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What are the Important Project Management Trends?

12 Essential Project Management Trends

If you search on ‘Project Management Trends’, you will find lots of articles and reports. Each of these will detail its own list of Project Management trends. However, some of them will overlap, while other will be contradictory. I have pored over as many of these as I can find, and extracted the twelve project management trends that I think are most interesting.

Why do Project Management Trends Matter?

If you are a project manager, or you hope to be one, there are four good reasons why you should care about the project management trends:

  1. What kind of project manager would you be if you couldn’t talk intelligently about your profession and the trends and changes that affect it?
  2. You want to plan your career, don’t you? Well here is some of the data that will allow you to make informed choices.
  3. If you do choose a Project Management career, then at some point, you are likely to face an interview. It seems pretty likely that you may be asked about the trends you are aware of, and how you see them relating to the job you are applying for.
  4. You know the world is changing. As a project manager, your job is to lead the changes and make them happen. These are the tools you will be using and you need to embrace the changes and project management trends, to lead well.

So, without further ado…

Here are my Twelve Essential Project Management Trends

12 Essential Project Management Trends

12 Essential Project Management Trends

1. Professionalisation trend #1: Dedicated Project Management Offices (PMOs)

Well, it seems like a long time since the late 19990s. Then, I was a Project Management specialist at Deloitte, in the Program Leadership team. We felt like we were leading the charge for the development of project and program management offices. But now, 20 years later, their time has really come. Not only have many large organizations fully embraced the concept and appointed high-powered experienced project managers to lead them… Also, smaller organizations are starting to adopt the idea. In the UK, Lindsay Scott has founded ‘PMO Flashmob‘ and created London’s first dedicated PMO Conference.

PMOs can be a home for expertise, a source of tools and good practices, a project monitor and control engine for the organization, and – perhaps most valuable – a strategic hub for project and program management. This brings us neatly to…

2. Professionalisation trend #2: Strategic Project Management

More and more, serious organizations are recongnizing project management as a contributor to strategic success. They are no longer a purely tactical response to implementing change. This is possible when you build a project portfolio based on top down strategic thinking. And this then makes project management a strategic skill set. Two of our project management trends are around the business agenda and both relate to this. They are:

  • Project management as a core skill
  • The strategic importance of governance, accountability and CSR getting wrapped more tightly into project management

Project Managers now need to see their project as part of a portfolio of others. This ecosystem of projects needs to be healthy, for the organization to have a viable future.

The ecosystem of projects must be healthy, for the organization to have a viable future Click To Tweet

3. Professionalisation trend #3: The Talent Agenda

Project Management skills have never been more important. And the demand for good project managers is growing. This is a great career to pick. It is also one that can offer real rewards and job security. The different reports agree on the need to enhance project managers skill sets. But they articulate apparently conflicting project management trends. Some state that qualifications are becoming less important, as experience drives selection of project managers. Others are equally clear that qualifications are becoming more important in recruitment as indicators of ability. What’s going on?

I have read and considered these conflicting reports carefully. It seems there are a number of factors at work:

  1. Some reports may be driven by a bias. On the one hand, affiliation to, or sponsorship from an accredited provider of qualifications could easily drive one conclusion. On the other,  provision of unaccredited tools and learning.
  2. The domain must be important. Different industries, regions and countries, and  sizes of organization will prioritize differently. What s critical to one may by mere enhancement to another.
  3. There is one report that links qualifications of project managers to success of their projects. But good project managers should know that correlation does not prove causation. Qualified PMs typically have more experience. Recruiting organizations can pay more and may be better resourced. Qualifications are a proxy for training – the qualification itsef may have little impact.

This is a topic to which OnlinePMCourses will return.

4. Professionalisation trend #4: Training for Soft Skills

One area of agreement, however, is the rise and rise of soft skills training for project Managers. We covered the relationship of hard and soft project management skills in last week’s article. There is a growing realization that hard skills alone won’t deliver success as reliably as a combination of both. Skills like influencing, political acumen, negotiation, conflict resolution, and diplomacy are rising to the fore in a world where projects are becoming more complex, the politics are becoming more intricate, and stakeholders are feeling more empowered. As a project manager, you need to focus on this area.

5. Methodologies trend #1: The Integration wth Change Management

This trend is related to the last. But it is distinct. Once again, I return to the late 1990s. When at Deloitte, I was part of a team trying to integrate our program management and change leadership methodologies. The rise of Enterprize Resource Planning (ERP) software, and internet technologies pushed this off the firm’s agenda. Clients wanted project managers to help integrate the solutions technically. Consequently, clients saw the two services as distinct, and the firm chose to continue to market them separately.

But for me, change management and project management always seemed to be two ends of one spectrum of professional skills. So I welcome this trend with open arms. Of course, project managers who prefer the project management end of the spectrum will focus on their hard skills. And equally, if you aim to specialize at the Change Management end, you will prioritize developing your soft skills. But in today’s world, you can no longer play at just one end. To be a strong project manager, you must be able to operate effectively across the whole spectrum.

6. Methodologies trend #2: The Shift to Agile

The last few years have seen the growth of Agile Project Management. Now, I think it has matured and entered the mainstream. That is not to say there no debates remaining and that the methodology will be frozen. Far from it. But I do think the shift to Agile will be facilitated by:

  • A substantial number of project managers well-experienced in Agile
  • A recognition of the benefits among organizations
  • An understanding of when to use it and when not to
  • Formalization and documentation of Agile techniques
  • A track record of successes to cite

What all of this means is that we will start to see Agile methods increasingly escaping the software development arena. Now, they will start to appear in business and other projects. As project managers start to apply these techniques, the learning curve will start up again. We will see project manager create new tools and methods for new contexts.

7. Business Agendas trend #1: Project Management as a Core Skill

If any of these Project Management trends drove the creation of OnlinePMCourse, this is the one. I see this every week. As I travel around the UK (and Europe), most of the project managers I train are not Project Managers. That is, they are managers who must manage projects. They don’t aspire to a Project Management career. They just need to be good at managing projects, so they can do their management job well.

The other people I see are young professionals. They do want to be Project Managers. They see Project Management as a highly marketable career skill for the future. And the therefore want to invest in developing their capabilities. They are right. I truly believe that the world will continue to want more project managers year-on-year. We are far from Peak Project Management.

The world will want more #project managers year-on-year. We are far from 'Peak Project Management' Click To Tweet

The final group of people I meet are small business owners and general managers. They see the work they do for their customers as a series of projects. But they also see too many unhappy customers. Too many projects come in late. And too many come in over-budget. As a result, these managers are worried. They see project management as a core skill to develop in their people.

But all of this represents just a few specific examples of an essential point. Project Management skills are eminently transferable. They apply well to almost all areas of your professional and private life. I have often thought that Project Management ought to be taught explicitly as a part of the school curriculum. This would take us beyond a business agenda. If we could make it happen, it would become the most important of all Project Management trends.

8. Business Agendas trend #2: Governance, Accountability, and CSR

I suppose this heading blend three Project Management trends. But they are related and, for you as a project manager, draw on common toolsets. I am having more conversations with business leaders about project governance. The tools we use are around reviews, decision-making, and oversight. These support accountability, but you need to supplement them with enhanced stakeholder engagement. And stakeholder engagement, along with commitment, is the key to getting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) right.

Some will argue that these are all very much concerns of affluent nations. They are an expensive luxury for poorer nations struggling to get more of the basics right. This may be true I am not experienced in working outside of UK, Europe and the US. But all I read suggests that the most forward-looking organizations world-wide are embracing these agendas. Yes, some are the affluent fully developed states. But equally, others are in the developing nations. They see good governance and community engagement as a solution to building prosperity, rather than as an impediment.

9. New World trend #1: Cloud-based collaboration

Project Management software is a big topic. I am not yet ready to write a big article about it, but watch this space! Among project management trends, one is firmly established: the move to cloud-based project management tools that encourage collaboration. These are more than just traditional Gantt Chart tools re-imagined for the cloud. They are smaller, more nimble tools that allow smaller and large project teams to work together well. Yet often, these don’t feel much like project management tools, because the project teams they target are often not experienced in project management.

This trend is often a response to the next of our Project Management trends…

10. New World trend #2: Getting to Grips with Global Virtual Teams

It is not just in global organizations that projects are more distributed around the world. Small organizations make use of virtual work teams to leverage diverse skills. Often these are offshore and sometimes in distant time zones. Of course, these are difficult to manage without technology to make their processes work. But the big elephant in the organizational room is that technology won’t solve all the challenges. It will only make them easier to handle when we find the solutions. This is because there is a dearth of good research and empirical experience of how we can make a virtual team work well. Consequently, Project Managers who figure out how to coordinate their distributed teams will boost their chances for successful career advancement.

#Project Managers who figure out how to coordinate distributed teams will boost their chances of career advancement Click To Tweet

11. New World trend #3: Use of Big data

More and more projects will be about data. I am convinced of this. I went to a talk recently about future trends. One job the speaker anticipated was a data garbage disposal expert. I doubt this. Dropping storage costs will mean we shan’t dispose of data garbage: we’ll store it. Just like firms now mine waste for precious metals, data miners will eventually draw value from any and all data. Building this capacity will take projects. Consequently, if you aspire to manage business projects, this is an area you will need to understand… At least enough to operate with credibility.

12. New World trend #4: Crowd-sourcing and Gamification

I would class these two as definite Project Management trends. But they are both still a long way off the mainstream. What you will see now are the first experiments with using these ideas within the Project Management arena. If this interests you, find the forward thinking PMOs and project management businesses and track them. Because my feeling is that we will see more of both of these trends in the next five years.

Two Bonus Project Management Trends

Okay, so I need to declare an interest with these two. Here at OnlinePMCourses, we aim to do more than harness these two trends, but to lead within them…

Bonus extra trend: New World and Professionalisation: Online Career Networking

Project managers have long had website communities. They have also had LinkedIn Groups. Make a cursory web search and you’ll find plenty to join. Indeed, you’ll find OnlinePMCourses founder, Mike Clayton, on many of them, and active on some. But what has been missing is a community for new project managers. If you are keen to learn, and build a career, or if you have had project management responsibility trust upon you, what is there for you? The world’s most popular social network is Facebook. But there is little there for project managers!

We aim to fix that. Starting this autumn, the Facebook Public Group: ‘Project Managers: Build Your Project Career’ will become an active hub for anyone who wants to build their project management career. Sign-up today and join the group. Get in on the start of the conversation. Be at the heart of another of the major Project Management trends.

Bonus extra trend: New World and Professionalisation: Online Learning

You saw this one coming, didn’t you? But it’s true. Online learning is one of the biggest trends in internet usage, ne of the biggest trends in the world of learning and development, so it can be one of the biggest of the project management trends. That’s what OnlinePMCourses is here for. Take a look at the courses awe have on offer.

Over to You

What Project Management trends do you see? Please take a moment to write your thoughts below. Better still, also write them on our Facebook group. Join now at The Project Managers.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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