18.11.2015 : Michael Anson

Is project management becoming a commodity?

The evolution of project management can be further accelerated by a better understanding of market drivers and gaps in current project management services.

Reflecting on his time as a graduate, a colleague once asserted to me that 'project management' did not exist – he was an engineer who 'just did stuff' and somewhere along the line the 'just doing stuff' turned into 'project management’.

Recently, as part of a consultancy strategy day, I participated in a discussion on the future of project management. It was suggested that, like many other professional services, project management might become a commodity – I found this notion to be interesting and felt it warranted further consideration.

The essence of a commodity is a service or product that has no qualitative difference from its competitor’s, that is, a commodity’s value is susceptible to fluctuate based on supply and demand. As a service commodifies, efforts are generally transferred from innovating and creating additional value to completing activities more efficiently.

The commodification of project management has been cultivated by the loss of asymmetric knowledge e.g. if you were to Google 'project management' it would return a plethora of advice on how to run a project successfully. However, a shared foundation of project management principals does not lead to project success. To deliver a successful project a Project Manager also needs to be passionate about the industry, have the ability to articulate their vision, align the project's and organisation's objectives, be persistent but not inflexible and be true to their ethics.

A commodity really comes in to being when a market collectively begins to form similar perceptions of a service, that is, to adopt the view that projects will be successful no matter the Project Manager. In challenging economic periods, there is a predisposition to consider project management as an administrative cost. Distilling project management down to an administrative cost is a reflection on our inability, as suppliers, to visibly quantify the unique, and real, benefits that we bring to the industry.

‘Velocity’ is the word I would use to sum up current infrastructure trends. Both private and public sectors are demanding that infrastructure projects be delivered faster then ever before. Projects are also growing in complexity e.g. through the integration of technology with our built environment to create a 'smarter world'. In a world where velocity and complexity are fast becoming preeminent factors of infrastructure projects, project management should be viewed as an integral rather than a subsidiary part of a project.

Just as 'just doing stuff' evolved into the formal practice of project management, project management will continue to evolve as it is adopted by other industries who add their own particular angle e.g. agile project management was born out of the challenges of managing IT projects. The evolution of project management can be further accelerated by a better understanding of market drivers and gaps in current project management services.  In conclusion, a service that is constantly evolving is difficult to simplify into a package that can be commodified.

About the Author

Michael Anson

Assistant Project Manager

Michael brings a fresh perspective to project management. He seeks out opportunities to drive change through innovation and collaboration. He is dedicated to developing project outcomes that reflect client drivers. Most recently he has been executing airport infrastructure projects.

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