Global initiatives to achieve specific goals––reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for instance––depend on an efficient, productive, and smart project management team.

In the newly released 2020 Signposts report from the Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s most significant challenges and opportunities are highlighted.

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The report includes predictions about an increased use of AI among project professionals, the importance of marrying AI and cybersecurity, and why infrastructure development is critical in 2020.

And, according to Mike DePrisco, PMI’s vice president, global experience and solutions, “What I found most eye-opening in our Signposts Report is the sheer impact that Africa’s population trends will have on the world.”

Here are the six takeaways:

Africa’s young talent will play a key role in development

PMI says project management eyes should be setting their gaze on Africa, calling the developing world a “hotbed of young talent.” From now to 2050, the United Nations has said that more than half of the world’s population growth will be from the continent.

According to the PMI, cities in sub-Saharan Africa like Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, will see a huge amount of growth.

And PMI asserts that what makes the region ripe with career opportunities for young project professionals includes projects to improve the continent’s transportation, water management and energy infrastructure.

And, yet, the PMI says while “young talent might be eager, it’s also inexperienced—and will need guidance in navigating a complex project landscape.”

“We see incredible opportunity for the new generation to play an integral role in fixing the world’s biggest problems–– climate change, infrastructure water management and energy renewables––through projects,” DePrisco stressed.

Professionals will be instrumental in combating climate change

A warming planet and rising sea levels are already being felt, with many regions in the world experiencing droughts, wildfires, and food scarcity.

A 2019 Pew survey of 26 countries names climate change as the “top global threat.” And, in particular, the young generation has been mobilized to action.

The Signposts Report offers concrete ways that project managers can make a difference.

DePrisco highlighted China’s Sponge City Projects, which employed a creative approach to flood management, joining 30 Chinese cities in an effort to create infrastructure and green space to absorb extra water, and using rain gardens.

“There are also megaprojects like the Tengger Desert Solar Park in China—ranked by PMI as one of the most influential projects of the last 50 years––which supplies power to more than 600,000 homes,” DePrisco added. Project managers play a pivotal role by bringing these kinds of innovative solutions to the table.

Employing AI frees PMs for high-level work

Project managers will increase the use of AI for tasks like scheduling, status updates and even managing risk, the report notes––meaning that they will have more time for analysis, high-level planning, forecasting and relationship building.

Knowledge of AI is critical, so that project managers can harness its powers to improve productivity. For instance, according to Gartner, augmented AI will bring $2.9 trillion in business value to the US by 2021.

“Project managers can introduce AI as an enablement tool–something to work with, not something to fear,” DePrisco said, “and inform their organizations about the opportunity it has to help provide more value to customers.”

Project managers will navigate geopolitical challenges

Global events like Brexit that threaten political stability and increase tensions have the potential to cause panic. According to the Brookings-Financial Times TIGER index, there is a “synchronized stagnation characterized by weak growth in some major economies and essentially no growth or even mild contraction in others.”

DePrisco stressed that because of these events, it’s crucial for project professionals to be aware and “sensitive to political and environmental changes happening around them.”

“Policies that place a priority of protectionism create additional constraints on multinational teams to get their projects done successfully.”

“Project leaders must learn to navigate this uncertainty by being more flexible, adaptable and measured in their approach to leading teams and managing projects. They must call upon their astute problem solving and collaboration skills to keep things moving forward,” he added.

The world needs an infrastructure overhaul

As growing cities, climate change, and new economies come into play, infrastructure for providing water, transportation, electricity, and communication networks is critical.

For instance, according to the G20’s Global Infrastructure Outlook, the US must spend $94 trillion by 2040, across 56 countries.

Governments must place these issues as a top priority, but the costs can often be prohibitive and prone to delay. Technology can offer solutions.

Using drones to track progress can help keep projects on task, for instance. And IoT sensors in the UK are being used in a transport project––according to the report, by collecting data on 400 million journeys taken by car, bus, train, bicycle and subway.

“Armed with that information, the team could determine which roads to expand and where to add new routes,” the report stated.

Project managers must employ “good, old-fashioned people skills to create stronger societal consensus,” it said.

Leaders should be able to build a team, especially drawing on communities by training local talent versus using expats, to strengthen the communities they are aiming to serve.

Project managers must marry AI and cybersecurity

Businesses should expect “an inordinate rise of security breaches, attacks, and incidents” in 2020, according to TechRepublic’s Jack Wallen. As such, protecting data and IP information should be a top goal.

AI can help project professionals, DePrisco noted.

“As project professionals continue to tackle the challenges associated with cybersecurity, AI could identify and manage risks and implications, help run simulations, and even search and correct network weaknesses with no human intervention,” he said.

Using a multidisciplinary team of engineers, product owners, security specialists and software developers, he added, they must make joining AI and cybersecurity a priority.

This story was updated to include Mike DePrisco’s complete title.

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