least as important as the technical skills often associated with projects.  Many of these soft skills are around our abilities to communicate with and engage with stakeholders.   While hard skills are always attributed to technical duties and soft skills attributed to leadership roles, these roles are often interrelated and it is sometimes difficult to separate them.


  • Are you relying on your technical expertise to get projects done? What could you do to extend your knowledge and understanding into personal awareness and the management of social situations?
  • Which soft skills do you think you could develop further in 2018?

Skill 8: Design mindset

Definition: ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes

 It’s rarely possible to fully analyse out a solution.  At some point, there has to be a leap of faith and innovative thinking that creates the solution design.  Creating an environment where design can flourish and its outputs captured, communicated and validated is an important part of the project process.  Approaches such as Agile may be used to encourage product innovation or process evolution.  These approaches must be selected in line with the level of innovation required and the level of risk that the client stakeholders are prepared to live with.


Skill 9: Cognitive load management

Definition: ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques

There is so much information available online that the real skill now is how to effectively curate – capture, make sense of and share information in a form that can be used by all stakeholders.  It really is the case that less is more in most project reports.  That means taking the time effort and critical appraisal necessary to ensure that the salient points are captured.


  • What curation approaches are you using?
  • Can you do more to make your reports succinct and to the point? Have you sought feedback on the impact of your communications with your stakeholders?

Skill 10: Virtual collaboration

 Definition: the ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

 Collaboration has always been essential to projects.  Increasingly this means collaboration across business units, as well as organizational and international boundaries.  Collaboration tools abound, but the problem is not simply the technology but how to create an online collaborative mindset.


  • What new techniques have you tried and will you try next year to facilitate collaboration on your projects?

Sources and links

Future Work Skills 20:20, 2011

What is 70:20:10?

Social and Emotional Intelligence matters

David Shaffer on the professional learner

Sue Gardner – Wikimedia and diveristy

Hearing every voice: how to maximize the value of diversity of project teams.  Cherbeneau, J. (1997). PM Network, 11(10), 34–36.

On how to add value to information

On how to improve your curation strategies

Are you using data visualization in your communications?

Elizabeth Harrin on communication tools & tips

Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary – what do we mean?

The hard vs the soft skills debate

Sharpen your soft skills in this workshop of underestimated project management tools

How to create a design mindset

How to promote innovation on projects

Beth Kanter on how to curate content

Best online collaboration software 2017,2817,2489110,00.asp



Changing IT roll-outs into stakeholder-led implementations

When rolling out new IT infrastructure to a large number of client sites, it is tempting to consider it to be the same project over and over again.  But while the project may be justified in terms of the standardisation of technologies across the corporation, how those technologies get implemented and exploited by each business area may be substantially different.

Philpic1Phil and his team recognised that the crucial factor, the thing that would make-or-break this global project was not the technology but the differing business contexts and stakeholders concerns that each roll-out would deliver into.  A previous attempt at implementation had been a costly failure – the business knew it and needed other options.  Fifty-seven countries impacted;  12,000 applications reduced to just one thousand; the very way that users could access their PCs would change with admin rights removed from all personal computers.  These changes were far-reaching, and their instigation by a central controlling group was unlikely to meet with group-wide excitement and positive emotions!

The business agreed a new approach was necessary.  The first actions taken by the project manager, Phil Urwin, was to send members of his team to visit the twenty hub-countries and establish the stakeholder success criteria.  What would make it good for them at their site… in their words?  Phil’s aim was to convert the technology implementation into a stakeholder-led programme.  Each site visit resulted in a 2-page summary of what mattered to the local stakeholders, and each site was different.  Some reported non-technical users who would need hand-holding –  others reported good technical skills.  Implementation no-go times, PC wants and needs- all captured succinctly in the 2-page mandate for the site implementation.

The rollout project was a large initiative for the company.   At the Head Offices in the UK,  the normal governance structures existed – “these role-based stakeholder engagements were engaged through formal structures, but often there was little interest from them beyond getting a view about the status of the project.  It was with the agenda-based stakeholders that we needed to focus our attention.”  The project established open channels of communication with these groups using webex or whatever medium best suited the participants.  Before and during the implementation this was crucial and resulted in at least weekly meetings.  While the project team took responsibility for the initiation of the meetings, the agenda was driven by the stakeholders – it was definitely their meeting.

With fifty percent of the programme rolled out and four of the largest implementations completed the signs are good.  Customer satisfaction ratings were previously 2-3 and during and post the implementation moved from 4.1 to 4.6.  When asked about the lesson learned from the project, Phil describes two critical areas:

  • A stakeholder-led project. Right from the start, the project outcomes were aligned to the needs and agendas of stakeholders in their own business context.  Phil does not talk about the technology or what it could or could not do – his total focus is on addressing these concerns.
  • Stakeholder-focused, “like-minded team.” It’s not enough for the project and project manager to be stakeholder-focused this attitude and approach must be propagated throughout the whole team. Following the process is not good enough (although the process matters) the understanding and buy-in from every team member is crucial to translating good ideas into a reality on the client site.

Phil Urwin is currently a programme manager with The Grangeside Group.  In September he will be presenting at the New Zealand Project Management Conference in Christchurch on how to recruit the right project manager, develop and keep them.

My thanks to Phil for taking part in the Success Stories Shared initiative.

SSS-logo-smallSuccess Stories Shared is a South African initiative to encourage sharing across the project community. Driven by Louise Worsley & Linky van der Merwe, you can find these stories online on this blog site or at

If you have a story to share, please do contact us:

  • Louise Worsley:

Stakeholder-led project management: Communication as information-seeking

The ‘six-whys’ of communication is discussed in a series of blogs. In this one, the focus is on communication as information-seeking.


Communication as information-seeking

In information-seeking, the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘how’ questions are critical. Who should we be speaking to about what, and most importantly, who has the authority and expertise to answer the questions. This demands an excellent understanding of the stakeholders’ sources of power and careful thought on how to categorize and group stakeholders for the consultation process.

Continue reading “Stakeholder-led project management: Communication as information-seeking”

Purposeful Communication:

The PMI process assumes that the primary purpose of communications is to ensure the project provides relevant, accurate, timely, and consistent project information to all the appropriate project stakeholders. This is a good starting point, but there are other reasons for communicating with our stakeholders. For communication to become purposeful, it is important that these are understood if we are to have any chance of formulating the right communications strategy. Aside from the four communication questions—what, when, who, and how—to truly understand the purpose of communication, we must, of course, ask one further overarching question: Why?

Continue reading “Purposeful Communication:”