• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Increasing Role Of Project Management Skills In Smart Manufacturing Environment

According to Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession®: Beyond Agility Report 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to high performing agile enterprise which are organisations that combine structure, form, and governance with the ability to flex and pivot on demand. These enterprises focus more on outcomes than processes and empower all their employees to drive change by developing a holistic portfolio of skills

Photo Credit :


A disruption within a company can often be unexpected and might put its smooth functioning to a halt. Changes in a business can be caused by a variety of reasons like innovation across industries, changes in business models, alterations in the company's structure or the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. These changes foreseen or unseen, most often cause an urgency to adapt. This has given rise to what we all know as the smart manufacturing model or the industry 4.0 revolution. Through this process employees can automate controls, modeling, and data analysis to improve manufacturing efficiencies. Smart manufacturing is an opportunity to create new business value and dismantle the current manufacturing value chain by injecting the appropriate technology. This new value creation model opens an avenue for a myriad of innovation opportunities and also encourages organisations to be much more agile.

While smart manufacturing can optimise efficiency and productivity it is imperative for project managers to understand how to expand the capabilities of both production, machines and people. Identifying and reducing lost or underutilised areas, project managers provide opportunities for growth without investing in additional financial or physical resources. According to Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession®: Beyond Agility Report 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to high performing agile enterprise which are organisations that combine structure, form, and governance with the ability to flex and pivot on demand. These enterprises focus more on outcomes than processes and empower all their employees to drive change by developing a holistic portfolio of skills. 71% of gymnastic enterprises reported productivity gains in 2020 compared to 53% of traditional enterprises, as per the report. To work in the ‘new work system’ in the post-pandemic era, heavily impacted by digital transformation, adopting a “gymnastic” approach will separate the leaders from the laggards. These organisations and their employees will be able to enhance productivity, respond to the unprecedented and successfully execute on demand.

Dr. Srini Srinivasan, Regional Managing Director - South Asia, PMI To be able to continue being agile and stay afloat in the world of 4.0 smart manufacturing, it is important to have project managers that not only have the technical skills but also understand the business dynamics which can help them stay ahead, resilient and be open to change.

An apt example here is of Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions where the company combines electronics, including high compute platforms with algorithms to identify objects, with software to autonomously run vehicles. Such work which is an integration of technology with engineering and other aspects of innovation thrown in requires project managers who have the capability to understand not just the technical aspect but also have the know how of working with diverse teams across the globe and understand the business dynamics which brings tech, engineering, innovation, design and many more aspects together. 

To be the project manager of the future and complement the industry 4.0 revolution requires project managers to step up their knowledge and look at some of the following areas to upskill and stay ahead

Technical Know-how
Within technical skills, the ability to assess the type of technology that might be required within the organisation is crucial. In addition to listing the compelling reasons to execute something, appropriate project plans or program plans must be curated. Additionally, being able to manage a whole host of technical vendors who bring technology capability to the business is also important. Lastly, an understanding of cloud technology, IoT, IATA, artificial intelligence, etc. is required to be able to take an organisation into the 4.0 realm.

Business Acumen
This means the ability to understand the business aspects of the projects that are being managed including the requirements of the customer and the business’ language. A project manager must be able to help lead the transition from project to product. The focus must be on developing key skills to become a product project manager. Budgeting in this case will be more around the value streams and the business value that this project or product is expected to achieve. Time frames will be focused on the lifecycle of the product itself and not on specific milestones. Therefore, it will be a profit center approach, not a call center approach. 

Collaboration Prowess
This is the ability to be able to lead by collaboration to take several stakeholders into the smart manufacturing environment. The number of stakeholders will always go up exponentially because not only does the business have stakeholders internally (viz. employees), but also external stakeholders including the customers, the customer organisations and a few other external agencies, technology partners and competitors with whom collaboration will occur in a specific situation. Post the COVID-19 pandemic, using collaborative problem-solving skills is going to be a competitive advantage. Take the example of how vaccines have been developed to deal with COVID-19. Many scientists came together, pooled their own data sources together into a common dataset, and then used that to learn how to extract the most important information for the vaccine development, using tools like AI and machine learning. This development was never seen before, and this type of rapid, collaborative development is going to become the ‘new normal’. 

Business Agility
As a project manager, in situations that are a crisis or require immediate attention and maximum potential, practicing flexibility and agility is of utmost importance. Amidst the pandemic, Johnson Controls won a large order USD 9 billion order from the U.S. government to set up 40 pop-up hospital sites for COVID-19 treatment in the United States in 20 days. Johnson Controls was able to get it done on time, on budget and meeting all the customer requirements. At the height of the pandemic, in collaboration with Government of India, Philips Foundation, Prosus, Johnson Foundation and the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies reconfigured their entire manufacturing process to make 800 ventilators available for COVID-19 relief in India. This would be good example of agility.

Domain Knowledge around Decision Sciences 
The traditional project management techniques typically do not work too well in deep science project settings. There is a considerably higher amount of innovation, data that must be crunched and discovery that must be made in deep science projects. A project manager must have knowledge about decision sciences to lead the project well. 

In summation, Industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing is revolutionising businesses. Not all organisations can have a whole spectrum of modern technologies available to them in the manufacturing process all at once. Many organisations would look at a phased approach to their future state, built over time. Another key aspect is learning the current state of the business and the ideal state that it wishes to achieve. Organisations must be able to assess the things that are done currently, chalk out the opportunities for improvement and then try to phase in those opportunities based on the ideal 4.0 state that is defined. This process requires careful transition from old to the new. It requires upskilling of the project professional community to embrace change and quickly adapt themselves to add value and equip themselves speed up for the industrial revolution.. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:

Dr. Srini Srinivasan

The author is Regional Managing Director - South Asia, Project Management Institute

More From The Author >>