How project managers brought 2020’s most influential projects to life


Posted: November 10, 2020 | Word Count: 698

Recent projects have seen project managers and change makers find resourceful ways to maintain momentum and avoid obstacles, despite a global pandemic. To honor this perseverance, Project Management Institute (PMI), with input from hundreds of experts globally, has unveiled 2020’s 50 Most Influential Projects, off the heels of its inaugural year in 2019.

In addition to the top 50, PMI released 30 lists recognizing the top 10 Most Influential Projects specific to a variety of regions and industries. In total, the lists celebrate over 250 breakthrough efforts that celebrated important milestones in the past 18 months.

The global pandemic has challenged all of us, disrupting the rhythms of our lives and forcing us to adapt to new realities,” reflects Sunil Prashara, President and CEO of Project Management Institute. “The projects honored in the 2020 edition of Most Influential Projects should give all of us cause for optimism in these tough times, as each team had to make hard decisions, often going against the grain of tradition — all for the betterment of society. As we rebuild, it is going to take innovation, collaboration and determination to make reality.”

How have project managers helped make the year’s Most Influential Projects a reality? Here are three examples.

Innovation to solve global problems

Project managers in South Korea innovated by adapting existing technology, despite multiple challenges, to develop Chollian-2B, an environmental satellite that measures the sources of air pollution and offers advanced weather forecasting.

NASA and the European Space Agency are now planning to follow this model to learn how to mitigate the effects of air pollution on the environment and human health, showcasing how project management can inspire future initiatives. Air pollution's role in making some populations more susceptible to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 brings added urgency to this vital global endeavor.

Collaboration for ambitious projects

Mammoth projects require wide-spread collaboration, with project managers crucial to ensuring everyone works together successfully. One example is Learning Passport, a massive educational initiative requiring collaboration between educators, administrators and engineers.

When the lockdown closed schools, roughly 1.7 billion children were impacted worldwide. While some regions quickly shifted to remote learning through digital education tools, many children in economically and technologically challenged regions struggled.

That’s when a pilot project, Learning Passport, ventured into new territory to help. Originally a partnership between global organizations to assist displaced and refugee children, Learning Passport was adapted to meet the new demands of students in underprivileged and remote areas.

A team of project managers rallied for rapid deployment of Learning Passport, customizing it wherever it was used — and collaborated with the different ecosystems to deliver content to support improved learning outcomes for children around the world.

Determination to get the job done

As COVID-19 began spreading, the U.S. Digital Response (USDR) project mobilized software engineers to help local governments. The group — including three former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officers — recruited volunteer data scientists, interaction designers and project managers to help public agencies whose resources were stretched to a breaking point.

In the first three months, the USDR was tapped for over 100 projects, from building a dashboard to track hospital-bed capacity for the Pennsylvania Department of Health to creating a system to connect volunteers with vulnerable populations needing groceries delivered.

The response to the USDR’s call was astounding: Over 5,000 experts volunteered. USDR is now developing projects for food and housing security, plus digitizing government systems. Through its organized and determined team of volunteers, USDR's project managers show what’s possible when people mobilize for a common cause.

2020 — and beyond

These projects and others celebrated by PMI emphasize the need to innovate at a breakneck pace, demonstrating that progress must take precedence over perfection to solve immediate problems. It is crucial for project leaders to break everyone out of their silos to achieve ambitious goals, as without collaboration from experts across disciplines and regions, progress would be impossible. And while times of crisis may tempt people to focus on the issues of the moment, the Most Influential Projects 2020 list highlights forward-thinking projects born from a determination to remake the world.

To learn more about Most Influential Projects 2020, visit PMI.org/most-influential-projects.

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