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The Future of Project Managers Skip to main content

The Future of Project Managers

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:
Exhibit 2: Statistica Trending of Number of smartphone users worldwide from 2014 to 2020 (in millions)
  • 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).

Moore's Law has many obstacles, some expressed by fundamental laws of nature (column 1, engineering), but it is also at the mercy of the other factors on the top row, some of which are not as limiting as some think. (Source: Igor Markov)
Exhibit 3: Moore’s Law has many obstacles, some expressed by fundamental laws of nature (column 1, engineering), but it is also at the mercy of the other factors on the top row, some of which are not as limiting as some think (Source: Igor Markov)

” ‘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).

Exhibit 4: Physical Representation of Metcalfe’s Law


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).

Exhibit 5: Physical Representation of Koomeys Law – Computations per kWh, from 1946 to 2009

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
  • Scope
  • Time
  • Organization and information
  • Quality
  • Finance
  • Resources
  • Procurement
  • Plan and control
  • Risk and opportunities
  • Stakeholder

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:

  • Doctors
  • Teachers
  • Accountants
  • Architects
  • Clergy
  • Consultants
  • Lawyers

Much of this post comes from the following brilliant book by Richard and Daniel Susskind:

The Future of the Professions
Exhibit 6: The Future of the Professions


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:

Exhibit 7 from McKinzie – The Technical Potential for Automation in the US (Chui & Manyika & Miremadi, 2016)

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:

Exhibit 8: Source: Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez (2012): The Focused Organization, Gower, London


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  

Exhibit 9: “Star Trek” The Ultimate Computer (TV Episode 1968)



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

Bradley, C., O’Toole, C.. (2016). An incumbent’s guide to digital disruption. McKinsey Quarterly, May. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/an-incumbents-guide-to-digital-disruption

Chui, M., Manyika, J., Miremadi, M.. (2015). Four fundamentals of workplace automation. McKinsey Quarterly, November. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/business-technology/our-insights/four-fundamentals-of-workplace-automation

Chui, M., Manyika, J., Miremadi, M.. (2016). * Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet). McKinsey Quarterly, July. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/business-technology/our-insights/where-machines-could-replace-humans-and-where-they-cant-yet?cid=other-eml-alt-mkq-mck-oth-1607

Finelli, R., Banning, N.. (2016). Veritas Global Databerg Report Finds 85 Percent of Stored Data is Either Dark or Redundant, Obsolete or Trivial (ROT). Retrieved July 2, 2016, from http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160315005634/en/Veritas-Global-Databerg-Report-Finds-85-Percent

Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2013). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation? Retrieved from http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

Johnson, R. C. (2014). The Limits of Moore’s Law Limits. Retrieved from http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1323507

Koomey, Jonathan; Berard, Stephen; Sanchez, Marla; Wong, Henry; (March 29, 2010). “Implications of Historical Trends in the Electrical Efficiency of Computing]”. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 33 (3): 46−54. doi:10.1109/MAHC.2010.28. ISSN 1058-6180.

Marr, B. (2013). Robots: When will they take your job? Retrieved April 17, 2016, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130307135201-64875646-robots-when-will-they-take-your-job

Marr, B. (2015). How Safe Is Your Job From The Robot Takeover? Take This Test. Retrieved April 17, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2015/09/29/how-safe-is-your-job-from-the-robot-takeover-take-this-test/#538a0da55278

Pyle, D., San Jose, C.. (2015). An executive’s guide to machine learning. McKinsey Quarterly, June. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/an-executives-guide-to-machine-learning

Rettinger, Jonathan. (2016). The Future of Smartphones Is Less About the Phone, More About the Ecosystem. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-rettinger/the-future-of-smartphones_b_9612964.html

Silvius, Gilbert. (2016). The project manager of the future is a machine. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/project-manager-future-machine-gilbert-silvius?trk=hp-feed-article-title-share

Statistica. (2016). Number of smartphone users worldwide from 2014 to 2019 (in millions). Retrieved from http://www.statista.com/statistics/330695/number-of-smartphone-users-worldwide/

Susskind, Richard. (2016). Replacing the Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/replacing-the-professionals-richard-susskind-1.3542846

Susskind, R., Susskind, D.. The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts. Oxford University Press, https://www.amazon.com/Future-Professions-Technology-Transform-Experts/dp/0198713398/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468270369&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Future+of+the+Professions%3A+How+Technology+Will+Transform+the+Work+of+Human+Experts

Vukomanovic, M., Radujkovic, M., Savrski, I. et al., “Developing a project management methodology for major public infrastructure projects”, The 2nd IPMA Research Conference 2014 Tianjin


Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

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