The Age of the Project Manager

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

Optimally, you started your day today by getting up, having breakfast, driving to work while finalizing your appointments on your cell phone headset, and arriving on-time, refreshed and ready to go.  Now imagine you wake up and there is no food in your house. You walk out to start your car and the engine makes a horrible noise and dies because you forgot to get your oil changed. You take a taxi to work so that you won’t be late, and you realize that you forgot to charge your cell phone. Which type of morning sounds more appealing to you?

You take care of your personal infrastructure capital that keeps you operational. For most people this infrastructure includes a car, cell phone, computer, printer, and fax machine. If one of these items stops working properly, you feel the effects immediately. 

Now imagine this on a larger scale – imagine the infrastructure capital of America.  The US government has many types of capital, including knowledge capital (educational systems), social capital (friendships and alliances with other countries), brand capital (America’s reputation), as well as Infrastructure capital.  Just as it is important to maintain your own personal capital, the US government is going to be spending a lot of overdue time and money in the next 5 years to invest in infrastructure capital for our aging nation.  Project Managers are in a very good position to reap the benefits of this.

Decline in US Infrastructure

A study done by the McKinsey Global Institute reveals that investment in infrastructure has dropped drastically and consistently since 1960, and this decrease in spending cannot continue indefinitely. Infrastructure is the glue that holds our economy together, providing us with transportation and communication that we need to conduct business and commerce.

US Infrastructure

This same report reveals that investing in infrastructure in the 21st century is imperative for our growth as an economy. Today, the US ranks 23rd compared to other countries in terms of the relative quality of infrastructure.  That’s right, what most people consider to be the number one country in the world is not even close when it comes to infrastructure!  Such a  low ranking alludes to not only our inefficiencies as a nation regarding domestic operations, but our lack of appeal to foreign investors, who look at industry ratings to guide their judgment as to which country to enter.

Poor infrastructure is costing us real money- daily. Think about how many times you have sat in traffic on your way to work, with a slew of other cars doing the very same thing. The most productive thing that will happen during that commute is poor singing and the occasional nose picking. The statistics behind it are even more horrendous than the singing, as McKinsey reports traffic causes the US $85 billion every year!

Important Players

There are going to be some especially important projects to look out for in the next few years in infrastructure development. These include:

Internet and Communications – The US has fallen behind other leading countries in terms of the availability of high-speed Internet.  While part of this problem is the large size of the country, making it difficult to find cost effective means to lay the infrastructure in rural areas, it is not the sole reason.  Even our cities aren’t up to par when compared to some other nations in the world.  As far as communications are concerned, one only needs to experience what full cell phone reception is like in the outskirts of the French Alps and realize that the US is far behind on modern telecom infrastructure.  The future opportunities in Internet and communications projects are endless.

Public Transportation – After the massive success of the Eurostar and other high-speed rail across Europe, the US is finally yearning to catch up to the appeal and impression of fast long-range commuter trains.  Given the current focus on a greener nation, public transport is in for a major overhaul in the United States.  Many cities are long overdue for an overhaul of their subways and trams, while the cities without are looking to invest serious money into implementing the latest and greatest systems.

Leisure Transportation – However, the transport infrastructure doesn’t stop at high-speed rail.  The majority of American roads, bridges, and tunnels were built before 1950!  That means that, despite maintenance and the odd new projects here and there such as the Big Dig in Boston (a Project Management and PR disaster), our transport infrastructure is over 50 years old!  Since then, the US spending on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP has declined by more than 50%.  The government is realizing this, however, and is planning major reworks in infrastructure across the country.  Not just in the US, but across the Atlantic as well.  The UK government recently came to the conclusion that the government needs to spend approximately $500 Billion in order to keep its infrastructure current.  In fact, they’ve already started with a major overhaul of the train and Underground systems in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games.  There is such an incredible opportunity here for Project Managers to capitalize on.

Water – Considered to be the next “oil” with many predicting a major water shortage, water infrastructure is a major future project.  Solutions to bring water to developing nations, the Pacific southwest, and other barren areas are becoming increasingly complex and require considerable involvement from Project Managers.  Not to mention the fact that the government is considering sectioning off some coastal waters and selling them to private industries for development and use.  Underwater construction and infrastructure is incredibly complex and is a major opportunity for Project Managers to step into.

Energy – One only needs to look at the ambitious project plans for Cape Wind (the offshore windmill project off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, predicted to be a $1 Billion project) and go on a site visit of the National Ignition Facility (winner of PMI Project of the Year 2010 award) in California to understand the incredible opportunities and innovation that is presented to the future of energy infrastructure and projects.  With current government subsidies, rising oil prices, and public energy awareness, there are virtually unlimited investments in the energy sector today; and it is only growing.

What Others are Doing

Compounding the need for Project Managers in the next two decades is simply a matter of exploring the current projects and infrastructure spending across the world.  According to an article in The Economist, while the US is spending about 2% of GDP on infrastructure, Europe is spending 5% and China between 9% and 12%.  Most developed economies are spending about 3%, while newly developing economies are spending approximately 6% on infrastructure.  The best part is that the above spending is by the government only.  Factoring in the infrastructure investment from private firms and large conglomerates such as the Tata Group only paints the future brighter with opportunities for Project Managers.

The Solution

YOU are the solution. While it is estimated that the federal government will need to spend over $1.3 trillion in the next five years to remedy our declining infrastructure problem in the US, there needs to be an assurance that this government money is spent wisely – they need certified PMP®s with proven track records to manage such complex projects.  Rookies and unqualified people will not cut it anymore.

At the rate that new projects are hitting the market, there is a greater need for a more consistent, proven approach to project management to avoid quality issues, time and budget overruns, and rework that will put a company on its back foot in the innovation race against its competitors.

The next 20 years will be an incredibly exciting time, with hundreds of millions of new innovations, business ideas, opportunities, and companies.  With each of these becoming more complex by the day, the need for proven, certified, and experienced Project Managers is more important than ever.  How will you make the most of this opportunity?

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

CheetahLearningMichelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast.  She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 30,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.  

Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress.  A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle’s articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people.  

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Manager’s (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University   and the University of Dayton.  


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