Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Projects, project management and careers – 7: projects, prototyping and the pressures of a rapidly changing, competitively dynamic marketplace

Posted in career development, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 23, 2012

This is my seventh installment in a series on projects and project management as a career path (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 250-255 for Parts 1-6.) So far I have discussed projects and project management per se, and how they fit into a business’ overall activities. With this posting I turn to look at projects and project management from the perspective of the business as a whole, and its industry and its competitive position in it. And I begin by considering a business in a mature industry, where innovation is rare and where the marketplace is at best holding steady in scale and reach. And if it is stable in scope now, it is likely to begin shrinking towards obsolescence before long as alternative products and services, and the markets they feed into and support appear and grow and as their customer base moves on.

• A simple answer to the question of in-house projects and project management for such a business is that they would be unlikely to take place or to be supported if proposed – at least for projects just intended for developing that next minor update-iteration to an already established line of offerings. When not businesses participating in a market can gain or hold significant competitive advantage of the type that break-through innovation provides, competition for all is fierce and minor update-oriented projects wouldn’t be cost effective.
• A project might, on the other hand, be proposed and supported if it were seen as holding promise of a way out of this trap of settled, static and mature products and services, and into a more competitive position in a more robust marketplace.
• But in order to be successful, such a project would in most cases have to build at least in significant part from resources already in place, and without requiring too large and risky a new resources investment that would put the company’s position in its current markets in jeopardy …
• … except perhaps as an act of what amounts to desperation on the part of the business’ senior managers and owners – if they found their business in effect cornered. In American football, that is sometimes called a hail Mary pass and think of this scenario option as an attempted change management ploy. (There are, of course, alternative scenarios that I could cite here as to detail, but this should suffice for point of argument.)
• But bottom line, for businesses in fully mature industries with very little if any real innovation showing and facing fully settled, mature markets, projects are and would be expected to be rare. And project work and certainly in-house project management would not likely appear in anyone’s job descriptions.

On the other end of an innovation-driving spectrum, and for rapidly, dynamically changing, highly competitive marketplaces and their supporting businesses, projects would be common, and project management a core part of the business.

• In-house projects and prototyping would be expected to be common, with in-house projects and project management of business supportive sources of competitive advantage.
• That would apply to creation and prototype testing of new and next generation products and services that would be brought to market.
• And that approach would also be applied in supporting systems where new and novel sources of competitive value could be developed too (see Business Strategy and Operations – 2, and series such as Finding and Managing the Right Simplicity Complexity Balance, listed there as postings 262 and loosely following.)
• Keeping this project work in-house would help preserve these sources of value as unique value propositions for the businesses that hold them, delaying at the very least their emulation by competitors.
• So bottom line, in a very rapidly changing competitive environment, businesses that sought to compete would be expected to take a very projects and project management-oriented approach, as well as a prototype-driven approach (see Management and Strategy by Prototype – 1 and its Part 2 continuation .)

If your goal professionally and as a career stage is to work on and manage projects it is important that you understand where your business is on this scale. And for most businesses it is likely that they will fall somewhere between the two end-point scenarios I just briefly outlined. And this means both knowing where the business is as far as its competitive and innovative positions, and where it seeks to be for them. Projects make sense where they would enhance, or at least materially help to maintain a position of competitive strength and market share. Working as an effective and busy project manager means, among other things arguing the case that those projects hold real potential for creating new competitive advantage and where ever the business is along that spectrum.

I am going to turn to the issues of international and trans-national projects in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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