Project Management

Exploring the Future of Work – Through a Healthcare Lens

7 Apr 2022
Joe Cahill
The healthcare sector is a microcosm of the project management world—reflecting the many forces shaping the world of work but also acting as a critical driver of many of those same forces. In this post, Joe Cahill shares insights about the healthcare sector and The Project Economy from a recent presentation to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

red stethoscope hanging from a metal fence backlit by the sunImage by Oluwaseyi Johnson on Unsplash

The healthcare sector occupies an interesting pivot point in the project management world. It reflects many of the forces shaping the world of work in the 21st century. But it’s also a source—a wellspring—of many of those same forces.

This dynamic was brought home to me recently at the HIMSS conference—the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. The conference theme this year was “Reimagine Health,” and I was there to talk about “reimagining” the world of work—sharing PMI’s perspective on the global forces shaping The Project Economy.  

Healthcare is already highly project-oriented and, in many respects, is a microcosm of The Project Economy. Think of the R&D initiatives undertaken by major pharma companies or the care and treatment of patients in a hospital. In both cases, teams of experts in various scientific and medical disciplines come together, united by a common purpose, to achieve a common outcome. 

As noted, however, healthcare isn’t just a beneficiary of the projectization of work; it’s also a catalyst driving that trend. According to an analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the fastest growing sector in project management-oriented occupations is software development—projected to increase 14 percent between 2019 and 2030. And one of the major contributors to the growth of software development is healthcare technologies.  

By their very nature, healthcare projects have an outsized impact on society. Consider that the #1 project on our Most Influential Projects 2021 list comes from the healthcare sector—the development, in record time, of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. The scale and scope of this work was breathtaking. It’s difficult to even place a value on the impact these projects have had on the world.  

I talked about the vaccine projects at HIMSS, as well as several other notable initiatives in the healthcare field. But I also touched on two other critical points. 

The first is the growth of The Project Economy itself—and the significance of this trend in the world of work. Increasingly we see organizations rethinking not just the nature of work, but how work gets done on a day-to-day basis. Rather than working in a particular department or function for their entire careers, individuals are now being organized into project teams based on their specific skills and capabilities.  

What’s driving this shift? In a word—disruption. Projects allow organizations to respond with greater agility when unexpected shocks occur. PMI has identified some of these disruptive trends in our Global Megatrends report. They include factors like climate change, shifting demographics, technological disruption and, of course, global pandemics. Of even greater concern: these shocks are occurring with greater frequency than ever before.  

In response, organizations are becoming more agile and less hierarchical. They’re shifting toward what McKinsey calls “a more flexible system in which individuals move among teams and projects.” This allows organizations to respond and pivot more quickly. 

As healthcare becomes even more projectized, however, it will need to focus on the skills and capabilities of its people—and the need for more project professionals.   

Results from PMI’s 2021 Talent Gap Report suggest that the global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030. That’s 2.3 million people every year. As noted, a significant percentage of this demand is being driven by the healthcare sector.  

To illustrate the type of skills needed, I shared PMI’s Talent Triangle with HIMSS attendees. If you’re not familiar with the Triangle, one of its sides represents technical skills and different ways of working. On the second side are the skills associated with business acumen, which are critical for understanding the context for change. And on the third side are the power skills required to drive change.  

All three types of skills are important, but I particularly emphasized power skills. Why? Because for many years we as an industry have over-indexed on technical skills. Today, however, many technical practices are being automated or codified. You still need to understand when and how to apply these techniques, but what makes you really stand out are power skills—capabilities like collaborative leadership, empathy and an innovative mindset. These are the skills that can't be automated—that allow you to maintain critical human connections, even if you're operating in a virtual environment.  

In the end, I left HIMSS attendees with three takeaways: 

  • Continuously grow your skillset and empower your team to do the same. We all need to commit to ongoing, life-long learning to stay relevant in a fast-changing world.  
  • Use the approach that’s the best fit for your context—whether that’s Agile, Hybrid or something new altogether. Flexibility is key in identifying the optimal way of working. 
  • Lead with power skills like empathy to maintain those all-important human connections, especially in a virtual environment.  

Healthcare, in the end, is the most personal of industry sectors, dealing with our very health and well-being. It’s no wonder then that it plays such a leading role in the world of work—both reflecting and driving many of the forces shaping The Project Economy.  

Joe Cahill Joe Cahill

As Chief Customer Officer (CCO), Joe Cahill is responsible for all PMI’s Global Customer Group. He oversees the Global Customer Engagement Team, the Global Customer Experience Team and PMI’s eight geographic regions. Joe previously held the positions of COO, Interim CEO and SVP of Finance and Administration in his time with PMI.