Author: Alison Coleman

Alison Coleman

About Alison Coleman

Alison Coleman is a freelance journalist and editor, with 24 years experience, founder of Coleman Media, and a Forbes contributor. She covers stories on all areas of business for national and international online and print publications. Follow her on Twitter @alisonbcoleman or check out her latest work at

Gen Z: Project Managing Their Futures

Teenagers are making their presence felt in the tech start-up world, developing apps, creating social networks, and building online businesses at a remarkable pace. Far from treating them as side hustles to their schoolwork, these youngsters take their tech ventures very seriously, demonstrating discipline, drive, and determination while developing the project management skills and strategies they know they need to succeed.

Aaron Golbin

Aaron Golbin is the teenage creator of several online ventures, including, a debate platform that uses AI to revolutionize the online debate experience, and, a website where users can share their ancestors’ stories of hardship. He is also the founder of, which uses gamification to turn the quest to save money online into a game-like experience. It’s an impressive achievement given that he is only 15 years old.

Based in New York, Golbin admits to always having had a fascination for new technologies and new innovations around startups and websites. In fifth grade, he started taking online programming classes, which sparked his passion for coding. Additional programming classes in different languages further strengthened his coding skills.

Golbin, who is currently working on a new AI project for DebateIsland, sees project management skills as key to the success of any business venture but admits that developing his own has been a steep learning curve.

“Project management used to be one of my ‘OK’ skills,” he says, “but after learning from others and becoming more experienced, they really improved, especially after launching my first website,, when I had to execute a large number of tasks and projects for that venture.”

Juggling business life with school life creates extra pressure, but one thing that Golbin has become adept at is time management. “It means I can manage my school work and my businesses without compromising either,” he says. “For example, I usually finish most of my homework during my lunch period at school, leaving ample time to work on my ventures at home.”

Like all entrepreneurs, when working on a new tech project Golbin occasionally runs into problems. “To resolve them quickly, I either consult with others who are knowledgeable in the project field, attempt to fix the issue myself, or search online for a solution. There are plenty of free resources available to entrepreneurs who need advice on fixing programming issues.”

He is exploring options for monetizing the platforms, including advertisements, sponsored content, and premium membership, but his main focus is ensuring they are the best they can be.

His immediate plans include sharing his 92-year-old great-grandmother’s story (Holocaust survivor) with a larger audience and working on another major piece of functionality for DebateIsland’s Debra AI (Artificial Intelligence) using AI, APIs, and proprietary code to interact with users in a debate and make a debate more in-depth and educational.

“Debra AI will be able to participate in a casual debate by creating intelligent posts, questions, and arguments at optimal times throughout a debate, keep users engaged in a topic, and ensure that all participants are civil,” he says. “The new technology enables Debra AI to positively contribute to discussions and debates, while the functionality can be applied to a wider range of applications, such as forums and Q&A sites.”

Jenk Oz

London-born Jenk Oz is the 13-year-old founder and CEO of iCoolKid, a digital platform for youngsters, which he set up at the age of 10. In just three years, with help from his parents, he has transformed the business into a publishing, media, consulting, and production company, creating ultra-cool content aimed at Generation Z. It is quite a feat for someone so young, and part of that success Oz puts down to a determination to learn how to be good at managing projects.

“Project management skills are an absolute necessity but weren’t a strong suit of mine when I began, as most of my experience centered around getting homework in on time,” he says. “But I’ve improved a fair bit, having learned a lot on the job and also being able to watch some of my mentors in action. Seeing professionals up close makes you want to emulate all their great traits and behaviors.”

Originally aimed at the 8-to-15-year age group, iCoolKid is set to undergo significant change in the coming months, with a shift in target audience towards an older age group, and a complete redesign of the website, with a new name of ‘thred.’ New technology, including the addition of an analytics platform, will help to customize the user experience.

Oz’s strategy for managing business change involves a multistage process. “We set up a group messaging board to get feedback on our ideas from the readers to make sure we are on point,” he says. “We then meet in person with our website developers, making sure there’s a creative and a programmer there. It has to look good and work smoothly, so answering questions in isolation is never the best way to approach costly changes.”

He believes the key to success as a tech entrepreneur is to recognize your own strengths and shortcomings, respond to feedback, and be a great communicator. “That’s the unifying force that engages people and encourages positive behavior,” says Oz.

Ollie Forsyth

Ollie Forsyth had dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur for as long as he could remember. At age 13, he launched his first business, Ollie’s Shop, an online gift shop for teenagers, but had no capital to back it. Instead, he contacted 10 different global suppliers and asked them to make him some friendship bracelets, with the proviso that they also sent him some free samples to get sales off the ground. Of course, he sold the free samples and quickly made his first $1,000. In its first year, the business turned over $18,700.

A string of further IT ventures followed, including UniBell, a university platform where students could buy and sell products, and digital marketing agency UNBXD. Today, at age 21, he is the founder of The Makers, an online community of companies disrupting millennial markets and helping entrepreneurs prepare to raise capital to grow their businesses.

In spite of his achievements, UK-based Forsyth says that managing projects and tasks and being organized have never come naturally. As a young teenager, he wrote copious to-do lists to keep himself on track. Today, he uses the same strategy along with digital task management tools.

When things get a bit chaotic and tasks and projects are more complex, Forsyth uses project management software to keep track of where he is with a task and, more importantly, to check on what everyone else in the team is up to. “I still write to-do lists before going to bed,” he says. “I tackle those in the morning and have the afternoon to work on other aspects of the business. Maintaining that routine keeps me organized.”

Launched six months ago The Makers and its team of four have ambitious plans for global expansion, with a focus on the Asian markets. Forsyth could be looking at moving out there in the next year. “I always knew where I would get to as a tech entrepreneur,” he says. “It’s about having the vision, the mindset and the right attitude.”

Creative Ways to Keep Your Remote Team Engaged and Motivated

Remote working has become the norm in the modern world of work, with digital technology enabling members of teams in different locations and different time zones to work together on the same project. With that comes the modern-day challenge of keeping remote team members motivated and engaged, especially when in all likelihood they have never met in person.

While technology facilitates the practical elements of remote communication and collaboration, how do organizations maintain company values and foster a real sense of cohesiveness and team spirit among such geographical disparity?

“Virtual team leaders need to be able to communicate a clear vision, create a shared sense of purpose, create safe space, and build trusted relationships with the team,” says executive coach Juliet Atkinson, founder of The Coaching Connection. “They must also be able to use technology and social media effectively, and role modeling how to do that will help the team do the same. And as in all teams, it is important for team members to feel recognized, valued, and appreciated.”

When it comes to collaborating on a project from multiple global locations, the choice of digital communication tools and platforms is vast, but which will provide that sense of human interaction that will improve the chances of a successful project outcome?

Some organizations have found chat and instant messaging apps to be time zone friendlier than video conference calls—people don’t need to connect in real time to communicate effectively, and some of these workplace apps enhance rapport between distant colleagues and even inject a sense of fun into the collaborative process.

Founded in 2015, the Hoxby Collective comprises a group of 450 people working remotely across 29 countries and specializing in areas like marketing and design. The widely dispersed community uses Slack to brainstorm, discuss interests, strengthen company values, and support other team members, while projects are delivered via Google Suite.

“We set rules around our use of technology to ensure visibility over communications and a common language for all of the ‘Hoxbies,’” says CEO and cofounder Alex Hirst. “So for example, we never email each other, and we always use G Meet for video calls. This creates the foundation created for effective communication.”

Hirst and his cofounder Lizzie Penny produce a weekly two-minute video, “Workstyle Freestyle,” which keeps everyone up to date with the latest news, thinking, and ideas, and also provides a forum for answering any questions. “It’s lighthearted, transparent, and authentic, all of which are key to building engagement within a remote workforce,” says Hirst. “By recording key meetings on Zoom, we can share conversations with those in other time zones unable to attend while respecting their preferred pattern of work.”

Working remotely on a project requires team members to be absolutely clear on what’s expected and who is responsible for what. At Onyx, a small business communications consultancy based mainly in the South East of England, but with new team members recently joining from the United States and Germany, the key to achieving this lies in careful recruiting.

“We obviously need people who are self-starters, but they also need to be very supportive by nature, and not too competitive,” says managing director Anne Cantelo. “We set objectives for everyone, including myself, and clear lines of responsibility. This ensures clear delegation and clarity over each person’s role and the dependence and interdependence of the team, which in itself we all find motivating.”

However, teams collaborating remotely on a project can encounter a mutual knowledge challenge, when information fails to be distributed across the team in a mutually efficient way. Some firms use project management software to make information more accessible and address any knowledge gaps.

“Much of our work demands careful long term planning,” says Cantelo. “At a practical level, we have to ensure that all our online files are consistent, and we maintain a living online project report on each client that anyone can look at and, if necessary, take over when someone isn’t available.”

Recognition and reward systems are vital to team motivation regardless of where members are based and can range from team competitions with enticing prizes to monthly email recognizing those who’ve achieved their targets.

Global staffing company Worldwide101 has two headquarters, one in the UK and one in the US, and a team comprising 150 members, based in Europe, Canada, and the US, with the largest majority in the latter. Finding innovative ways to keep everyone engaged is a top priority.

Their strategy includes the publication of two monthly newsletters: TheLoop, for company announcements, celebrations, and welcoming new team members; and Yours Virtually, which turns the spotlight on a different member of the team each month, finding out about their life away from work, families, and what they do for fun, etc.

“We also send them Pugsy, our stuffed Mascot, who they show about their hometown, take photos with Pugsy of famous landmarks, etc.,” says marketing manager Audrey Fairbrother, “and the rest of the team guesses their location, with correct guesses entered into a prize draw. It’s a little physical manifestation of our connectedness.”

The company also runs prize draws to motivate and celebrate team members who have retained their clients on a yearly basis.

Given the right strategy and tech tools, remote team members can be just as motivated and engaged as their centrally based peers. However, the value of face-to-face interaction shouldn’t be underestimated, and according to Juliet Atkinson, teams should ideally meet in person at least once a year.

 “In-person meetings are motivating as the team will often perceive this as an ‘investment’ in them,” she says, “and it’s a chance for the team to spend quality time together and build relationships. Meeting people face to face can also change our perception of them.”

The team of four at UK-based bookkeeping consultancy But the Books is currently transitioning to remote working, but founder Zoe Whitman is determined to maintain face-to-face interaction by organizing team days.

“They are an opportunity to talk about operational issues, our business strategy for the coming months, and our values,” she says. “As well as covering business objectives, a team day is a great way for everyone to get to know each other in a social capacity, which is good for morale.

“I’ve worked for many large organizations that have had varying levels of success in using technology to keep remote teams connected, but getting together every once in a while really strengthens those personal relationships that are so important to being a well-connected team.”

PMI Report: The Impact of Disruptive Technologies on Project Management

Digital transformation is gathering momentum across all industry sectors, driven by a new wave of disruptive technologies forcing businesses to adapt to new ways of working. And as organizations strive to harness the business benefits of digital disruption, the value of robust and more strategic project management practices continues to soar.

The impact of this digital disruption on organizations and their project management practices is the subject of a new global study by the Project Management Institute (PMI), Next Practices: Maximizing the Benefits of Disruptive Technologies on Projects.

Digital disruption brings huge challenges as well as major opportunities to drive business growth and competitive advantage. Yet many organizations are failing to recognize the significance of this.

The report revealed two distinct performance levels from companies that fell into two groups: the innovators and the laggards.

Innovators See Benefits from Adoption of Disruptive Technology

Innovators, which made up the top 12 percent of the survey, were defined as organizations with a mature digital transformation strategy. They have adopted disruptive technologies as a priority, and, as a result, have met their business goals.

By contrast, laggard organizations, comprising the bottom 14 percent of survey respondents, are defined by their immature, or in some cases non-existent, digital transformation strategy and their aversion to risk. They see digital adoption as a low business priority.

Related: 4 Trends That Will Change Project Management

Specifically, the study found that innovators are using disruptive technologies to enhance the role of project management with their organizations by encouraging greater efficiency and automation (75 percent compared with 53 percent of laggards), automating mundane tasks to free up time for higher level work (59 versus 47 percent of laggards), and developing more strategic roles and leadership skills (57 versus 35 percent of laggards).

Cloud Solutions, AI, and IoT Offer Competitive Advantages

The term “disruptive technology” encompasses a broad range of tools, systems, and even finished products that deliver value in terms of competitive advantage. Perhaps not surprisingly, the three most impactful of these technologies, as named by survey respondents, were cloud solutions, AI, and IoT.

With cloud technology providing speed and flexibility, AI driving intelligence, and IoT connecting much more efficiently to data, the resulting technological triumvirate can radically transform the role of the project manager.

Related: 5 Ways AI and Automation Will Change Project Management

The survey appears to back this up. Eighty four percent of innovators, for example, believed that cloud technology gave their organization a competitive advantage, by facilitating better collaboration and communication and creating greater efficiencies in an increasingly remote, mobile, and field-based world of work. This compared with just 57 percent of laggards with this particular view.

IoT, which delivers powerful levels of connectivity and data exchange, was seen by 62 percent of innovators as a route to a competitive advantage thanks to increased data efficiency enabling more accurate data-driven decision-making. Just a quarter (26 percent) of laggards made this observation.

Sixty percent of innovators stated that AI, which enables faster and more reliable decision-making and helps to minimise human error, was giving their organization a competitive advantage, compared to 22% of laggards.

Automation Frees Project Managers from Routine Tasks

AI in particular could be seen as having a significant role in elevating the strategic importance of the PM role by freeing them up from some of the routine tasks, such as scheduling and budgeting.

The automation of these more mundane elements of project management creates greater opportunities for the project manager to take ownership of all the leadership components of the project.

What is significant about this is that leadership skills, alongside strategy and business management, represent a cornerstone of the PMI Talent Triangle of technical project management, developed in response to a growing demand for soft skills, including leadership, strategy and the creativity of human intellect, which disruptive technologies are unable to provide. These are the skillsets that will shape the future of project management.

Related: 5 Ways Cloud-Based PM Software Saves Time and Money

Innovators already know this and are modifying the project manager’s core skill sets accordingly, recognizing the need for them to have more subject matter expertise and to acquire knowledge and delivery standards that go beyond major certifications. More importantly, innovators are involving their project managers more in the value delivery process as managers of change, as cited by three quarters (76 percent) of those surveyed.

83 Percent of Innovators Already Seeing Benefits

The vast majority of innovators, 83 percent, are already seeing the benefits of adopting disruptive technologies in terms of meeting or exceeding their business objectives.  Many of these have also prioritized critical roles for the project manager working with disruptive technologies, both as an advocate for the technology and as an authority on disruptive technology.

Within innovator organizations, project managers are more likely to be seen as leaders who are driving the change and innovation that disruptive technology adoption demands.

Related: The Skills PMs Will Need in 2025

They also place a greater focus on project management performance improvement and regard proven project management practices as essential for bringing discipline and standardized methodologies to complex change initiatives.

Investing in project management experience leads to better project outcomes. Of the innovators that were embracing project excellence, 71 percent were meeting the original goals or business intent of their projects, compared to only 60 percent of laggards.

Other disruptive technologies considered impactful by the organizations surveyed by the PMI included blockchain, 5G mobile Internet, advanced robotics, 3D printing, and autonomous, or self-driving vehicles.

Innovator organizations that view these and other emerging disruptive technologies as an opportunity to advance, focus on the value delivery landscape, and enable project managers to play a more strategic role in managing disruption, stand to gain more as a result of it.

In summing up the report, PMI President and CEO Mark A. Langley said:

“Disruption has become part of the norm in business and we know that successful organizations are those that can rapidly adapt to new opportunities and challenges. As disruptive technology impacts the work we do, project managers become more valuable than ever as advocates and agents of change with the power to significantly impact the bottom line.”

The Real Impact of Emotional Intelligence in Project Management

Emotional intelligence, or EQ as it is also known, has become something of a bellwether for effective leadership. Various studies have highlighted a link between understanding emotions and leadership and team performance and success.

When EQ first entered popular mainstream, sceptics dismissed it as pop psychology; a fad that would slide out of fashion like other fads before it. However, from the publication in 1995 of Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence,” EQ has increased its credibility as a key leadership skill in the business world.

TalentSmart, a provider of emotional intelligence tests, training, and consulting, recently tested EQ alongside 33 other important workplace skills, and found it to be the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58 percent of success in all types of jobs.

Top Project Managers Focus on EQ

Consultant and business coach Patrick Mayfield’s research found that most project managers spend between 8 and 12 percent of their time on people-focused activities.

However, the so-called “alphas,” the top 10 percent of PMs, spend 60 to 80 percent of their time on this type of activity.

Related: 2018 Project Management Trends to Watch

In assessing the skills relating to the success of project managers, Gerald J. Mount, a professor of strategy and organisational behaviour found that 69 percent of skills related to emotional competencies, with the remaining 31 percent related to business expertise.

The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence

But is there another side to EQ that emotionally intelligent PMs can turn to their advantage? According to Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, there is evidence to show that people who sharpen their emotional skills become better at manipulating those around them.

And if you are good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings.

John Salovey and Jack Mayer, the leading researchers on emotional intelligence, define EQ as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Related: The Two Styles of Project Leadership

As such, EQ is morally neutral and can be used for bad as well as good, as Karlene Agard, Senior Risk and Value Management Consultant at ARAVUN, which works with project management teams, explains.

She says: “Project leaders who have a vested interest in a project going ahead may use their emotional intelligence to mislead those with decision making authority on the project, including sponsors, executives or even government.

They could downplay the realistic duration or cost of the project, either directly or by manipulating those that should provide an independent perspective, in order to get approvals that would be declined if they were fully informed.”

Emotionally intelligent people would have the insight to present the project in the best way possible. Programme management decisions could therefore favour the emotionally intelligent PM’s project if other, less eloquent PMs fail to make the case for their more deserving projects as effectively.

Hiding bad news is something that unfortunately does occur within projects and the emotionally intelligent PM is likely to be more successful at doing this than most.

“This could delay effective resolution and increase the severity of the ultimate outcome,” adds Agard. “In both these situations, higher emotional intelligence could be used to present a more favourable view of the project than is warranted, compromising the integrity and reputation of the team and, potentially, depending on the significance of the project, the wider organisation.”

In spite of its potential to influence and even undermine a project, many in the project management profession insist that EQ is critical to effective project management.

Related: How to be a Better Leader

“After all, as project managers we are managing people, and people are emotional,” says Erhan Korhaliller, former project manager at creative advertising agency AKQA, and founder and CEO of EAK Digital.

He goes so far as to say that managing people without that emotional intelligence is the surest way of losing the team. “When your back is to the wall, you have a 9 a.m. client deadline, it is 8 p.m., and your team stays until the early hours to complete the task; that’s when you have your emotional intelligence to thank,” he says.

Knowing how different people on your project team will react to certain situations or outcomes, client feedback for example, is also hugely important. The ability to identify behaviours among team members is critical for a PM when deciding who they should bring with them to a face-to-face client meeting.

“They need the emotional intelligence to know who is dependable and can take constructive criticism whilst maintaining professionalism, as well as who can’t,” adds Korhaliller.

EQ: A Critical Skill in the Tech-Enabled World

While many psychology and management fads and trends have been nothing more than flavour of the month before fading into obscurity, there is reason to believe that EQ will continue to play a role in project management and the wider world of business and industry for some time to come.

A 2016 report from the World Economic Forum on the future of jobs found that skills that were high on the must-have lists today will be less needed or disappear by 2020. Skills that have moved up the list include complex problem solving; creativity; people management; and emotional intelligence – the latter isn’t even included in the top 10 today.

Related: The Skills Project Managers Will Need in 2025

As a core skill for project team leaders, EI’s finest hour may be yet to come. As new technologies such as AI, machine learning, automation and virtual reality establish a greater presence in the project management toolkit, the art of understanding what motivates and drives people in a tech-enabled world, could become even more critical to project success in the future.

Project Manager Talent Gap: How to Make the Most of It

Skill shortages are now a global phenomenon, impacting organisations in virtually every industry sector. In the field of project management, however, the skills gap is growing at a faster rate than was anticipated just a few years ago.

The implications for organizations and project management professionals are highlighted in new research from the Project Management Institute (PMI). The Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027 report, the third commissioned by the PMI, explored the problem in depth across a number of global markets, including China, India, the U.S., Japan, Brazil, Germany, UK, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which collectively represent the world’s developed and growing economic powers.

Wanted: 87.7 Million Project Managers

The findings reveal that employers in those countries will need 87.7 million individuals working in project management-oriented roles by 2027. The previous PMI Project Management Talent Gap report in 2012 had estimated that the number of project-related jobs would reach 52.4 million by 2020. This figure has already been exceeded, topping 66 million at the start of this year.

One of the main drivers of talent shortages is the fact that the global economy as a whole has become more project-oriented, giving rise to a sharp increase in the number of jobs requiring project-oriented skills, particularly in the fast-growing economies of India and China.

Another factor is that demand for project management skills extends beyond traditional sectors, such as manufacturing, engineering and construction, into financial and professional services, publishing, and healthcare. This trend looks set to continue with industries that are currently not highly project-oriented likely to experience growth in project management-related openings.

New Technologies Bring Increased Demand

In order to remain competitive, organizations are increasingly relying on technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to boost productivity and efficiencies. This trend is creating additional demand for project managers with the skills to deliver and support technology implementation projects.

As a profession, project management is mature and well-established. The inevitable result of which is an increase in attrition, as long-time project managers begin to retire. Their gradual departure from the ranks will further impact the skills shortage; there are not enough experienced project managers to take their place.

The shortage of project management talent is of huge concern for organizations that are more reliant than ever on that talent to remain globally competitive.

However, this talent gap makes experienced project managers incredibly valuable right now and in the future.

Taking Advantage of the Talent Gap

In high-performing organizations, talent management strategies are aligned with the overall strategies of the business. In keeping with the rapid pace of change that these organisations must adapt to, there have been shifts in what is expected of project managers in terms of their competencies, both now and in the future.

They no longer excel just at technical skills, but also at leadership and strategic and business management expertise. This broader set of skills is known within the PMI as the talent triangle, and are the key skill areas that today’s qualified project professional should possess in order to successfully complete the project.

Technical Project Management Skills

Technical skills and knowledge enable a project manager to perform specific functions or tasks that help them to achieve their organisation’s business goals. Project managers will be expected to have technical knowledge of the project activities needed to complete a project.

Leadership Abilities

Although technical skills are essential, soft skills are also a priority to employers. Good leadership skills are crucial for developing a vision for the team members and inspire them to achieve the target.

Team Building and Training Skillset

Project managers must also be inspirational, proactive, and able to motivate people from the start of the project to its successful completion. An additional responsibility is ensuring that members of the team have the skills they need to successfully complete their job, and if necessary to provide any training or coaching that is required.

Strategic and Business Management Experience

Employers rate this one as one of the top three in the “ideal skillset” for project managers. A project manager who is skilled in strategic and business management is better able to analyse business decisions before implementing them. These analyses include cost benefit analysis, strength and weakness analysis, market conditions, legal requirements, and compliance, etc.

Change Management Expertise

Change is a constant in business. In addition to the key skill areas detailed above, many organisations are now looking to incorporate some of the softer change management and organisational development skills into the project management function, and will seek out project managers who can provide that more integrated approach to large project management and the inevitable organizational change.

With the predicted rise in new project-orientated jobs, competitive salaries and opportunities in global markets, career prospects have never looked better for project management professionals.


How Big Data Can Give Project Managers The Edge In Manufacturing

There is no escaping the big data revolution that is sweeping across all sectors of industry. Companies that embrace this revolution are on the road to achieving greater business efficiencies and higher profitability.

Any organization with the ability to assimilate data to provide crucial insights into their operations can benefit. Sectors like financial services and healthcare have already embraced big data analytics to remarkable effect.

Now, manufacturing is getting up-to-speed as companies recognize the value in the vast amounts of data that they create and hold. Manufacturers across a range of industries now have the capability to take previously isolated data sets, aggregate and analyze them to reveal important insights.

[Further Reading: AI, IoT, and the Future of Manufacturing]

However, what many of them lack is a clear understanding of how to use the new technology, or even which big data analytics tools they need to apply to their huge volumes of real-time shop-floor data.

For project managers with big data skills and knowledge, this offers an opportunity to gain a competitive edge in the manufacturing sector.

Demand for Big Data Analytics in Manufacturing

Over the past couple of decades, manufacturers have made progress in tackling some of their sector’s biggest challenges, including waste and variability in production processes. By implementing Lean processes and programs, many have achieved significant improvements in product quality and output.

Nevertheless, in some processing environments, pharmaceuticals and biochemistry for example, Lean methods have not been as effective in curbing processing variability swings, largely because the production activities that influence output in these industries tend to be complex and numerous.

In biopharmaceutical production, it is not unusual for companies to be monitoring more than 150 variables to ensure the purity and compliance of their product. This has created a need for a more granular approach to identifying and resolving errors in these and other industry production processes. And, that’s where data analytics can make a difference.

How Project Managers Can Play A Role

Planning and Delivery

In manufacturing, planning and delivery is often a heavily documented area. It is also an area where big data is shaping project management. The application of data analytics can produce insights that can help to redefine manufacturing planning processes and parameters.

Quality Assurance

A second area where project managers have already deployed big data technology is in the analysis of quality management data.

Because producing consistently high-quality products is key to remaining competitive, many manufacturers are now looking to big data as a way of improving their quality assurance.

One example of where this has been done successfully is computer chip manufacturer Intel, which uses predictive analytics to deliver quality assurance on its products. Prior to the development of big data technology, the firm would subject every chip to a battery of tests to ensure that it reached the quality standard.

Using big data for predictive analytics, historical data collected during the manufacturing process was analyzed, enabling the company to reduce test time. Instead of running every single chip through thousands of tests, Intel was able to focus tests on specific chips, bolstering its operational efficiencies and its bottom line.

In this fairly typical manufacturing scenario, a project manager can play a strategic role in bringing quality management and compliance systems out of their traditional silos and helping organisations find better ways of operating.

Productivity and Efficiency

Speeding up the production process is key to driving profitability in manufacturing. But doing ramping production without sacrificing quality can be a challenge, particularly in manufacturing sectors such as pharmaceuticals, where multiple factors play a role in the manufacturing process.

Improving accuracy during the production process while increasing output is another task for the project manager with access to big data analytics systems and skills, which can be used to effectively segment their production and identify the fastest stages of the process.

With this insight, manufacturers can focus their efforts on those areas for maximum production and efficiency. In the case of the more complex pharma manufacturing process, big data can analyse these factors effectively and with ease. Segmentation of the process highlights areas with the highest error rates, which when addressed, allow the company to increase production and boost profitability.

Risk Management

Risk to any stage of the manufacturing process is a threat to output. For example, many manufacturers are reliant on the delivery of raw materials, and need to reduce risk in this area. Predictive analytics can be used to calculate the probabilities of delays, for example, due to disruption by severe weather conditions.

Analytics findings on weather patterns can help companies develop contingency plans and identify back up suppliers, etc. to minimize the risk of production being interrupted. Identifying risks and managing them on an ongoing basis is a core part of the project management team’s role, and data analytics will increasingly become a valuable tool for them in maintaining effective risk management within the manufacturing process.

In business terms, the era of big data analytics may just be dawning. However, the technology is already proving to be a critical tool for bringing about improvements across many business processes, particularly in manufacturing, where process complexity, process variability, and capacity restraints present challenges. Those companies that strengthen their capabilities for detailed analysis and assessment of their operations will make themselves more competitive and ultimately more profitable.

How Project Managers Can Become Big Data Savvy

In this age of digital transformation, project managers are increasingly aware of where the intersections lie between emerging technologies, sectors like manufacturing, and their own role.

They understand the impact that big data analytics can have for manufacturers. They have a key role to play in helping manufacturers select the right technology systems that will enable them to maximize their use of this data.

Project managers may need to acquire new skills and learn how to adapt to the needs of big data projects, and there are many training programs available that can help with that.

[Further reading: 8 Ways to Become a Big Data Project Manager]

Leading a big data-driven project team can be quite different to leading more traditional software development teams, so here the project manager can draw on cross-disciplinary skills from other areas within the business, for example, from operations and business analysis.

By leveraging emerging technologies such as big data analytics the project management professional remains relevant and able to deliver real business value in sectors like manufacturing, where demand for these skills are in the greatest demand.

How to Win Project Buy-In from Senior Stakeholders

In the complex world of project management, some projects go smoothly and according to plan, completing on time and under budget, while others are fraught with problems. While there are many reasons why projects go off the rails, one of the most common is a lack of buy-in from the stakeholders, including members of the senior executive team.

There is more to senior stakeholder buy-in than simply approving the funding for the project. During project delivery, there will inevitably be key business decisions to make, and this will require the engagement of senior executives in the project to help make them.

Successful engagement can be at the mercy of the boardroom politics that can come into play.

Some executives will engage with a project as far as the sign-off stage, before shifting their focus on to the next new thing. Others, who by nature are resistant to change, may never really be engaged from the outset.  Then there are the newcomers to the top team, who, anxious to stamp their mark early in their tenure, start off downsizing the project portfolio.

Project buy-in at top level is invariably the result of inclusive negotiations that clearly define the various stakeholders’ roles within the process. Without that, senior executives can become disillusioned and ultimately disengaged.

So how does the PM win over the boardroom, and secure the buy in that is crucial to project delivery?

Answer “What’s In It for Me?”

Senior management stakeholders are notoriously time poor and under constant pressure. A lack of buy in to a project doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of interest. They may not consider it a high enough priority to devote what little time they have.

The PM needs to find ways to make it easier for them to engage with the project. The situation could be improved simply by rescheduling project meetings, or changing the way that project updates and other information are presented to them.

Their interest in the project is also more likely to increase if they can see the benefits. “Projects should be aligned to corporate objectives, but PMs need to be able to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’,” says Karlene Agard, a risk and value management professional who works with project managers.

Build a Business Case

New technology is playing an increasingly important role in project management, particularly within the manufacturing, engineering and construction industries, and this too can place senior stakeholders under pressure.

Some executives view automation and technology trends with suspicion; they see money being allocated and spent, but no immediate, tangible sign of any benefits. The reality is that while technology develops at a rapid pace, many senior business people are struggling to keep up with it and to understand the business benefits.

The PM may have to justify the investment in new technology and automation in order to win their support and engagement in the project.

A compelling argument should focus on benefits, such as higher output and revenues and lower cost structures, along with greater opportunities to mitigate risk and pursue business growth. Computer simulations can be helpful in demonstrating to the board members the impact on things like shop floor and production line operations.

If a project is to have any chance of success, it is vital that risks are controlled and contained. Reassurance that risks will be properly managed and not affect the delivery of the project will also be pivotal to winning senior stakeholder backing. A robust risk assessment will demonstrate to senior executives that the PM has considered the project from all angles and put strategies in place to overcome any potential challenges.

“Projects that go beyond a business case to show leadership and demonstrate strategic enterprise thinking make it easier for C-suite buy in,” says Joe Britto, founder of management training consultancy innateleaders.

Make Stakeholders Feel Valued

Sometimes, a lack of senior stakeholder engagement with a project isn’t a resource issue at all. It could have a more deep-rooted cause. For example, an executive might feel that their contributions are not being considered seriously, or they suspect that the project outcome will not meet their expectations. Rather than voice their concerns or objections, they simply detach from the project and withdraw their support. In these situations, the only way the PM can move things forward is to have an honest discussion with them.

An effective strategy is to ask them for their feedback, for example, their input on any aspects of the project they feel have been overlooked, or suggestions on where things could be improved. This helps to build trust and strengthen the relationship, so that they can voice any concerns they have about the project.

Good communication is crucial to successful project management and has been described as the fuel that keeps the project running smoothly. Once senior level buy-in has been secured, PMs must provide clear communication around project timelines and objectives, and progress, in order to keep those executive stakeholders on board.

Industry 4.0 Series: AI, IoT, and the Future of Manufacturing

This story is part of our Industry 4.0 series, which looks at the new technologies, techniques, and trends that are pushing manufacturers toward a new level of optimization and productivity.

Once the stuff of science fiction, the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) carrying out tasks that only humans could previously achieve has become a reality.

AI, which fundamentally converts large amounts of data into intelligence, is being adopted at an increasingly rapid pace across many industry sectors, most notably, in manufacturing.

The Role of AI and IoT in Manufacturing

Manufacturing was one of the first industries to harness the power of AI by using robots to assemble products and package them for shipment. Advances in technology have made assembly of increasingly complex items possible.

These advances are also revolutionizing mass production by streamlining production and boosting output. While a human workforce must operate in shifts to ensure continuous production, AI-driven robots can ‘man’ a production line 24-hours a day.

In addition to driving operational efficiencies, AI can reduce manufacturing operating expenditure. Although implementation of the technology would require major capital outlay, the return would be significantly higher.

This all bodes well for industry competition, as highlighted in a 2015 Boston Consulting Group report. The report revealed that the lower costs and improved capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies, such as AI and robotics, made manufacturing in the US more attractive than in economies where the main cost advantage was cheap labour.

AI is just one of a number of new technologies being embraced by manufacturers. One of the most significant for this sector is the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of physical objects that contain embedded sensors, which enable these objects to collect and share data and communicate.

[ Further Reading: How Project Teams Can Prepare for Industry 4.0 ]

Businesses in all areas of industrial manufacturing, including automotive, electronics, and durable goods, are investing in IoT devices, and starting to see a return. According to a Tata Consultancy Survey, manufacturers deploying IoT solutions in 2014 saw an average 28.5 percent increase in revenues between 2013 and 2014.

IoT can gather data from multiple machines to deliver waves of real-time data relating to performance and workload. This enables goods to be tracked and equipment maintenance needs to be predicted. Advanced data analysis makes it possible to identify the factors that can contribute to equipment malfunction or failure, including extraneous factors like weather and temperature. With advanced data insight, machinery maintenance can be scheduled proactively, reducing the risk of costly downtimes.

But there is more to adopting IoT than simply producing insights from plant and machinery. It can also create a two-way flow of information, allowing the manufacturer to send information back to the connected devices, changing settings, orders, and operations, all securely and remotely. It will be possible to adjust manufacturing operations automatically based on real-time conditions.

What New Tech Means for Project Management

What does the advance of new technologies like AI and big data mean for the project management team tasked with delivering smart manufacturing projects? Does it enhance their strategic position, or cast doubts on its strategic importance?

The technologies are not unfamiliar to the profession; project managers are already using AI tools and software. A driver of intelligent action, AI enables project management teams to make smarter decisions and move much faster. It can remove many of the complexities of projects around budgets, tasks, and timeline, as well as deliver valuable insights for the project stakeholders.

By automating the administrative project management tasks, AI can free up time and support greater collaboration and improved project delivery execution.

It also has the potential to take over a significant share of the technical areas of project management, with intelligent automated systems that can trigger work authorizations, check deliverables, and analyze deviations from the plan. As numerous surveys have shown, this is something that many project managers would welcome.

One of the most common causes of project failure is poor communication. Having systems able to communicate with one another effectively, translated by AI software and communicated to the end user, makes AI an invaluable tool in the project management toolkit.

[ Further Reading: How Lean Six Sigma Moves Manufacturing Teams Ahead ]

Then there is the business acumen element, which requires project managers to make business decisions, set goals, plan strategies and respond quickly to change. They are already well supported in this field by advanced data analysis.

But best practice management relies on sound judgement that takes more into consideration than hard data alone. With an in-depth understanding of the organization and its culture, project managers will have a “gut instinct” that enables them to spot early signs of potential problems with the project at a level too subtle for AI to detect.

As more of the conventional project management tasks are made redundant by increasing automation and evolving smart technologies, the role of the project manager is also set to evolve, away from traditional “all-rounder”, to a role requiring greater people skills such as emotional intelligence and motivation, that for now are beyond the capabilities of AI. Learn how LiquidPlanner helps manufacturers keep pace with a fast-changing industry.

AI and other emerging fourth industrial revolution technologies are here to stay. They are changing forever the way that things are designed, manufactured, and delivered; compelling organizations and their people, including project managers, to adapt to new ways of working.

More from the Industry 4.0 Series:

Preparing for the Rise of Collaborative Robots

3D Printing in Manufacturing: Three Sectors to Watch

How Manufacturers Can Gain Competitive Advantage Through Servitization

In a fiercely competitive global market, manufacturers’ product margins face increasing pressure, forcing them to look for ways to differentiate their businesses. Many are going down the servitization route, a digital transformation that enables them to provide services and solutions that supplement their traditional product offerings.

It also means gaining a better understanding of customer needs by forging closer working relationships with them, overwhelmingly the main reason for adopting servitization, according to the 2016 Annual Manufacturing Report. Three quarters (74%) of manufacturers surveyed cited their main reason for offering servitization was to build “closer relationships with customers”. Almost half, (46%) were seeking to boost profitability through the provision of added-value services, while 44% were looking to increase revenue.

This transition from making goods to selling services represents huge change that creates major challenges for many traditional manufacturers, as their product effectively becomes the platform from which to deliver those services. For some, the solution will lie in developing product-service systems, combinations of products and services, to deliver the outcomes their customers want and value. They will also need to bring in new technologies.

[Further Reading: 5 Project Management Trends for Manufacturing Teams to Watch in 2017]

A study on the future of servitization, carried out by the University of Cambridge, found consensus among capital equipment manufacturers (CEM) on five key technology requirements to enable servitization in the future. These included predictive analytics to anticipate specific failure modes, remote communications to resolve issues from a distance, consumption monitoring to create customer-specific service offerings, pushing information to employees, suppliers, sub-contractors and customers via mobile platforms or the internet, and mobile platforms to access business software remotely for maintenance techniques, production outputs, etc.

Servitization involves digital transformation on a massive scale, and not surprisingly it has created a huge demand for project management skills.

[Further Reading: How to Be a Project Team of the Future]

There are plenty of examples of manufacturers that have been successful in moving to servitization, including Rolls Royce, which famously stopped manufacturing aero engines and instead contracted with customers for its ‘power by the hour’ service. In this model, the customer buys the power that the engine delivers, and Rolls Royce provides all of the support to ensure that the aero engines can continue to deliver that power. It was a seismic shift in business model, but the result was a much closer alignment between the interests of the customer and the provider.

Rolls Royce is the poster child for servitization, contracting with customers for its ‘power by the hour’ service.

In its manufacturing heyday, global technology firm IBM was churning out a range of products, including computers, data storage devices, and software. It also offered a number of services, including networking and related services. When the company began to flounder in the early 1990s, it switched strategy and focused on its services, which included supplying integrated IT solutions to business. The result? IBM became a one-stop shop IT service provider, a move that strengthened its position in the market.

Of course, these global enterprises have the internal resources needed to make the switch from product to service focus.

Can smaller manufacturers achieve the same? Many already are, selling products that are combinations of manufactured goods and services. In the digital age, however, the servitization journey is largely driven by new technology that will take them beyond the bundling of manufactured consumables and spare parts with scheduled product maintenance tasks to forging much closer relationships, some would say partnerships, with their customers, where they know in real time what they need, and can respond in real time to provide it.

For many traditional manufacturers this presents challenges that require the digital skills and expertise of project management professionals to facilitate their transition to a servitization model.

Modern technologies, particularly in the project management and ERP (enterprise resource planning) spaces, are great enablers of this. In some organizations, effective servitization relies on the use of sensors embedded in products, so IoT applications and platforms will have a role to play in this process.  They will need the capability to record and control the services they are offering, which requires data analytics expertise.

Successful project managers are already using technology as an enabler for delivering successful servitization projects, achieving maximum efficiencies in the process, delivering the best outcome for the manufacturer and their customers.

[Further Reading: How Contract Manufacturing Teams Keep Up With the Speed of Innovation]

There are many business benefits of switching to a servitization model; the most obvious being the opportunity to increase revenue streams from selling services as well as selling manufactured products. Delivering consistently well on service contracts will boost customer loyalty and retention and create further opportunities for upselling of additional products and services.

There are also potential risks. Moving to a servitization model needs the buy in of leadership, and that can require a significant shift in corporate mindset – designing services is quite different to designing products – as well as a shift in culture, from ‘make it, sell it’ to ‘support it throughout its business lifecycle’. Investment in skills training may be required to ensure that staff can deliver a customer-centric service, and there is always the possibility that customers may initially be deterred by a new offering, which comes with different contracts and payment models, etc.

If they are to survive in a global market, manufacturing companies need to increase their competitiveness. Servitization is seen by the industry as an effective way of doing that, with a third (33%) of manufacturers polled by the 2016 Annual Manufacturing Report citing it as a means to “shut out the competition”. Around a quarter (26%) see it as a route to improve competitiveness through faster product development and a smaller proportion have identified it as a way to improve cost monitoring and management.

With the right resources available, integrating value added services into their full portfolio offerings would enable manufacturers to achieve these business objectives, but also to become successful digital businesses focused on the complete customer experience.