Searching for the Elusive Digital Unicorn

The Emergence of the Elusive Digital Unicorn — How Digital Disruption is breeding new roles within the project and business landscape, are you ready for it?

Disruptive Technologies are changing existing landscapes

Technology has had a profound impact on the business world. Simply walk into any business, no matter the size, and you will see the prolific adoption of technology. Digital project boards, virtual teams scattered across the globe; are all indicators of business reliance on this “fourth industrial revolution.” From industry data and anecdotal evidence, this tech utilization is on an exponential increase.

In 2016, Fujitsu conducted a survey of 1,180 C-suite executives. The survey stated that 98 % of them were experiencing the effects of “Digital Disruption.” (1) Of the executives interviewed, 54 % believed that the most significant changes were still to come.

New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning (ML) are impacting established industries such as the automotive and agriculture sectors. Mercedes Benz is using these technologies to drive their supply chains and ferry their customers in luxury. (2)

European farmers are using AI to better monitor their cattle. Devices with sophisticated sensors will track the cow’s movement. This data gathered will be tabulated and displayed to the farmer. Farmers are provided with data to their cows’ grazing, lying down, and other activities. This information leads to a better prediction of breeding times and helps lead preventative initiatives around general health care of the animal. (3)

Technology leading to the emergence of Digital Unicorns

Within all organizations, new roles are emerging to accommodate and exploit these new opportunities.  The Project Management Office, as the chief driver of change within the business, is feeling these effects as well. This can be seen in a greater demand for projects, as well as the emergence of new roles within its own domain.

These new roles have emerged like the fabled unicorn of myth and legend. Like the unicorn, they resemble traditional project roles. In the same way, unicorns resemble the average horse. They are a hybrid of established positions which have been re-packaged and defined to better fulfill their original mandates.

The horn of the unicorn, in the case of this article and these new project roles, is the technology that helps these roles flourish. The more these new roles utilize emerging technologies, the more they will be able to grow and succeed in their new callings.  This article is the start of a series of articles on the emergence of these new roles and characteristics and the real-life application of technology that is forcing them to change.

The Roles we will be reviewing

The hands-on project owner or sponsor, now product owner, is surfacing as a new role in the project landscape. No longer are project owners able to burden project teams, especially the project manager. The project manager has the sole responsibility for ensuring the project is a success. Using digital technology, they are expected to ensure that they make accurate predictions of the markets readiness to receive features they are calling their teams to focus on.

The Agile Project Manager versus the traditional Project Manager.

What are the skills and competencies that project managers need to develop that will prevent this role from being replaced by a machine? How is the project manager going to use Artificial intelligence to help deliver a better quality of service and leverage their unique human ability of emotional intelligence and unique leadership skills to guide their teams to greater heights of delivery?

The UX designer vs the traditional graphic or front-end designer.

Companies no longer just want a pretty design. They now want to see a design that has been driven by data and intensive research. A design that has been evolved, quickly and incrementally through continuous interaction with customers and future users over the lifecycle of the project.

The Quality Engineer vs the Tester.

No longer just required to test and pick up bugs, these roles have evolved into highly skilled engineers. These engineers often have as much technical ability as the developers who produce the code in the first place. Automation and regression pack testing is the norm and no longer the exception.

The Future

Yes, these new roles are dotting the landscape like never before. I encourage you to join us in this journey, over the next couple of articles, as we start to learn to believe again in unicorns because we are going to start to see a lot more of them in our future, some of us may even find us transitioning into these roles. These articles will help to prepare you for that change.

  1. Fujitsu. Fujitsu. Fit for Digital Report. [Online] 2016.
  2. [Online] 
  3. CBC News. [Online] 
  4. MacBan, Ryan. Cisco Blogs. [Online] 

The Connected, Inspired, Hands-on Project Sponsor – Leading the Digital Charge

Previously we opened this series explaining how technology is leading to the emergence of digital unicorns.  Following on, we now look at the role of the hands on project owner or sponsor.

Digital disruption is shaking up the corporate world. There are more and more initiatives, ideas, projects, and products being launched than ever before. App Annie reported in 2016 that more than 25 billion IOS apps were downloaded, and Android beat it with 90 billion downloads. (1)

To say that companies need to be investing in software is an understatement. Look at Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, and Netflix. The fact that the top three richest people in the world are all in charge of technology focused companies proves this point. (2)

A project starts with an idea in someone’s head. That idea is then formulated, checked, reviewed, motivated, and finally initiated in the form of a mandate or business case. The business case is essential for the creation and the maintenance of the viability of your project.

So, who is to lead the charge or create the business case? The traditional project sponsor.

Now while most people believe that to have a successful project you need a great project manager. Any seasoned project manager will tell you that if the reason for starting your project is not sound, you are off to an incredibly bad start. Not the experience of your team, nor the project manager’s vast skillset is going to persuade the stakeholders and the market that a successful product was built. So a strong project sponsor with a solid business case is vital.

If the project manager is the general manager of the project, the traditional project sponsor is the CEO. But what, in theory, does a project sponsor do? The PMBOK 6th edition states that some of the responsibilities of the project sponsor are that they are accountable for the development and maintenance of the project business case with a focus on the benefits.

In Prince2, it places even more responsibility on the sponsor, known as the Executive. The Executive holds the decision-making power on the project and is ultimately responsible for the success of the project.

In reality, the project sponsor is often totally disconnected from what the market wants and their team. They are often more focused on what certain stakeholders, normally their immediate superiors, want. Also they have the team focussed on requirements that will add little to no value to customers.

Forces from the Market Place

The market has responded with a resounding no to this type of leader. Corporates are wanting the sponsors of their large programmes and projects, sometimes the very CEO themselves, to have their ears to the ground and their eyes on the horizon.

They want the owners to be driving aggressive value to the market place. This is with just enough functionality to implement sales and wow customers. MVP (Minimum Viable Product), is the buzz word on a number of C-suite executives’ lips. But how is the MVP determined? How are project sponsors to know they are on the right track?

The answer is: technology.

Technology is forcing companies and project sponsors to change. It forces them to become connected to the market and connected to their team. Technology is also providing them with the tools to do so. Advanced business intelligence, data lakes, and intelligent analytic solutions are providing companies with the information they need to gain superior insights into customer’s behaviours.

Online shopping, cloud-based platforms, social media and search engines show the power of customer data and the advantages that this offers to companies.

Sponsors are analysing user reviews and product returns all to get a better understanding of their customers. Project sponsors are now more than ever able to take ownership and the responsibility for the success of their projects.

Connected to their teams.

Agile has come and changed the way we develop and manage technology-based projects. It has also provided us with a new role. That of the product owner. The product owner not only epitomizes the characteristics we were looking for in our project sponsors, agile ensures that the product owner is connected to their teams at all times.

Digital product backlogs found in Jira and TFS, articulate the key visionary values of the product owner and the status of their projects.

Product owners can meet with their teams virtually via electronic meeting rooms in Stride and Microsoft Teams to remain updated and keep their teams inspired.

Automated deployments allow the product owners to deploy and demo to their stakeholders every two weeks (some companies can do it weekly). This is while the product owner speaks on behalf of their project team and sometimes demos alongside them.

No longer are teams limited to one location. Virtual teams can have developers in Germany, designers in the UK, the sponsor in America and the project manager in South Africa. The digital platforms keep them connected all the time.

Statista has projected that by 2021 the total app downloads will soar to 352 billion. (1) As a project manager, I am excited about these new project sponsors that are emerging and the technology that is supporting them to deliver even more projects and products.

With these new product owners emerging, and the tech to support them, roll on the projects I say.


  1. Dogtiev, Artyom. App download and usage statistics. Business of Apps. [Online] July 2018. 
  2. Sandler, Rachel. Business Insider| Business. Business Insider. [Online] July 2018.