Tag Archive for: Projektmanagement

Digital natives – the end of project management?

Projects often take longer, they are too expensive or do not offer the promised quality. Young managers in particular, the so-called digital natives, have therefore said goodbye to traditional project management and are focusing on speed, networking and mobility. Digital natives are mostly those people who have been used to dealing with digital media since childhood. In the meantime, a large part of this generation is shaping today’s working world and demands a modernisation of traditional forms of work. The attitude to life often found among digital natives, preferring conventional status symbols such as their own home, cars, etc. to self-realisation that goes hand in hand with a high degree of flexibility and spontaneity, also give reason to question the model and concepts of the world of work with regard to their longevity. Furthermore, younger people are increasingly striving to separate their private lives and their work as little as possible in order to create the necessary freedom for a balanced everyday life that meets their wishes. The motto “Sharing is Caring” rounds off the attitude to life of many digital natives and is reinforced by the constant use of digital media. Looking at the effects of this generational shift in the context of projects, the question arises as to whether conventional, classic project management methods are appropriate for digital natives.

Flexible working methods meet rigid hierarchies

According to Hanisch (2011), the most common reasons for project failure include structural problems, power struggles, complexity, lack of resources, method fetishism, communication and leadership. Some of these causes may well be rooted in the way digital natives work. The conventional, classic project management method relies, among other things, on strong deadlines and cost agreements as well as rigid project organisation structures, which are not always compatible with the lifestyle of many digital natives. Few flexible structures, rigid hierarchies, a strongly method-driven project approach and a narrow management style contradict the open, flexible and spontaneous way of working of many digital natives. If we look at the working methods of digital natives in more detail, we can conclude that digital natives can definitely contribute to making projects fail less often in the future with their attitude to work. In particular, complex projects that are less time-driven and more driven by spontaneity and creativity could lead to greater success. There is also the assumption that project staff who work virtually at places and times that are suitable for them and for the success of the project can contribute to better project performance. Furthermore, open, honest and friendly interaction within the project team is elementary, as well as project leaders who ensure the necessary self-leadership and feedback opportunities for their team. This approach is not new and is already practised in numerous companies through the agile manifesto. This shows that project management as a method is not becoming superfluous, but must be adapted in essential parts to the modern zeitgeist in order to be able to lead projects successfully.


Further reading

Hanisch, Ronald: Das Ende des Projektmanagements: Wie die Digital Natives die Führung übernehmen und die Unternehmen verändern, 2016. Prensky, Marc: Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants University Press, 2001.


This article was written as part of Prof. Katinka Weissenfeld’s presentation at Connecta Bern 2019 and was first published by the Swiss Post.

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Of digital natives and data-based services – BFH researchers at Connecta 2019

Swiss Post’s Connecta digital conference was a success on Tuesday with over 300 participants and more than 90 speakers from 12 countries. Everyyear,Connecta bringstogether experts in the field of digitalisation to exchange experiences and transfer know-how. The Bern University of Applied Scienceswas also prominently represented with four experts from the Departments of Business and Technology and Computer Science. This year’s Connecta made one thing clear: despite digitalisation, personal exchange is obviously still very much in demand. More than 90 speakers presented trends, developments and experiences from the broad field of digitalisation in well-attended plenary sessions and workshops. It was no longer just about online trade – which Swiss Post had focused on when it launched Connecta three years ago. Fake science, cybersecurity and human-machine interactions were just some of the topics addressed at the conference in Bern.

It doesn’t always have to be “big data

Kim Tokarski, Head of Continuing Education at BFH Wirtschaft, addressed the audience at the beginning of his session on “Data-based service economy” with a question: “How do you decide? According to what guidelines and patterns?” It quickly became clear that many decisions are made intuitively – not least due to a lack of time. However, one basis for decision-making is always data analysis. “Here, the opinion often prevails that this analysis is expensive and time-consuming,” said Tokarski. “But that is no longer so absolutely true today.” He used various examples to show how added value can be created with simple, target group-specific applications. For example, one of Tokarski’s employees built a dashboard for a degree programme by means of which students can put together their desired study plan and immediately see whether there are time overlaps between individual courses. “It took an hour to build that,” he explained. “But the Department of Economics waited three years for it.” His conclusion: small is beautiful. “Sometimes very simple things are enough to improve something. That’s how you create customer satisfaction.” And he also encouraged his audience to put aside any shyness they might have about data solutions. “We have had people who have never had anything to do with IT. After two days, they could build a simple dashboard.”

Privacy worth protecting

When it comes to data, the question of security is not far away. This was the question addressed by Eric Dubuis, head of the Computer Science Department and the Research Institute for Security in the Information Society (RISIS) at BFH Technik und Informatik. “Privacy is part of IT security,” he stressed. “And we must not capitulate in this regard.” His message: “Reconciling data security and privacy is sometimes difficult, but doable,” he said. He used public transport to show how this could work. Today, everyone can still decide for themselves whether to buy their ticket anonymously at a ticket machine or use applications such as fairtiq or lezzgo, thereby automatically revealing personalised information about their respective whereabouts to the respective providers. In the future – Dubuis predicts – using public transport may only be possible with a smartphone. “We therefore looked for solutions that would not allow providers to personalise the tracking of users.” The BFH researchers found what they were looking for with a combination of two IT building blocks, namely group signature and homomorphic encryption. This makes it possible to determine which services a commuter has received, but not at what time he was where. Tracking would thus be depersonalised. His conclusion: “In order to be able to exploit the positive sides of digitalisation, new solutions are often needed

Connected cities

New approaches are also needed when it comes to the city of the future. Stephan Haller from the Institute Public Sector Transformation at BFH Wirtschaft showed where the digital transformation is leading us in his workshop “On the way to the digital city”. Among other things, Haller has worked on a European-Japanese research project on “smart cities”. “When we talk about ‘smart cities’, there are two visions,” he said at the beginning of his presentation. “In one, everything is green and peaceful, everyone is happy. On the other side, there is total surveillance of the citizen, a punitive system for misbehaviour – no one really wants to go there.” Rather, he says, it is about increasing the quality of life. “That’s why it’s not just a technology issue,” says Haller. “The technology is just there to support it.” The digital transformation affects the whole of society, but it is in the cities with their increasing population that many challenges manifest themselves first, such as environmental pollution and resource consumption. That is why research is also focusing on cities. In Switzerland today, many cities are on the way to becoming a “smart city”, but they often remain stuck in individual pilot projects. “We have to get to the point where we learn from each other,” he said. “And also in terms of technical solutions. This will make municipalities less dependent on technology giants.” This networking idea is represented by various international and national platforms – in Switzerland, for example, the “smart city hub”. To Haller’s regret, only German-speaking Swiss cities are represented in the latter. On the other hand, efforts are underway to improve monitoring, i.e. to map what has already been achieved with regard to the smart city. “Tools for this are being developed,” says Haller.

How digital natives work

One population group is likely to be particularly involved in building the “city of the future”: The “digital natives”. They were the focus of Katinka Weissenfeld’s presentation. The BFH lecturer in project management asked whether those born after 1980 have heralded the end of project management. To illustrate this, she placed two employees of a company next to each other in a fictitious example, a young woman and an older man. This example quickly showed the problems that can arise when the two generations meet. “Digital natives expect work to be fun and meaningful. They work fast, independent of location and communicate directly,” says Weissenfeld. Multi-tasking is important, as is constant availability – there are no fixed working hours. Many projects, on the other hand, are characterised by rigid structures, clear hierarchies, predefined processes and budget plans as well as method fetishism. “This is not where the digital natives find themselves,” Weissenfeld emphasised. Rather, digital natives orient themselves to the guiding principles of the “agile manifesto” (which originates from computer science). They are:

  1. The individual is above processes.
  2. The system is central.
  3. The customer’s well-being is above the conclusion of a contract, which means that work can begin even if a contract has not yet been concluded.
  4. And finally: change is desired.

So is classic project management a relic of bygone times? Weissenfeld answered this question diplomatically: “No, digital natives do not stand for the end of project management but for the dawn of agile project management.”

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Of chameleons and lambs

Stakeholders are stakeholders. Particularly important stakeholders sit on project committees. Their sometimes peculiar behaviour prompts a comparison with peculiar animals. What is clear is how this species of stakeholder should behave and what they should do. Research shows that “executive management support” is one of the most important factors for project success (see 1). Today we report on an unknown creature that has been up to its well-known mischief ever since projects and project stakeholders have existed. The biotope of the chameleon But first we have to explain briefly what a project and a project stakeholder are: a project is an undertaking to create a new product or service. So a project involves activities that are not quite commonplace, it enters uncharted territory, so to speak. Pioneering work is associated with risks, it costs money, ideas, time, etc. A project manager is needed to ensure that nothing goes wrong. A stakeholder is someone who has some interest in the project, whether a supporter or an opponent. The most important stakeholder is undoubtedly the project manager, or at least he thinks so. Every decent project is overseen by a project board. It is in these committees that project stakeholders (cf. 2) of the chameleon type reside. A chameleon is characterised by the fact that it is incredibly agile, has a 360-degree field of vision, always remains invisible to its opponents by perfectly adapting to its surroundings, is extremely sharp-tongued and – the most important thing of all – can make off like a flash when danger approaches. The rule of thumb “the higher up the Darwinian ladder, the chameleon” often applies. Help for distressed projects What happens when a project runs into difficulties? Hand on heart: do you know any well-known projects that have not run into difficulties? Exactly. A project in trouble is “helped”. First, the project manager has to report much more and much more precisely (the chameleon has to be able to use the whole 360 degrees), then the unfortunate red status colour is urgently discouraged (“What’s the point?! With us, no project is ever red.”), then the A/K/V (tasks, competences, responsibilities) are heavily worked on. Finally, the project manager is led to the scaffold and, last but not least, the chameleon takes the helm himself. The project is now definitely dead, leaving only the option of a lightning-fast departure. Changes to the A/K/V come about primarily thanks to the ambiguity of the terms: the chameleon gives up and additionally gives up its own tasks to the project leader. Because of incompetence, the chameleon deprives the project manager of all competences, which are in themselves already very scarce; in exchange, however, the project manager receives full responsibility for the project until it hits the wall. Much later, when the wreckage of the project has been cleared away, the chameleon makes another splendid appearance: it affirms and regrets that it unfortunately knew nothing at all and takes full responsibility for its ignorance, better known under the title: “Confident appearance with complete cluelessness”. They also say “turn-around” to this. Now the lambs come into play. Lambs are those stakeholders who have nothing to say, usually the taxpayers. They are always used when major accidents and crimes need to be remedied (without going into details, it should be mentioned that similarities with real existing or dead projects are quite intentional) or major deficit holes need to be filled. Anti-chameleon and Appenzeller Alpenbitter So the question remains, what characteristics does a member of a project committee (let’s call him Mr. K.) actually have to possess? As a first approximation, we find that such a member must not be a committee member himself and that – with the exception of the 360-degree view – he must be an anti-chameleon:

  • Mr K. should have managed difficult projects himself and know how it feels to have been let down by a chameleon.
  • Mr K. needs to know that he is the most important stakeholder, especially in terms of responsibility. He must “want” project success as much as the project team and not just “take a look”.
  • Mr K. has to care about the project first and foremost, he has to be in the know, he has to deal with the other stakeholders. He should even be able to manage the project himself.
  • Mr. K. must fight for the success of the project together with the project manager and the team and not fight against them. This is especially true for projects in difficulty. That a project will run into difficulties sooner or later is as certain as the Amen in the church.
  • Mr K. must be equipped with the laying hen gene. He must protect and support the project, the team and the project leader. Do you know any laying hens that kick other creatures’ butts?
  • Mr K. should never take risks that he is not prepared to bear himself in the event of an accident.
  • Mr K. has to make decisions. If they were wrong decisions (which in itself is not a disgrace), he must stand by them and actively help to repair them.
  • Mr. K. must be prepared to negotiate the most favourable positions for the project. His own position is always secondary.
  • If there is really no other way, Mr. K. must be prepared to stop a failed project. With all the consequences and without regard for his own reputation.
  • And if the project should become a success, let us grant Mr K. the laurels. Passing on some of these laurels then shows true greatness.

An anti-chameleon must therefore possess precisely those qualities that are noted on every bottle of Appenzeller Alpenbitter: Character, personality and style. Otherwise it is just a bottle.


Literature

  1. Johnson, Jim; My Life is Failure: 100 Things You Should Know to Be a Better Project Leader; Standish Group Intl; 2006
  2. Be careful with the spelling: A steakholder is something completely different. Although it is well known that in almost every project certain stakeholders are grilled like steaks sooner or later.

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