Project Practitioners > Business Trends for 2009 & Implications for Project Managers

Business Trends for 2009 & Implications for Project Managers

By Laura Erkeneff

In this blog I have been asked to write about Business Trends for 2009, what is on the horizon and what it will mean to project managers. So, here’s how I see the top 5 trends we will face in 2009…

1.    Cut expenses. This isn’t the traditional cry for lowering costs raised predictably by executives each year. It is more like a do it or we die languishing wail. The list of business that are going out-of-business grows each day, from the small business in your hometown to the big chain retailers such as Sharper Image, Footlocker and Zales (NY Times, April 15, 2008). 

What will this mean to a Project Manger? Accurate budgets will be more crucial than ever. And, yet how do you plan a budget (or anything) when the entire world seems to have a foundation of shifting sand?  How about remembering to “Commit to planning, not just the plan” as counseled in the Burning Questions Section

It will be more critical than ever to improve your project management skills to the point where they are a skill that is easily incorporated into every business process.  This means that you must use these skills on a continuous basis each and everyday. Great PM’s will use their skills as an on-going process of how they do their job and not as a one time event or an end in itself and this is how their teams will work, too.

2.    Since you will be cutting expenses, you will therefore be asked to do more with less. This one goes without saying – if you cut a resource that doesn’t necessarily mean that the need for those resources goes away.  If you have waited in line at the post office lately, you might like to know that in addition to the holiday rush, some branches are not filling positions once they are vacated. Our local branch is now trying to do the same job with 3 people that was scoped to take 6 employees to do as recently as a year ago. Also, there are no new time saving innovations to help fill this gap. Many of us have also had the experience of watching a waitress serve 18 tables or yelling down an isle in a retail shop to see if there was anyone in the store who could ring up a purchase. All the while, the clerk was in the stock room trying to catch up since her fellow employee had been laid off in order to cut expenses and stay in business.
What will this mean to a Project Manger? Understanding your project choices in the planning phase and what they mean will be more crucial than ever. It might be time to brush up on the Project Alternative Tradeoff Table and many of the other resources offered on our PC site.

3.   Look for new business paradigms: let them be green while creating new business ecosystems. Let me state the obvious – the business mongers and politicians have blown it.  We have overused and out priced the resources on our planet to the point that some predict that we have precious few resources left. In addition, these are now overpriced for the average consumer in our current economy! The essence of a business ecosystem is that networks between companies need to be analyzed from a higher conceptual level, asking, “Is it sustainable?” This is in contrast to the viewpoint of only considering the individual organizations usually short term benefit  as was defined in the “planned obsolesces” model. We are all too familiar with the case of the financial company that gave out many executive bonuses, paid for by our taxes, while their customers lost their homes through unethical loans.

A business ecosystem’s scope is the positive sum of all relationships (symbiosis). Thus, it’s never a good idea to kill off the host, even if you do get a bonus for it. If you can keep the running of the business in the green zone and help sustain or renew the planet, then you get bonus points through energy credits.

What will this mean to a Project Manger?  The common definition of insanity is doing the same things yet expecting different results. Increasing and broadening your understanding of business models and applying these new skills in new ways to approach projects will give you an edge in flexibility and innovation to meet new demands. It will be crucial to stay current with the changing nature of work and how we get it all done. The answers will come by looking for new opportunities and improvements in both the operations and business structures of how we are conducting our business. Can we go to a 4/10 work week and cut expenses? Can we work from home and eliminate office expenses altogether? Can we hire contractors to help lower costs? To open your mind to new possibilities, try reading the Harvard Business Review article, Strategy as Ecology, by Marco Iansiti and  Roy Levien

For those of you who love the “Think Tank” approach for entertaining new ideas to open up your thinking, try logging on to Edge at:

4.    Create and expand strategic alliances through physical and virtual social networks that are flexible and mobile to meet the business needs. This creates new opportunities for those who are willing to help each other out and not just look at their own self interests.  Our “new economy” will demand that if business is going to survive, it will need to build strategic alliances.
What will this mean to a Project Manger? Your people and networking skills will be more important than ever. It will be crucial to know how to identify strategic alliances and understand how to grow and nurture these relationships for mutual gain.  To accomplish this, start using some of the tips suggested by Brian Irwin in his article: The Political Edge

5.    Professional growth will be critical in dealing successfully with this new business landscape. This changing environment will require a fresh understanding of what business is and how to deal with our teams, executives, customers, vendors, suppliers, etc.

What will this mean to a Project Manger?  Professional, business and people skills that give you the ability to deal effectively in many diverse business environments and will be more important than ever.  I would suggest taking an inventory of your professional skills. Here is a free copy to get you started. There are also many other good inventories on the web. )

This is my short list for 2009. We seem to be in for one exciting roller coaster ride with thrills, risks, and opportunities in abundance. Although I have used the word “business” through out this blog, these predictions apply to all work environments, including nonprofit, education and government work sites. I would love to hear what you are seeing in your work environment or what you predict as a business trend for 2009. And, please include what this might mean to you as a Project Manager and how you are planning to deal with it.
And, of course – Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy the journey!

Related Links
Jump-start your project management know-how in demanding environments by following the suggestions in this guideline. As you're kicking off a new project, consider why you're starting it and what you'll do when it's obsolete. Managers of project managers may want to consider taking stock of the PM skills available across their department when planning projects for the new year.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Great list, Laura. I especially love the concept of green business ecosystems. We have to move so far beyond recycling, to a whole new way of doing business.

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