Project Management

The Industry 4.0 Revolution Is Here. Are You Prepared?

24 Mar 2022
Grace Najjar
Technologies converging at unprecedented speeds, entire industries transformed, the world of work upended. It’s called Industry 4.0 and it promises to be revolutionary. But this revolution isn’t just about technology. It’s about the decisive role that we as humans play in the coming transformation of business and society. Grace Najjar draws upon her recent master class at the Dubai International Project Management Forum (DIPMF) to explain what’s behind Industry 4.0 and how we should respond.

silhouette of person walking in a wide hallway with the walls made of colorful squaresImage by Mitch Rosen on Unsplash

We’re living in the era of Industry 4.0—a hyper-connected world in which advanced technologies—the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), gene editing, advanced robotics, and cloud computing, to name just a few—are converging in such a way and at such speed as to blur the lines between the physical, the digital and the biological.  

The economic and social implications of these changes are enormous, and Industry 4.0 will significantly change how we all work in the future. But at the heart of Industry 4.0 lies a paradox: the more driven we are by technology, the more reliant we are on our humanity to deliver the business and social benefits we desire. 

We can see this paradox clearly in the project management profession. On the one hand, there’s a foundational need for technical skills—not only a deep knowledge of project management practices but a clear understanding of advanced technologies and the role they play in business transformation. On the other, there’s an even more important requirement for “power skills”—the lubricants that facilitate human interaction, such as communications, empathy, creativity and the ability to collaborate.  

It’s worth noting that the technologies behind Industry 4.0 have already entered the world of project management and are changing the way we work in practical ways. The data we’re now able to collect and analyze using new technologies enhance our ability to predict outcomes, assess risks and make better decisions. They’re also helping us automate certain tasks, such as budgeting, scheduling and forecasting, so we can focus on more complex and strategic actions. 

Businesses will have little choice but to adapt to the world of Industry 4.0—because the benefits are just too great. According to CapGemini, smart factories could add between $500 billion and $1.5 trillion in value to the global economy over five years. And that’s just in manufacturing. 

Adapting to Industry 4.0, however, may require organizations to address the paradox noted above about the technological vs. human aspects of work. In a recent report (The Working Future: More Human, Not Less), Bain & Company predicts that automation will rehumanize work even as it eliminates many routine tasks. That’s because certain distinctly human capabilities—problem solving, interpersonal connections and creativity—are even more important in a complex, highly technological age. 

To make the mindset shift an Industry 4.0 world, however, companies will need to reimagine work—to move away from hierarchical structures and rigid functions and to organize work around teams and projects. What’s important is to match tasks to skills and to the team members that possess those skills.  

It’s also important to adopt a long-term and holistic view of organizational transformation—rather than merely pursuing “quick wins.” That means:  

  • Leadership engagement and strategic alignment/u – Industry 4.0 is about transforming business at a fundamental level, not at the periphery of an organization. A 4.0 transformation needs to tie directly to a company’s business model and its strategy. For that to happen, the executive team must be fully engaged and fully aligned.   
  • uA clear vision and a focus on outcomes/u – This strategic direction needs to be captured in a clear vision and mapped to specific outcomes and initiatives. It’s important here to differentiate between outcomes and outputs. We need to stay focused on real results. 
  • uA commitment to co-creation/u – No organization can go it alone these days. Innovation in today’s world means co-creating not just with team members but with customers, business partners and end users.  
  • uLong-term commitment and perseverance/u – Business transformation is an ongoing journey. Indeed, successful organizations never stop transforming. That requires ongoing learning and development, a continual sensing on where the market is headed and an iterative approach to testing and rolling out solutions. Transformation is not for the faint of heart; it calls for patience, commitment and perseverance.

If these are organizational imperatives, what should project professionals as individuals do to play in an Industry 4.0 world? In many ways, an individual’s priorities should mirror the organizational priorities.  

First, build your business acumen. As noted, Industry 4.0 is about an organization’s fundamental business model as well as its long-term strategy. Project professionals must have a broad understanding of business and the important societal and industry trends shaping our world. A good place to start is PMI’s Global Megatrends report. 

Next, focus on outcomes, not outputs. Make sure that the projects you work on ladder up to a key strategic need within your organization. And be sure that project goals tie back to outcomes directly related to that need.  

Finally, commit to continuous learning and development—or what Dr. Edward Hess calls “hyper-learning.” In our VUCA world, it’s a constant challenge to stay relevant. To do so, we must reinvent ourselves every day and build our skills not just technically, but cognitively, behaviorally and emotionally.  

Industry 4.0 is revolutionary. Indeed, it’s closely related to the idea popularized by Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum, that the world is in the midst of a 4th Industrial Revolution. The scale, scope and complexity of this revolution, however, will far exceed anything humankind has experienced so far. It’s imperative, therefore, that we not only master the technological elements of this revolution but that we elevate the importance of its human aspects as well.

Grace Najjar Grace Najjar

Grace Najjar serves as the Managing Director of PMI’s Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region and also leads PMI’s Energy Working Group for greater reach and focus globally. Grace has helped PMI establish strong connections with influential organizations in the region through regional, national and international roles. She was a long-time volunteer — notably as founding member of the PMI Lebanon Chapter, Chapter Vice President and PMI Middle East Region Mentor. Most recently, Grace supported PMI as the Corporate and Government Relations Manager in the Middle East.