InEight Global Capital Projects Outlook 2021: Optimism and Digitization

The future of project skills in the Asia-Pacific

Nick Mescher
March 14, 2011

After the crisis

During the GFC, project budgets were scaled back or frozen altogether, several areas in businesses were reduced through either natural attrition or downsizing, and often those areas were the same shared service functions that had grown rapidly a few years earlier. Due to these dramatic activities, however, businesses by and large survived. Spending on projects would be frugal and new initiatives would take extremely compelling business cases before being considered for investment. Thankfully in Australia, the GFC was relatively short-lived and businesses have been quick to reignite transformation programs, launch new products and generally get back to delivering projects.

Having sat on their cash for 12-to-18 months, organisations put the accelerator down and demanded that projects respond! But not so fast: remember how all those departments had been set up to look after ‘things’ associated with projects? Those departments now either don’t exist or are severely understaffed, and there seems to be little interest in rebuilding them in the short term. Guess who is expected to do those tasks now? The same project manager that businesses spent several years specialising in tracking a project plan and project governance.

There is every chance that those who have entered the world of project management in the last five years do not have the skills to do the job, while the more senior managers are, at the very least, out of practice.

Undertake a formal assessment of the current skill set of the project management pool using proven techniques and methods. The assessment needs to measure not only the accreditations and experience base, but also the currency of skills and whether refresher training is required. The assessment may be against a specific methodology or toolset in use in your organisation and should take into account the types and size of projects in the pipeline.

Once completed, an individual development program needs to be developed to provide training in the latest project management techniques and bridges between the methods of the past and the current. A victim of the GFC was training, and it is not unusual for individuals to have had little or no investment in them professionally over the past few years. Now is the time to target this training to both assure delivery and to retain the people you need to be successful.

Training needs be assessed systematically against the evolving needs of the business project delivery portfolio and feedback needs to be provided where an individual needs more support. Support can come in the form of mentoring and coaching, best provided by an experienced external resource who can execute this without concern of internal politics.

Finally, even if the project workforce is skilled, are there enough people to deliver the current and planned load? Many organisations are now creating alliances with external parties that can be quickly ramped up (and down), to cater for times of abnormal project loads. To do this successfully, spend time to ensure your alliance partner understands your business and its technical and cultural needs.

A regional view

The situation is equally applicable to the greater Asia-Pacific region, however it could be argued that the maturity of the Australian project management market during the boom years has meant that we work off a stronger base. This strength is positive for Australian organisations as bridging the gap should be far easier to achieve, however the warning signs are that, as the wider Asian region better understands this capability, Australia may well become an exporter of mature product.

The Asia-Pacific’s overall development is accelerating faster than Australia; organisations with delivery arms in multiple locations recognise the skill of Australian project managers and relocate them where possible, and there is a strong likelihood that supply will not be enough to satisfy demand. As competition for project managers in Australia heats up, the Asian growth market will surely fuel this fire.

In 10 years project delivery has evolved several times. To be successful today, organisations need to understand the blend of workforce, market pressures and business delivery more than ever before. Now is certainly the time for organisations to invest strongly in the capability uplift of their people. The market for experienced, strong project managers is heating up, and the organisations that invest best will be rewarded in the form of more assured project delivery.

Author avatar
Nick Mescher
Nick Mescher is the CEO of UXC Consulting Group.
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