Yes, the image above represents the Star Trek M-5 Multitronic System from “The Ultimate Computer” (for you Trekkies). In this episode, a skeleton Enterprise crew are assigned to test a revolutionary computer system that is given total control of the ship that in time would replace even the Captain.
Could this be the future of project managers?
There have been some interesting discussions around the future of project managers, which personally I forecast to be a profession that will be in demand, grow and evolve for the foreseeable future presuming we collectively evolve with the times. Though computers, expert systems, robotics and technology in general are growing at an exemplary pace, the true specialty and competence of project managers will remain for some time to be unique and in demand. In this post we can look at some interesting trends in the world of IT, and the possible relevance to project managers.
The Maturity of IT
Lets start with outlining the IT components, and then move to the amazing and projected availability of systems, growth of data, and the freakish evolution of computing power.
First of all, what do we mean by IT, and what are the components and capabilities. Exhibit 1 outlines some general capabilities:
Exhibit 1: General capabilities of IT components
Availability of Computers – The Internet of Things
- In 1943, Thomas J Watson, a past Chairman of IBM, is said to have announced that ‘there is a world market for about five computers’.
- Gartner predicting 323 million unit sales of wearables globally by 2017
- Statistica published the following estimate of the number of smartphone users worldwide to 2019:
- It has been estimated that by 2020 there will be 40 to 50 billion devices connected to the Internet.
Growth of Data
- In 2010, Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt, claimed that we create as much information every two days as was created between the dawn of civilization until 2003.
- By 2020 that quantity of information will be generated every couple of hours (this leap can be attributed in part to the quantities of video, images, and audio content that are pouring onto the Web, and in part to the rapid growth of inexpensive sensors.).
- The ‘proportion of the world’s data that comes from sensors is expected to increase from 11% in 2005 to 42% in 2020’.
- 52% of all information currently stored and processed by organizations around the world is considered ‘dark’ data, whose value is unknown. Additionally, another 33% of data is considered redundant, obsolete or trivial (ROT), and is known to be useless. If left untamed, this dark and ROT business data will unnecessarily cost organizations around the world a cumulative $3.3 trillion by the year 2020 to manage.
- Just for giggles sake, according to Dell, 90% of company data is written once and never read again.
Moores Law, Metcalfe’s Law, and Koomey’s Law
Moore’s law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.
“Moore’s Law is no longer just about making transistors smaller, but about continuing to increase computational capacity in other ways that face new problems, some of which engineers have never faced before. Multicore parallel processors is not the answer either, because ultimately they face the same problems, according to Markov. The answer is exploiting the limits to Moore’s Law that are not so limiting” (Johnson, 2014).
” ‘One can go much further, at least in theory,’ Markov told us. ‘For example, we don’t know how to use nuclear energy for computation. Of course, this is difficult because of additional fundamental limits, such as quantum limits on heat transfer and entropy flow’ ” (Johnson, 2014).
Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2).
Koomey’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. The number of computations per joule of energy dissipated has been doubling approximately every 1.57 years. This trend has been remarkably stable since the 1950s (R2 of over 98%) and has actually been somewhat faster than Moore’s law. Jonathan Koomey articulated the trend as follows: “at a fixed computing load, the amount of battery you need will fall by a factor of two every year and a half” (Koomey & Berard & Sanchez & Wong, 2010).
Evolution of Computing Power
The following shows the astounding historical and perceived future trending in computing power:
- 1955 the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was coined by John McCarthy
- 1977 IBM’s Deep Blue computer system beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997
- 2011 IBM’s system Watson was developed to compete on Jeopardy!, a TV quiz show in the US. It beat out the two best-ever human contestants.
- 2016 Google’s DeepMind’s A.I. AlphaGo won in the game of Go
- 2020 An average desktop machine (costing $1,000 or so) will have roughly the same processing power as a single human brain (capable of undertaking 1016 calculations per second).
- 2050 Following the curve of exponential growth, ‘one thousand dollars of computing will exceed the processing power of all human brains on Earth’.
Impact on Project Managers
These technological developments will most definitely have an impact on the technical practice competencies of project management such as the following from the IPMA Competency Baseline (ICB) 4.0:
- Project design
- Requirements and objectives
- Organization and information
- Plan and control
- Risk and opportunities
That said, the people and perspective context competencies appear to be still elusive for systems.
The Evolution of the Professions
Based on the previous estimates, as well as many others, there is a prediction of a transformation and decline of demand for many of today’s professions based on changing needs, relationships and expectations, and new systems driven by the internet society resulting in the fact that society will neither need nor want access to professionals in the same way. The following professions are already being impacted:
Much of this post comes from the following brilliant book by Richard and Daniel Susskind:
As we can observe from the following McKinsey analysis, managing others along with applying expertise and stakeholder interactions are areas that predominate project management activities that are considered least susceptible to the technical feasibility of automation:
The Future of Project Managers
Though other professions may be in jeopardy, the demand for professional project managers that have evolved with evolving demands appears to be in growing demand due to changing economic forces and the unique competencies and services project managers possess and will develop.
The Growing Demand for Project Managers
It has been well documented that there is an ongoing and growing need for project managers to respond to the growing transition of organizations from an operational focus to a change focus:
Unique Project Manager Competencies
Interestingly for project managers, the following competencies appear to be in demand and are not yet a competency for systems:
- How much creativity do you have to bring to your job?
- How much empathy or personal assistance to you provide to others?
- How much social perceptiveness is required in your job?
- How much negotiation or persuasion do you do in your job?
Ultimately, project managers need to have the political and entrepreneurial ability to lead personnel and resources to get the ultimate output, capability, outcome and resulting benefits.
The Evolution of Project Managers
We have witnessed a growing transition from output focused practitioners, to business case and benefits focused practitioners, to project managers that understand and incorporate organizational objectives and strategies to take into account the total asset life cycle of the project outcomes and capabilities to be sustainable.
Please refer to the blog post The Evolution of the Project Management Profession for a more detailed insight into the evolution of project managers.
We have discussed the growth for the need for projects and project managers. We have demonstrated that project managers must demonstrate unique competencies and skill sets that systems are not currently focusing on. The trending appears to indicate that project management is a viable and trending profession for the foreseeable future!
Once again for the trekkies, as Mr. Spock presented, project management is not a talent for technology
Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez (2012): The Focused Organization, Gower, London, https://www.routledge.com/The-Focused-Organization-How-Concentrating-on-a-Few-Key-Initiatives-Can/Nieto-Rodriguez/p/book/9781409425663
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