If there’s one acronym that really seared itself into the hearts and minds of those who attended this year’s Project Management Symposium held at the EDSA Shangri-la last June 2018, it is none other than the acronym VUCA which is short for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. We have the United States Armed Forces to thank for coining the acronym in the light of their first-hand experience dealing with their day to day problems and dilemmas in Afghanistan and Iraq. These days the acronym is no longer confined to its original military context. Thanks to the surreal speed of change brought about by the quantum leaps of 21st century technology, AI (i.e., Artificial Intelligence) and RPA (i.e., Robotic Process Automation) are no longer figments of a gifted Hollywood director’s wild imagination. They are right here, right now. No less than the symposium’s keynote speaker Ian Fraser who was flown in through the Philippine Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI) underlined the value of understanding and appreciating how the acronym VUCA is something we cannot escape from given the twin phenomena of digitization and digitalization. Hence, the challenge that Fraser issued to the project managers in attendance to cultivate their agility and sharpen their leadership skills. Being agile is all about being able to think out of the box or as some would now put it, being able to think out of the planet. Leadership skills such as coaching, motivating and engaging would go a long way in helping one’s project teams to navigate their way through a VUCA world. These complementary pillars of being agile and being a leader coupled with one’s project management skill sets augur well for project managers of the 21st century.
Stating the thing broadly, a 21st century project manager worth his/her salt does not only master the ins and outs of the PMBOK or the Project Management Book of Knowledge. More importantly, he/she would do well to resist the idea of approaching projects by the book. The challenge is essentially all about dovetailing one’s mastery of the project management processes with the ever changing, ever VUCAing reality that defines the 21st century project setting across all industries around the globe. Hence, I propose that in place of the image of a dragon boat leader who barks orders at his team members, 21st century project managers would do well to aspire to become the whitewater rafting leader who collaborates with his team mates. It’s a VUCA world out there, project managers. Let’s roll!