Project Management
Project Management

Most Influential Projects 2021 – Thought Leaders’ Top Picks

9 Dec 2021
Michael DePrisco
Our annual Most Influential Projects list highlights compelling projects around the world and across industries that achieved significant milestones or positively impacted society over the past year. In this post, PMI leaders share some of their favorite projects that are changing the world for the better.

Image by Rodrigo Sümmer on Unsplash

 

Each year, PMI celebrates the 50 Most Influential Projects, recognizing the projects and the changemakers behind them that are turning big, audacious ideas into reality.  

The third annual Most Influential Projects list demonstrates how project professionals and changemakers have found resourceful ways to keep initiatives moving forward amid global disruptions, including the continuing pandemic. 

The main list features innovations in transportation, renewable energy, architecture, technology, and more. Additionally, PMI has released 30 lists recognizing the Top 10 most influential projects in a variety of regions and industries. In total, the lists include more than 250 breakthrough projects across a wide range of industries. 

Here are a few of the projects on the lists this year, as selected by PMI leaders:

 

The Great Work from Home Experiment

Mike DePrisco, Chief Operating Officer

What began as a necessary adaptation to keep employees safe during the pandemic became an incubator for fresh thinking around office work—or what used to be office work. After more than a year of hunkering down at home, employees are craving time together. Employers are listening and adapting, whether it’s by going completely virtual, welcoming workers back to the office, or a combination of the two. 

Why I Chose This Project: There is no right answer about how and where people should work as we emerge from the pandemic. We’re all experimenting. Work today is less about where you do it and more about the outcomes your teams are delivering that create value for your stakeholders. What’s most important, however, is to approach the issue with empathy for your employees (and leaders) and to put your employees first, taking into account their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Healthy, productive, and engaged teams are key to cultivating a mindset that embraces perpetual transformation so we can continue to succeed in this new and ever-changing environment. 

 

Business Alliance to Scale Climate Solutions

Joe Cahill, Chief Customer Officer 

Climate change can’t be fought alone, so eight of the world’s biggest companies have created a new virtual collective aimed at radically accelerating climate solutions. The alliance is committed to building an ecosystem of changemakers to share ideas, resources, and lessons learned “across and beyond value chains.” The project is just in its early stages, but the goal is ambitious: to push business investment to the level necessary to achieve what members call a just and sustainable future. 

Why I Chose This Project: Now more than ever, it’s critical to work toward a more sustainable future. The organizations behind BASCS are demonstrating the kind of leadership and action required if we hope to change the trajectory of the evolving climate crisis. By creating opportunities to share high-quality climate resources and solutions, the group aims to drive the scale needed to bring about a more sustainable future. I look forward to seeing what this alliance achieves in the coming years. 

 

Perlmutter

Dave Garrett, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer

The project to build the world’s fastest artificial intelligence supercomputer just wrapped in May and it’s already acing one of its first assignments. The super-speedy supercomputer is helping create a 3D map of the visible universe—all 11 billion light-years of it—by processing data from a cosmic camera that can capture as many as 5,000 galaxies in a single exposure. Prepping that type of data would typically take weeks or months on prior systems, but this supercomputer is working to get it done within just a few days.  

Why I Chose This Project: The speed at which technology is evolving is fascinating. And with a project like this, it’s truly awe-inspiring. But this project is just the beginning. The ability to fuse AI and high-performance computing offers the potential to achieve breakthrough advances in a wide range of scientific fields, from engineering and materials science to biology and physics, and more.  

 

Crew-1 Mission and Perseverance

Mark Lines, Vice President, Disciplined Agile

Space flight is risky business, which is why governments have typically taken the lead in space exploration—until now. The Crew-1 Mission, in which a four-person crew spent 168 days in space performing scientific and maintenance work, was the first time the U.S. space agency assigned much of the design, development, and testing of human-rated spacecraft to the private sector. This paves the way for more commercial flights carrying researchers, professional astronauts, and eventually paying passengers into orbit—pointing to a future where human spaceflight is not only more affordable, but routine. 

And, to definitively answer the question of whether there was ever life on Mars, NASA launched the Perseverance robotic rover. The project was daunting in its complexity. Not only did the pandemic force much of the U.S. space agency into remote work, but the team also had to navigate a first-of-its-kind technology and manage the rover’s entry, descent, and landing onto the Martian terrain—a maneuver that’s been dubbed the “seven minutes of terror.” Thanks to a strong focus on managing and mitigating risks, however, the rover is now fully operational, looking for signs of ancient microbial life and collecting rock and soil samples. It even has its own Twitter feed.   

Why I Chose This Project: I’ve always been fascinated by space exploration, not only by the missions themselves, but by the enormous project management skills required to pull them off. Both these projects, however, had an extra dash of risk thrown in, which speaks to the importance of rigorous risk management as part of any project approach, whether traditional, agile, or hybrid. Baking in risk management from the very beginning gives you the ability to adapt and pivot as circumstances dictate, and it can often spell the difference between success and failure.  

 

mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines

Kerman Kasad, Vice President, Global Communications & Brand

When COVID-19 hit, a vaccine couldn’t come fast enough. And while most vaccines traditionally take a decade to develop, test, and market, two teams believed they could deliver COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year by using messenger RNA (mRNA). Instead of using the virus or viral proteins, which are expensive to create and difficult to store, mRNA uses the virus’ DNA code to direct a person’s cells to make specific proteins to fight infections. By the end of 2020, both teams had delivered and individuals around the world were receiving the vaccine. Now researchers are examining how the technology might be used to combat other diseases, including malaria, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. 

Why I Chose This Project: We all know that innovation is important. But rarely has its importance been demonstrated so clearly as in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. Talk about delivering in a clutch situation! Now that mRNA technology has proven out—and in such impressive fashion—it will be exciting to see what new healthcare frontiers it will conquer in the future.  

 

Mineral

Mark Broome, Vice President, Chief Digital Officer

One of the latest innovations from Alphabet Inc’s moonshot factory, X, aims to transform how the world produces food: promising higher yields with less harm to the environment. Mineral brings together plant breeders and growers across Argentina, Canada, the United States, and South Africa to test new models for sustainable farming using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). At Mineral’s core is an electric-powered rover that collects granular data about soil health and crop development. Software will then help food producers address issues with individual crops instead of entire fields, reducing costs and curbing the use of harmful fertilizers and insecticides. Delivering the project in October 2020 required a pandemic pivot: Lockdowns were preventing the team from sending the robot to collect timely images of plants as they emerged from the soil. Rather than delay the project by a full growing season, the team fashioned smaller versions of the vehicle that could be shipped to farmers to gather the necessary data.  

Why I Chose This Project: Innovation in food production is a global imperative, and this need will only become more pronounced as global warming continues to affect our world. As technology evolves, AI and machine learning have become unmatched in identifying patterns and optimizing resources. Applying this capability to the complexity of food production is a perfect use case. 

 

Michael DePrisco Michael DePrisco

As PMI Chief Operating Officer, Michael (Mike) DePrisco provides executive leadership to the Global Operations Group, supporting more than 1.2M active certification holders, 650,000 members and 300 chapters from over 200 countries. He is responsible for the Product Portfolio, Lean Portfolio & Product Integration, Customer Care, and Digital Groups. His team's focus is on digital product delivery and management, and the successful execution of all major initiatives.