The Future of Everything is Project Management

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the project manager as a generalist or a specialist. I am most definitely a specialist.  Every project I undertake is to implement or extend human capital management systems, including payroll, timekeeping, recruiting, and employee benefits administration systems.  I’ve been working almost exclusively in this domain since 1989, and in addition to my PMP credential, I have professional level credentials in both human resources and benefits administration.  Most of my customers are global firms, and my ability to talk about the details of their business practices and legal compliance challenges has given me a lot of credibility with their subject matter experts.  It’s a big chunk of my personal value proposition.

I was in Seattle this week, attending a review course prior to taking the Global Professional in Human Resources exam.  I’ve held the Senior Professional in Human Resources credential for nine years now, and decided in January that an upgrade would be worth the time and money.  It was quite an experience, sitting in a room for three days with a mix of twenty-four very senior HR people from industry, universities, and NGO’s.  We were all Boomers and Generation X; this is not an entry-level topic.   Several of the attendees hold PhD’s.  About a third of them were from other countries, as was the instructor, Lisbeth Claus.  By the end of day three, we were all exhausted, but I probably doubled the value of my address book with the contacts I made.

But the money shot, as it were, happened on the morning of the second day.  Lisbeth is essentially the founder of the Global Professional program within the Society for Human Resource Management.  In addition to teaching at the Willamette University MBA program, she has held executive HR positions with two global firms.  She is one of the dozen or so primary thought leaders in the field of human capital management.  In the midst of reviewing business issues in outsourcing, Lisbeth stopped and said, “Eighty percent of the things you are doing today in the HR department are going to be gone in five years.  They will be outsourced to specialists.  You need to prepare for what you will be doing with the rest of your time, five years from now.  Do you know what that will be?”  She paused for effect.  “Project management.”

We use the term “accidental project manager” to describe someone whose primary job function is something else, but somehow ended up managing a project in their domain.  Many of these folks have had little or no preparation for leading a project, and receive little guidance from experienced project managers.  Most flail, some fail outright.  But some of them develop a taste for it, and find other projects to manage.  These folks are going to be the professional development models for most organizations over the next few years.  Develop competency in some functional area, and then develop project management skills.  And as Lisbeth warned: if you don’t, expect to be doing the low value-added, transaction processing jobs.  And expect to be paid a lot less than the people driving change.

The future of everything, at least in management, is project management.  But don’t feel too comfortable about that idea, because if you’re not already competing for project management jobs with domain specialists, you soon will be.  And if enough of these domain specialists take Lisbeth’s advice, there soon won’t be anything accidental about them.

2 thoughts on “The Future of Everything is Project Management

  1. Those of us in the HR field are hearing more and more often how our profession is transforming into more of a strategic partnership and less of a function in itself. But what exactly does that mean? Your article provides a clear insight into the future of the HR profession. I think this is an article that would be beneficial to any practicing Generalist or Specialist as it would guide their growth efforts if they wish to spend the remainder of their career in the field. Best of luck on your GPHR Certification Exam!

  2. Thanks, Erica. The last 20 years or so has seen some interesting business trends in utilizing labor – outsourcing, shared services, and self-service in particular. Employers have been able to significantly reduce costs by simplifying business rules and using technology to create job aids, so that low-skill / low-compensation labor can efficiently perform what were once labor-intensive, high-skill transactions. Developing those strategies and delivering on them is where the high skill / high compensation labor is needed.

    Good luck with your PHR exam – it’s a key step toward that strategic role.

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