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How to Thrive in the Project Economy

The project economy has arrived” according to Harvard Business Review. But how do you position your company for success in this new economy?

Fundamentally, the project economy has been here for some time, but the changes brought about by the pandemic have certainly accelerated this shift in many industries.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez does a great job of describing the shift to the “project economy” in terms of organizational evolution, as opposed to simply operations management, and goes on to offer six key leadership skills for success.

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Position your company for success

I have added some notes to each core skill, based on my own experience with each in both the private and public sectors.

Project management skills

  • Conceptualizing, creating assumptions and hypotheses, testing, refining

  • Building the project & executing it

  • Matching people and skills to project requirements

  • Solving problems in the moment

Product development & subject matter expertise

  • How the project contributes to broader organizational goals and other related issues.

  • What credible solution does this provide to a particular issue? What improvement is being made?

  • Ability to handle technical or expertise-level issues

Strategy & business acumen

  • More specifically, relevant business and strategy experience.

  • The various experts and perspectives you want/need for this project and why

Leadership & change management

  • Managerial skills, leadership skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence, coaching skills

Agility & adaptability

  • Objectivity and flexibility in the face of reality. The goal is the primary focus.

Ethics & values

  • Projects are a reflection of the organization’s ethics, values, and culture

  • This starts with project managers leading by example, making decisions in an ethical way and in alignment with the organization’s values and mission

Building these six competencies into your organization will position you for success and become a powerful competitive advantage.

But how do you acquire and integrate these skills into your organization?

Obviously, you can hire for these skills. But the superior way is to develop them internally and capture the complimentary elements of a strong, positive company culture, and the wisdom that comes from shared team experience.

Four Tips to Thrive in the Project Economy

Clearly Define the “What” and “Why” of Every Project or Deal

You need to see both the forest and the trees. The forest is the big picture, those big, long-term organizational goals. The trees are the specific projects and products that contribute to those larger goals.

You must select projects based not only on short-term gains, but also in order to make progress on those big, long-term goals. This clear alignment of “what” and “why” is critical for project buy-in, as well as continued organizational success.

Opportunity & transaction costs are present with every decision. So be clear on what is being done and why (as well as what is NOT being done and why) so that your trade-offs and reasoning are clear.

This requires an open-minded culture willing to discuss and debate the merits of a variety of issues with the main focus on getting it right, not who is right.

Build your Strategy on Values and an Objective Decision-Making Framework

Second, you need to understand the resources needed, plan for potential obstacles, and be aware of the limitations inherent in every potential project. Reality test both your projects and your strategies for feasibility. Your values can be a useful guide when numerical calculations or other tools aren’t sufficient.

Run full life-cycle analyses through this framework. Test your ideas and hypotheses critically BEFORE deploying resources and making commitments.

Set Checkpoints, Adjust as Needed

Many change efforts fail early because of early adversity and a desire to retreat into a comfort zone.

Set incremental check points in addition to the big project goals so that you can celebrate small wins and sustain positive momentum.

Also, use those checkpoints to adjust your strategy as needed. Be willing to admit when a better way appears or a strategy isn’t working. Don’t throw good money after bad money.

Build on a Solid Foundation

All of this starts with the leadership team and a written leadership philosophy that helps to guide the company’s WHAT, WHY, and HOW decisions.

Adapt and evolve as individuals for the benefit of the organization. Embody the company’s core values.

Lead by example.

The Benefits of Building This Culture

Time management matrix
Strong Cultures Work in Quadrant 2 - Forward Planning

By working to integrate and develop these core project economy skills, you stay in front of issues and adapt, rather than being forced to respond or, the worst option, simply reacting.

If you can weave these skills and company values in with great communication and humility then you have a powerful and sustainable competitive advantage that lives right at the heart of your business. Its people and values.

Great Starting Points

Ascent’s clients often look to us to help them work through strategy and systems refinement. If you’re just getting started, there are several quality frameworks available to you.

Ray Dalio’s Principles is a book written entirely about leading a complex organization. Their fundamental system is broken into three parts: Goals, systems, people.

Goals ask, “What are you doing and why?” Systems ask, “What do you need to build to do it (systems, habits, frameworks)?” And People ask, “Who do you need to help you do it?”

More specifically, the framework is on the organizational value of an “idea meritocracy” system. This means focusing on finding the best possible decision based on the goals, data, and reality on the ground, rather than relying on purely top-down or democratic decision-making systems.

Then, as learning occurs and circumstances change, updating and upgrading the why (principles & values), and the goals, systems, and people.

The Kaizen-Gemba framework is another starting point. It focuses on continuous improvement.

The HBR article mentions additional frameworks like Scrum and Agile Project Management that are more specifically geared toward the “big six” leadership skills identified by the author.

These and other frameworks are great starting points to develop or refine your own leadership and project management systems and position yourself and your organization for success in the project economy.

About the Author

Matt Beckmann is the Founder & Managing Director of Ascent Consultants. In addition to experience as a former Chief of Staff to the Missouri Auditor and as a Corporate Vice President and General Counsel, he has advanced training and certifications in law, business, and executive coaching. His blog content, inspired by his deep passion for unlocking his reader's best potential, consistently equips business owners and individuals with the knowledge and resources to overcome obstacles that may be hindering growth.

Ascent Consultants provides business and strategy consulting, executive and leadership coaching, and leadership assessments. By converting client growth goals into an actionable "game plan," we help companies and individuals unlock their full potential.

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