“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.” - Charles Darwin
Projects are the vehicles by which we implement change.
Social, environmental, and technological change is happening at a faster rate than ever before. The level of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere continues to increase at an alarming rate and humans also continue to destroy earth’s natural biodiversity, yet this biodiversity is essential for balancing and stabilizing our climate. Expectations from stakeholders and governments in relation to Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are changing rapidly.
So, in order to sustain their existence, remain relevant, and keep pace with the rapid change, private and public companies need to plan ahead for some major transitions.
Companies and businesses must learn to become highly proficient at change. Projects are the vehicle through which change is realized so being proficient at change means being effective at implementing projects. This is how business and companies will be able to deliver sustainable value to their clients, customers and stakeholders. Mindful of the existential risks and the extent of change that is needed, engineers are well placed to implement the needed changes through infrastructure and technology projects.
What are Projects?
The actual work that is performed in transitioning from the current state to a future state is the project. Depending on what the change involves - be it a new system, process, or way of thinking - people will have to shift from the way they do things today (current state) to a new or different way (future state). If a business is not doing a project, then it is remaining in the current state of operations.
While in the current state the focus is on planning for the change. This involves having a vision and compelling case for change, identifying who is impacted or interested, and defining how to engage them. It involves analysing what is changing for the customers, people, processes, systems and operating model.
The period in-between is where engineers, project managers and other stakeholders can positively influence and minimise resistance to the change. This will support the project in achieving the intended outcomes and benefits.
Technological advancements create many opportunities for more effective and efficient ways of doing things and they also bring significant risks.
Digitization helps employees to do their jobs better and faster with more focus on analysis and less time on compilation synthesis of data. Digitization can improve the quality and timeliness of information exchange, engagement and reports for decision makers and simultaneously drives down overhead costs and increases the efficiency project managers and engineers. Digitization will allow more effective model building and seamless integration of data between project models and systems such as BIM, project schedules, financial systems and ERP systems.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a significant technological advancement that will have a major impact on the future of engineering, project analysis, selection, risk management and control. AI robots and programs can now do even the most complex of tasks. AI offers significant potential to improve decision making particularly in scenarios involving high levels of risk and uncertainty, such as estimating project costs and benefits, which are usually subject to significant optimism bias when performed by people.
Visualization tools such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in project management can help improve the efficiency of the industry by allowing for the use of 3D models and easier communication, collaboration, information sharing and training.
The impact of change on people is arguably the biggest bottleneck to achieving successful project outcomes as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Although technology is changing quickly people are resistant to change. All projects impact people in some way so it is important to recognise that when a project needs people to work, think or feel differently, the project will need to plan for and manage that change.
Affected individuals go through change at different speeds and may require different levels of support in order to successfully adopt a change. Failing to plan for and address the people side of change is costly. By proactively engaging and supporting people through change project objectives are more likely to be achieved.
A significant number of projects fail due to the lack of effective change management. Project Costs can include project delays, budget overruns, significant reworks and redesigns, reduced quality of work, reputational damage and productivity loss. This can also create negative experiences for people.
It is vital to consider the impact that a project has on people.