The 4th Industrial Revolution: What does it mean for Projects?

There has been much talk about the next industrial revolution, and this topic was addressed at the APM North conference in Manchester on 5 December 2017, with expert input from Mark Batey of the University of Manchester.

For those not familiar with the terminology we are talking about revolutionary changes, such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Smart systems etc. New technology makes this possible, with the combination of physical, digital and biological worlds.

The Huffington Post, back in May 2017, demonstrated Mercedes as a corporation updating their processes and strategies to accelerate adoption:

“In a variety of ways from autonomous trucks to drones, Mercedes is embracing new technology and opportunities available because of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence”

So where does this industrial shift leave project managers and what does Industry 4.0 (as it is also known) mean for projects and what changes can we expect in these new environments?

New technology can be seen to improve the delivery of change and projects, with less collecting of data required. As a result, more interpretation and engagement is needed to bring the ‘human’ side to delivery.

Projects are likely to be significantly shorter in timeframes as more automation is observed, and as robot-to-robot engagements begin to play a greater role and replace the need for monotonous and time consuming tasks currently conducted by humans.

Technology, by itself, is unlikely to change our world. But, the adoption of the right technology for value adding purposes will be fundamental, and this is where we envisage the role of the project manager becoming even more essential.  Industry 4.0 may mean changes can be accelerated. The project manager is therefore likely to be overseeing wider portfolios of projects and change initiatives, with a requirement to identify specific areas in which maximum delivery value from a human perspective can be achieved.

So fear not project managers, your days are not numbered. However, it is highly likely as the industrial landscape is shifting, components of a project managers role will follow suit. What is certain is that a project managers remit is changing, and the type and number of projects you will manage is likely to adjust. Project manager skills therefore need to adapt to complement technological changes, allowing technology to maximise its role. If there is one certainty within this uncertain business environment, it is that both projects and those that are managing them are likely to undergo significant change as Industry 4.0 arrives.


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