04 March 2020

The growing demand for digital project managers in Belgium

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In our 6+ years specializing in digital speciality staffing and projects at leading companies in Belgium, we often observe trends in the demand for specific skills or experts. Sometimes these trends reflect global attitudes or pressures, though some are more specific to Belgium. In the case of digital project management, it’s both.

The growing demand for project management specialists

At Ariad, we’ve seen a steady increase in the demand for project management specialists across industries. In fact, in 2019 we witnessed an 18% increase in the demand for digital project management experts from the prior year, and that level is reflected in early 2020 figures as well. This is representative of a global trend; the Project Management Institute predicts a steady rise in demand for project management professionals well into the next decade.

Who are these experts? Traditional project managers fall into this category, as well as technical specialists with unique digital or industry-specific skills. Often times the role calls for a product owner, or someone certified in agile frameworks. Product owners are often in high demand, either to join an agile-practicing organization, or to help build one.

(Want to read about other trends shaping digital marketing in Belgium this year? Download the full 2020 Digital Marketing Trend Review for our consultants' take on 5 different trend predictions.)

Why the demand for project managers is rising

To put it simply: there are just more projects. New developments in technology present the opportunity (and challenge) of bringing new products to market--fast. This requires more projects: in research and development, in design, in manufacturing, and more. Even industries that historically have not been project-focused have seen significant expansion of the implementation of project management, such as the healthcare industry.

The scale of projects is also increasingly more complex. As customer expectation evolves, companies seek to own more of the customer experience, and international competition grows, projects become more complicated and require extremely efficient management in order to be competitive. Success now often means rapid growth, and work frequently happens across multiple locations. Great project management is required to manage resources and keep all stakeholders in communication.

At Ariad, we've seen the rewards of great digital project management for our clients, some of the leading brands in Europe. What does great look like? Top digital and project management skills along with clear communication and smart, fast adaptability: As the professional environments of our clients are constantly evolving, the roles of project managers do as well. The key to success is being able to continually redefine the core project management methods and responsibilities, as they are as important as the digital project management skills.

Many market leaders are shifting toward more agile practices in order to keep a competitive edge. Working in an agile way can allow faster times to market, and products and services that respond to what consumers want now. Agile project management requires skilled digital project managers or product owners who know how to stay true to agile and get the highest ROI from their teams. While the field of project management and agile practitioners within it is in fact growing, it seems that the demand is still higher.

(What else is evolving in Belgium this year? Download the full 2020 Digital Marketing Trend Review for our consultants' evaluation of 5 different trend predictions.)

At Ariad, we’ve also seen a slow but steady shift in the employment type demanded for digital project managers from our clients. Whereas some years ago, these professionals were sought for temporary, contractor, or freelance contracts, now nearly half of clients looking to hire digital project managers want someone full-time, in-house. This speaks to the prevalence of project work, as well as the digital maturity of companies themselves: where before they had only budget or interest in projects, now they are developing full-time teams and departments for digital specialists.

What’s driving demand in Belgium

Pessimistic economic outlook

While there is not one clear reason, many factors stand out in Belgium that could influence the need for digital project managers. A pessimistic economic outlook is one that could impact the need for skilled project managers. Changing economic conditions increase pressure for businesses to reduce budgets, increase productivity and output, and simply deliver higher value. Stakeholders demand greater competitive advantage in areas where digital project managers can have a lot of influence.

(Need to hire a digital project manager fast? Let us help.)

The 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey from PwC showed a markedly negative view of the future of the global economy. For the first time, over half of CEOs worldwide (53%) feel that global economic growth will be in decline over the next 12 months. However, in the same report, 63% of CEOs in Belgium shared that belief, showing a much more pessimistic attitude towards Belgian economic growth. This represents an 18% increase since the prior year. This could greatly impact their need for tightly controlled and optimized digital project management.

Changing consumer behaviour

Another factor is rapidly changing consumer demand. In the same CEO survey, 34% of CEOs in Belgium reported being “Extremely Concerned” about changing consumer behaviour, as well as 24% resporting the same level of concern about the speed of technological change. These threats were within the top 4 concerns in Belgium, whereas they didn’t crack the top 8 in the global average, suggesting that these threats are felt much more strongly in Belgium. Belgian companies are under greater pressure than ever to respond quickly to shifting consumer preferences, and deliver new products fast. Working within more agile frameworks is one common method of facing this challenge--and an experienced agile project manager or product owner is often an important factor in having a successful outcome.

Availability of skills

The number one threat reported by Belgian respondents to the survey is possibly the most telling: the availability of skills. With 41% reporting being extremely concerned about the difficulty to find the skilled professionals they need, compared to just 32% globally, this is a clear challenge in Belgium. The growing demand is contrasted by the relatively small pool of skilled talent. Finding a skilled digital project manager (who potentially can help in offering and identifying those crucially needed skills) is an increasing challenge.

What the future may hold

Industry experts like the Project Management Institute projects growth in demand for project management professionals through 2027. Given this anticipated growth, the question may be: will the demand be for generalist or specialist project managers--like digital project managers or product owners? While there is no way of knowing, research has shown a strong case for the latter. In a 2019 PPM Benchmark Report from AXELOS, projects managed by specialist project managers were more successful than those managed by generalist project managers. They suggest that the reason for this is that specialists are better equipped to tailor projects to their relative contexts. As AXELOS Territory Brand Manager Tom Lynam explains, “Specialists will also have much more experience in predicting, avoiding and responding to any challenges that their projects may face as they have worked in that industry, with those products and those stakeholders.”

A similar view was shared from Dr. Darryl Carlton, Industry Fellow at the Swinburne University of Technology, explaining that one reason projects fail is not poor communication, but rather a lack of digital or technical knowledge in leadership. “An inexperienced project leader will be incapable of comprehending the advice being provided if they lack the specific experience in the technical domain being managed.”

Interested in learning about other digital marketing trends affecting Belgium? Download our 2020 Digital Marketing Trend Review for our consultants' evaluation of 5 different trend predictions.