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Buckle in, folks: the project economy has arrived

June 16, 2022

By Gail Lethbridge

The project economy is here – and it’s here to stay. And things will never be the same in the world of work.

Thanks to the inexorable advance of technology, the way we work and live have been radically transformed in the past decade. This has toppled old social and business hierarchies and demanded a new way of hiring talent, working and organizing business structures.

Some have coined this phenomenon as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The term may seem a tad immodest, but when you consider the impact of robotics, artificial intelligence, nano computing, video conferencing, remote working, and 3-D printing, this is no time for modesty.

The old rules aren’t working anymore

After decades of pursuing efficiency, downsizing and corporate acquisition as the holy grails of growth and wealth creation, the game has changed. Those ships have sailed. Cutting and acquiring the old models simply doesn’t work anymore.

Old administrative jobs are being replaced by robots and AI, altering traditional notions of work in manufacturing, service industries and financial institutions.

The eye-watering speed of change has required new paradigms. Full-time jobs are giving way to gigs. Job titles are becoming project tasks. Operational roles are defined as “tours of duty.” Nimble is the new efficiency.

The era of one-size-fits-all employee has come and gone.

Spotify changed music and the business mode

The poster child of this project-based model is the Swedish streaming service Spotify. Founder Daniel EK put this strategy to work when he built the little start-up into a global disruptor that changed the music industry and the business model.

Ek defined jobs as “missions” with term cycles of two years or less. Talent was matched to tasks based on narrowly-defined skillsets.

Corporate operations were now being sliced and diced into discreet projects and moved around like chess pieces on the board. Agility and speed are the new keystones of business organization.

Think corporate gigs

The old-school notion of a permanent full-time job is dissolving, as short-term project-based work becomes the new organizing principle of work.

Line managers are replaced by project-based workers who are selected for a defined skill set. Term projects are replacing strategic five-year plans and are assembled to create a more flexible approach to technology adoption and value creation.

The numbers tell the story

Unsurprisingly, the Project Management Institute has its finger on the pulse of this development. It estimates that project-based work will grow from $12 trillion in 2017 to $20 trillion by 2027. This means that 88 million people will be working in project management roles.

New challenges and opportunities for workers and business

If companies haven’t already recognized this, they should sit up and take notice. The pace of change will require a rapid response to restructure and to finding and hiring talent. Economic uncertainty will add to that challenge.

And the talent itself is demanding a more flexible way of work. Employees want to work remotely and in project-based gigs. With the tsunami of technological change, employees of all ages will have to commit to a journey of lifelong learning.

Some jobs will disappear, but more will be required to innovate business models and reorganize the way we generate future wealth and value.


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