The Project Economy

This section highlights the latest topic that I have been confronted

For the first time ever, thanks to the determination of thinkers50 in shaping a new agenda for Europe, a conference in Odense, Denmark, included the world’s #1 Business Thinker – Michael Porter; the world #1 Performing CEO according to HBR – Lars Rebien Sorensen, and the world #1 Business Coach – Marshall Goldsmith.

Antonio Nieto Rodríguez and Michael Porter

With Michael Porter

And for the first time ever, projects and the successful execution of projects, had a primary role in the event. I was honoured to be speaking about the immense contribution and tremendous impact generated by of millions of Project Managers, Program Managers, PMOs, Portfolio Managers, Project Team Members.

My first declaration, after hearing the ideas of the world leading gurus, was that “Ideas, without a project, is just wishful thinking”. Projects have, are, and will be an essential part of value creation and social transformation.

We are witnessing the rise of the project economy. The so-called gig economy is driven by projects

Two of the key messages I spread among the CEOs, governmental officials and leading academic thinkers were:

a) Paradigm Shift: We all have heard about the disruptions that are impacting our society and the business world: robotics, artificial intelligence, shared economy, blockchain, big data….

But, there is one extreme disruption affecting our world that media and academia have completely missed. For over 100 years, organizations have been run and structured in a very similar way: hierarchical; in which power, budgets and resources are divided over departments, the so-called “silos”. Management and management theory was focused on how to run and optimize (efficiency) the business best. Projects were an addition, but hardly ever a priority.

Today, due to the speed of change witnessed in the past decade, this model has become obsolete. The day-to-day running of a business will soon be carried out through automation and robots – and is already done so in many instances. Projects have become the essential part of any organization. My prediction is that by 2025, senior leaders and managers will spend at least 60% of their time selecting, prioritizing and overseeing the execution of projects.

This massive disruption is not only impacting the way organizations are managed. Every aspect of our lives is becoming a set of projects. Some of the areas where I see this massive transformation happening are:

  • Education: When I did my high-school and university studies, teaching focused on theory and books. Learning was achieved by memorising this hefty pile of material. Today, the leading educational systems, starting from early ages, apply the concept of projects in order to teach. Applying theories and experimenting through projects have proven to be a much better learning method, and will become the norm soon.
  • Careers: Not so long ago, professional careers were made in only one organization. Most of our parents worked for one company. Today, we all go through several companies. Careers now need to be approached as a set of projects in which we apply the learnings from previous jobs, companies and industries while maintaining our development for the next (unknown) career move.
  • Democracy: The current crisis that we are seeing in political systems around the world has led political academics to propose new ways of governing countries. One of the most revolutionary experiments is being carried out in Ireland. The Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC) – established by the Irish government in 2012 – will address a number of potential constitutional reforms including whether to change the electoral system, reform the parliament, or reduce the voting age as well as important social and moral issues (including marriage equality, the role of women, and blasphemy). The interesting part is that each topic will be tackled through a project, with a clear deadline. One third of its membership consisted of members of the Irish parliament, and two thirds ordinary citizens selected at random from the Irish population.

I have come to realise, that one of the reasons behind this massive shift is that, projects are the best and only model that can exploit creativity and innovation on one side, as well as structure and discipline on the other.

b) Agile Organizations: I have read thousands of times that agile methods are here to kill projects and project management. In my trips around the world, I have heard many project managers worrying about the impact that agile methods could have on projects. Well, I have an entirely different way of looking at the issue and believe that agile is just reinforcing the importance of projects and project management in organizations.

My view is that organizations that use projects as a distinct model to deliver their strategy are considerably more agile than organizations that keep the traditional hierarchical structures.

Today companies need to constantly re-challenge their strategy and adjust when changes in the market take place, as Rita McGrath’s explains, “keeping your strategy moving as fast as your business does”.

Adapting the strategy of an organization requires flexibility in governance, structures, processes, systems, competencies,… something hard to achieve in the traditional hierarchical structure. That is why so many of the “old” businesses have difficulties in reacting speedily when faced with aggressive new entrants.

The Project Driven Organization is the only model that provides this flexibility and speed needed to be agile. Projects cut across silos, set people to work towards a common goal, aligns the organization to deliver change and value on mid-term, create a culture that drives execution.

A best in class example of a project driven organization is Apple. During Steve Jobs’ best years, the most relevant accomplishments were carried out through projects. The creation of the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad, followed a similar structure: project driven; a very tight schedule and a clear deadline; no constraints on the funding; a fully dedicated team of experts from every department of the company; and very strong support and time dedication from the senior executive team.

Project driven organizations can adapt and execute their strategy much faster.

What are your thoughts on the Project Economy?

Has this massive disruption affected your organization, your career?

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  1. Iñaki June 21, 2017 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Hello Antonio. Thank you. Thank you for what you do. I thought I was pretty good, but you are taking things to another level. Well done and much appreciated. The paradigm shift requires leadership. By definition, change management. Still much to learn. My finances don’t allow me to attend, but if you are ever in the Tampa area, I would love to invite you to coffee. Continued success to you, Iñaki (

    • Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez June 30, 2017 at 4:02 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the feedback Iñaki, appreciate coming from an expert like you. I noticed that we also share the passion for football, excellent.
      Tampa is not on my radar, but if I have the chance to visit it, would have coffee with pleasure. Antonio

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