The following are three leading experts' opinions on the Project Economy, which becomes a hot topic.
Michel Thiry:What is the Project Economy?
There is a lot of talk these days about the “Project Economy” as if it had just been discovered and is a new thing; in fact, the project economy is as old as mankind. When cavemen organised a hunt, it was a project, and even better, an agile project; when pyramids, the great wall of China or cathedrals were built they were all part of a project economy.
Until the industrial revolution in the mid-nineteenth century, everything was managed as a project, and it was also agile. Tradespeople and craftspeople typically built whole products from scratch, communities got together to help their neighbours; there was very little division of labour, except for large ruler-driven projects like castles, places of worship or roads. Before the mid-nineteenth century, the team’s work on the project was fully integrated with the ultimate purpose of the undertaking.
At the beginning of the industrial revolution, social economists like Frederic Taylor developed what is now known as “industrial engineering” and “scientific management”, applying engineering principles to the work done on the factory floor. The main contribution of Taylorism, and later Fordism, was to focus on the product, relying on the “manager” to link the project outputs with the expected outcomes while the “worker” performed discrete, well-defined tasks, unconcerned with outcomes. The whole approach is based on segregation of work and control.
This is the approach that has driven our economy for the last century. These principles have driven what is taught in business schools, it has also driven the process-based “modern project management” school of thought. Although Taylor’s intentions were good and promoted the betterment of the workers’ condition, the practical result was that of a mindless approach to work. The concept behind the project economy seems to be the refocusing of the project on benefits and value-driven work but, as for Taylorism, we should be careful on how it is applied in practice.
The PMI defines the Project Economy as “one in which people have the skills and capabilities they need to turn ideas into reality. It is where organizations deliver value to stakeholders through successful completion of projects, delivery of products, and alignment to value streams.” This definition aligns with organizational agility concepts, where organizations must adapt quickly to continuously changing circumstances, and it argues that the best way to achieve this is through projects.