The Future Is Here: Perspectives from the 2019 PMI Conference

The Project Management Institute Conference (PMICon19) was held in Philadelphia this year; a fitting location for celebrating history and the last 50 years of project management. The most influential projects of the last half-century were spotlighted at the conference, and included such undertakings as the World Wide Web, Apollo 11, the Human Genome Project, Live Aid, and the Prius.

Click here to see what else made the list.

Of course, the only reason to visit the past is to inform the future. The message for the future from PMI was clear — what got us here, will not get us there.

“You cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein

I was only able to experience a fraction of the content presented at PMICon19. So, I laid out a plan to attend sessions that would serve a dual purpose — provide valuable content to support my professional role, as well as feed my research on framing project management in terms of customer experience design. That plan led me to sessions, materials, and discussions on the following topics.

  • The Project Economy
  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Portfolio Management
  • PMO Workforce Acquisition & Development

In this article, I summarize my learning and insights on these topics, and tie them to my work as a project professional.

The Project Economy

The concept of the Project Economy served as the conference’s sub-theme and was presented as a global paradigm shift in how progress will be realized over the next several decades. As with all paradigm shifts, you only recognize the happening once you’re in the throws of it. The Project Economy is upon us, and the world is starting to adapt.

Click here for an audio discussion between Sunil Prashara, President & CEO, PMI and Sheri Woodruff, VP, Communications, PMI on Africa’s economic progression as an example of the Project Economy in action.

The four key tenants of the Project Economy state that:

  1. Progress, at both the macro and micro levels, globally and locally, will be realized through scaled projects (with a beginning, middle, and end), allowing for faster delivery and agility in strategy changes.
  2. Project professionals will require a varied set of skills allowing them to be versatile as they move from project to project, across multiple functions and industries.
  3. Organizations will need to evolve the way they operate to support project-based, strategic goal realization, which will require highly skilled project professionals and portfolio management capabilities.
  4. Project professionals and organizations will need to prioritize and invest in continued education, industry research, and innovation.

In her article, Welcome To The Project Economy: The future of work is fluid, dynamic and goal-oriented; project leaders will be in high demand, Cindy W. Anderson, VP, Brand Management, PMI, discusses the evolution from the first Industrial Revolution and how the assembly line changed how we work, to the fourth Industrial Revolution bringing forth the Project Economy, once again changing the way we progress our world at all levels. Cindy describes that the root of this most recent change are new technologies rendering “formerly best-in-class practices too slow and static”. Consequences, and arguably opportunities, that are to follow include, but are not limited to: employees desiring meaningful and impacting work with a clear beginning and end allowing them to move from one project to another; and organizations needing to structure strategy and operations around project portfolios allowing for greater value delivery to stakeholders.

Click here to read what project leaders are saying about preparing for the Project Economy.

Creativity & Innovation

Bob Safian of Fast Company gave a compelling talk at PMICon19 on the lessons of innovation. Bob’s five lessons provide a gut-check for those still living and working in the ways of the past.

  1. Chaos will rule. The project professional jobs of the future are FIO — figure it out — roles. There is no instruction manual for the future.
  2. Speed matters. Innovation is constant, and therefore it must be built into organizational processes.
  3. Youth will be served. Success requires that we pay attention to the needs and wants of the next generation.
  4. We need each other. The human factor and experience is what we must design for and use to fuel innovation.
  5. Mindset is everything. A growth mindset is necessary for progress, and it stops the fear of failure from preventing forward movement.

These lessons imply that a new way of operating at the organizational level and in individual business units may be necessary to be competitive in the Project Economy. Operating models, such as OpenXD put an emphasis on experience design and innovation and have a built-in mechanism for encouraging a growth mindset. Employing this type of operating model and staffing with project professionals may be the key to leading in, and even creating, the future.

Click here to download the OpenXD Model template. Use promo code FREEOPENXD to get it for free.

For more on innovation, read Ideation: Where The Creative Meets The Scientific to learn about the creative challenge and the ideation process.

Portfolio Management

The value in an organized PMO is found in the effective management of a portfolio of programs designed to achieve organizational goals, enhance products and services, or seek out and develop new ways to progress the business. With portfolio management comes enhanced strategy development, governance, and a focus on business readiness. Strategy development is a staple, but governance and business readiness tend to be the more obscure aspects of portfolio management.


Governance often takes on a negative connotation, conjuring images of bureaucratic red tape. However, if structured properly, it ensures that the work being done is truly the most important, impacting work aligned to strategic plans. It supports efficient resource and asset allocation, and it provides a consistent mechanism for internal communications. Red tape can be streamlined or even eliminated; ‘bureaucracy’ doesn’t have to be synonymous with ‘governance’. Governance also puts the focus where it should be, on realizing value — financial, technical, informational, and personal. Read, The Bottom Line: 4 Types Of Value In Business (And Life) for further discussion on the types of value.

Business Readiness

Business readiness is most often a work stream associated with large technology implementations. However, when made a part of portfolio management, organizational leaders can have an understanding of how ready the business is for any major changes — internal and external. Having that kind of knowledge about the business empowers leaders to take preemptive actions to minimize risk and negative impacts. Business readiness programs are stand-alone programs designed for monitoring the business units in terms of change readiness, but also can be incorporated into change management projects to enhance their effectiveness. The PESTLE analytic template and similar tools are available to support business readiness efforts in times when external factors (e.g. political, technological, etc.) need to be considered.

A GOOGLE search for “PESTLE analysis template” will return plenty of information to get you started.

PMO Workforce Acquisition & Development

In my article, Project Management Expanded: The Role of Program and Project Management Professionals in Experience Design, I discuss the unique set of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that project professionals have making them high-value assets for any organization. The experience at PMICon19 reinforced my thinking on this subject, and strengthened my conviction around organizations’ need for individuals with a talent for getting things done — namely, project professionals.

Organizations tend to struggle with gaps in four critical KSAs:

1. Change management;

2. Business strategy;

3. Leadership; and

4. Communications.

The critical nature of these KSAs is predicated on a wide breadth of texts and trainings, yet their application can still be found lacking. Organizations will need to be rich in these KSAs in all areas of business, to ensure a solid foundation for moving into the Project Economy. Hiring and developing project professionals is a key strategy for this.

Change management

Change is constant. The only that remains the same is the fact that everything changes. Regardless of whether the change is desired or forced, it will come. Having a workforce skilled in navigating and managing change during those times is vital for customer satisfaction. Everything ties back to the experience our internal and external customers have, and the most influential experiences they have are in times of change. Organizations must go beyond teaching change management to actively managing it via projects.

Business strategy

Strategy development is a key part of executive planning for most organizations, but it often lacks the integration of input from project professionals. Organizations evolving to the Project Economy must engage their project professionals as an active and capable part of strategy development at all levels to help leaders see across business functions, and assets (people, process, technology, and information). Often, it is the project professional that has the most experience in navigating and managing cross-functional activities involving a combination of organizational assets, making them an ideal partner for strategy planning. Conversely, having your project professionals well versed in strategy helps them select the right projects and guide them to the right ends.


With the Project Economy comes a new way of thinking about leadership. Leaders may be faced with varied reporting relationships, and decision-making scenarios that require a higher level of thinking and collaboration. The elements of leadership in the Project Economy can be likened to playing a game of chess, maybe multiple at the same time — limited time, no two pieces moving the same, shifting strategies and tactics, balancing of desires, objectives, fears and facts, meticulous documentation, and most importantly, rapid, decisive decision-making. As such, leadership in the Project Economy must be anchored in three areas.

  1. Process — A well-defined method for utilizing applicable information to come to a decision.
  2. Pace — Knowing when to slow down to allow for input and introspection, and when to speed up so as not miss an opportunity or fail to act.
  3. Practice — A structured approach for improving decision-making over time.

“…one must also become intimately aware of the methods one uses to reach decisions since every decision stems from an internal process…” — Kasparov


Storytelling is what brings people along with you. Organizational values become more meaningful and tangible when they are tied to stories. Projects come alive when their purpose is tied to a compelling story. Communication plans need that same kind of connection in order to reach maximum effectiveness. You must always ask what you want your audience to think, feel, or do as a result of the communication.

In the Project Economy, soft skills will become increasingly important as the world shifts toward more people-centered products and services. The ability to create a communication plan is valuable, but it will need to be paired with effective execution and delivery — a soft skill requiring social competence and emotional intelligence. Communication is where the link is made between the work and the customers, both internal and external. Leveraging storytelling to improve communications is not an easy endeavor; it requires vulnerability, trust, active listening, and the creation of emotion. Those willing and able to express themselves and relate to others in an engaging and authentic way will be (and have always been) the difference-makers.

Click here to watch Nancy Duarte’s TED Talk on how to draw your audience in and connect with them on an emotional level.


The rise of the Project Economy is changing how the world functions. Today’s employees are longing for more meaningful, interconnected work deemed essential to business progress. Organizations understand that the key to getting and staying ahead is the ability to focus on what truly matters, quickly execute on those insights, and make even quicker adjustments when the industry starts to turn. The operating models of yesterday will not hold up in the Project Economy, and a workforce without the necessary KSAs will struggle to stay relevant and engaged. Highly skilled project professionals and innovation-focused operating models are the top two ingredients for finding success in this new economy… and the next.



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Marissa Forbes, MPS, PMP, SA

Marissa Forbes, MPS, PMP, SA

Marissa is a writer and PPM professional that prides herself on a being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.