Does an ageing project management workforce pose a risk?
Hopefully you will have read, or at least be aware of, the Association for Project Management’s ‘Projecting the Future’ initiative – particularly the recent challenge paper about the risk of an ageing project management workforce (3) – ‘Ageing and Demographics: the 100-year life’.
If you aren’t aware of the initiative or haven’t read any of the papers issued to date may I suggest that you do – as the challenges being highlighted are critical to our Profession moving forward.
However, I believe this latest challenge is hurting us now – a number of surveys of our Profession in 2019 suggest that we already have a disproportionate number of ‘more mature’ (I need to be careful with my words here), but highly experienced and knowledgeable project professionals (over 30% with more than 20 years’ experience). The risk being that they will leave, taking with them all their experience and knowledge.
Does an ageing project management workforce pose a risk to your organisation?
This leads me to suggest that we should be looking at, and implementing, ways to resolve this issue now. How can we protect ourselves against the potential loss of an individual’s capability; their knowledge, skills but critically their experience – now – not in a few years’ time? That might just be too late!
But firstly why is loss of experience so critical?
CITI has been researching into ‘what good looks like’ for successful project managers for over 25 years. The results of our on-going research and capability assessment activities consistently show that experience (measured in terms of length of service and variety and complexity of projects managed) is strongly correlated to levels of capability. For example, our high performing group used as a comparator for assessing project management capability has on average twenty-one years experience in projects, with at least nine as a project manager.
This leads me to suggest that experience tends to be a capability limiter; project and programme managers may be less capable than their experience would indicate, but are very seldom more capable.
On the assumption you agree with me, what should we be considering, and then doing, to accelerate the development of ‘experience’ in project and programme managers, so that investment in capability development is maximised?
What can and should you be doing now to safeguard your organisation’s project and programme delivery capability and reduce the negative impact of losing valuable experienced resource?
But before deciding, there are a number of factors to take into account that can have a significant impact on the rate and degree of development of project manager capability, including:
There are two aspects to consider here – effectively two sides of the same coin:
The organisational perspective
The importance of, and higher value placed on technical or other professions, such as engineering, financial services, health care or technology as opposed to project and programme management skills can be an inadvertent trigger. If this is the case and project managers tend to be selected for their technical ability and knowledge – then, in general, a focus on project management capability development, per se, tends to be of a lesser importance and becomes more of a slow burn.
We have found that where project managers have a high degree of relevant technical ability in, for example, technology focused projects, their development as project managers is often slower. This is a natural consequence. If technical ability is valued and a project manager has a strong technical grasp of the deliverables, their focus on the need to understand and manage the political environment is reduced. This in turn can lead to a de-emphasis on team building and leadership skills.
Additionally, if project managers are repeatedly assigned to similar technology based projects, personal and organisational investment in maintaining technical mastery is strong. This can discourage development in project management.
However, that is not all the whole picture.
If you are in a highly specialised environment, in almost any industry but particularly those such as technology which are exciting and constantly evolving then why develop other skills – when you need and want to maintain your technical edge?
That is a hard question. The obvious answer is to stay and build your career in your current area.
But in five, ten or more years will that be the same? Will the lure of senior management be calling – even the board room? If that might be a possibility then a broader range of management and people skills will be critical for you and the organisation. And effective and successful PPP management requires individuals to be skilled in all of these and as such is a great development opportunity. And from personal experience I know you need to expand your skill base to enhance your career.
If either of these scenarios is prevalent in your organisation they could easily exacerbate the risk from loss of experience.
It is recognised that risk can be introduced by the appointment of under-qualified/experienced project managers to projects. Therefore the natural response is to allocate a project manager who is known to be sufficiently capable of managing that project. However, that does not significantly increase the capability of the community as a whole – exacerbating the ageing project management community factor.
Managing an ageing project management workforce professional development requires management effort and investment. But such a commitment does pay dividends in terms of enhanced and predictable delivery, increased RoI, enhanced capability, individual commitment and overall staff retention. So, if your organisation values its people and is committed to their development it can be a key mechanism to reducing the risk from losing the more mature members.
But what can, and should, we be doing now to increase our organisation’s capability?
For now I am going to propose what I consider the top priority and the first action to undertake.
I believe that if you don’t fully understand your future demand profile and whether your current capability matches it, then this should be your first consideration.
This activity clearly involves investment and commitment on behalf of the organisation and its project and programme management community. But it is valuable and will achieve a return on that investment. For example, where an organisation has assessed its current project and programme management capability and then compares this to the projected size, level and complexity of the future demand any project and programme management development and recruitment can be appropriate. In addition, areas assessed as most at risk from loss of experience and knowledge can be prioritised.
But more of this next time. So if you believe your organisation might be at risk please do read my next blog.
Ageing project management workforce conclusion
In the meantime if you would like to hear more or discuss this further or talk with us about how we can support you in determining the complexity of your future portfolio and the capability of your project and programme management in your ageing project management workforce please contact me JNichols@citi.co.uk
Below you can access some of my other blogs written on similar and related topics:
We know hybrid projects exist and the challenges these may present for their project managers but what is hybrid projects a sponsors perspective?...18 October, 2019
Is your business successfully delivering your hybrid projects? And by this I mean those which have differing product development approaches - normally mixed method Agile and Waterfall projects....27 September, 2019
Recognition of the existence of hybrid project management has risen following an increase in the number of organisations embarking on projects that address multiple commercial aspects with agile or mo...11 August, 2019