Project Management Trends: A Fresh Look

Project Management Trends: A Fresh Look

Three years ago, we wrote an article on what we saw as the most important Project Management trends. Some of those predictions are maturing nicely. And there are some new trends to add.

So, in this article, I want to re-examine the visible project management trends. In doings so, we will:

  1. Group these trends into five main categories
  2. Assess what is coming and what it means to you
  3. Review how this compared with our earlier article and the twelve project management trends we spotted

12 Essential Project Management Trends from Summer 2016

I’ve taken down the original article, so here in a nutshell are the 12 trends we spotted:

  1. Dedicated Project Management Offices (PMOs) – Professionalization trend #1
  2. Strategic Project Management – Professionalization trend #2
  3. The Talent Agenda – Professionalization trend #3
  4. Training for Soft Skills – Professionalization trend #4
  5. The Integration with Change Management – Methodologies trend #1
  6. The Shift to Agile – Methodologies trend #2
  7. Project Management as a Core Skill – Business Agendas trend #1
  8. Governance, Accountability, and CSR – Business Agendas trend #2
  9. Cloud-based collaboration – New World trend #1
  10. Getting to Grips with Global Virtual Teams – New World trend #2
  11. Use of Big data – New World trend #3
  12. Crowd-sourcing and Gamification – New World trend #4
  • New World and Professionalisation: Online Career Networking – Bonus extra trend B1
  • New World and Professionalisation: Online Learning – Bonus extra trend B2

I will not evaluate these here, but discuss them as we go through our new trends.

Why do Project Management Trends Matter?

Project Management Trends: A Fresh Look

This is a question I addressed back in 2016, and my answer is still very much the same.

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 are some of the information and ideas 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.

My Approach to Discussing Project Management Trends

If you search the web for ‘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 others will be contradictory. Many of them are excellent and bring in a lot of research.

I have pored over as many of these as I can find. But in the end, I have used them only as a starting point; as inspiration. This article is based on two things only:

  1. What I think are the important trends.
    I have introduced a couple of things that are not in those articles, and ignored some things that are.
  2. My own assessment of them.
    This article is my own assessment of these project management trends. So, it is more of an opinion piece than a data-led article.

I’ve listed a number of the best online articles at the end of this one, so you can see what others are observing. These avoid the ones that focus on trends that seem to support purchase of the products and services the website promotes.

Five Themes

I have assessed the project management trends by five themes:

  1. The Impact of Social Changes
  2. Professional Knowledge and Skills
  3. Trends in Project Management Methodology
  4. Technology-related Project Management Trends
  5. Trends in Project Management Infrastructure

So, let’s get started…

The Impact of Social Changes on Project Management Trends

Many of the trends in project Management are, necessarily, driven by social changes. Projects serve society, so, when societies change, or demographics shift, projects respond. And, therefore, so must our profession.

Perhaps the biggest trend is the growth of economies and infrastructure outside of the once-dominant Western Nations. The so-called BRIC countries, and, to a lesser extend, the MINT countries are investing rapidly.

The BRIC Countries

  • Brazil
  • Russia
  • India
  • China

The MINT Countries

  • Mexico
  • Indonesia
  • Nigeria
  • Turkey

In the PMI’s 2017 report, ‘Project Management Job Growth and the Talent Gap’, PMI finds that up to 2027:

the project management-oriented labor force in seven project-oriented sectors is expected to grow by 33 percent, or nearly 22 million new jobs.  By 2027, employers will need nearly 88 million individuals in project management-oriented roles. China and India will represent more than 75 percent of the total project management-oriented employment.

Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027: Project Management Institute, May 2017

Diversity of the Project Management Profession

I don’t know enough about the diversity of the profession in different countries and different industries. But, where I’ve worked, it’s been dominated by middle-aged, college-educated men. More diversity is always a good thing.

With early millennials reaching the age when they can start to lead substantial projects, we may see a shift in style. If sociologists and commentators are right, they will be less keen on old-style formal hierarchies, bosses, and review processes. They’ll prefer informal coaching conversations and greater equality among teams. And they should bring new diversity to our profession wherever society allows it.

In multi-cultural societies, I hope we’ll see greater representation from minorities and from women at the senior levels of the profession. I hope that women will continue to rise up executive ranks in and around project management, as they are doing throughout industry. That should continue the long-overdue shift to eliminate the disgraceful gender pay gap that persists in most countries.

Remote Working and Virtual Teams

In our last review, we said that 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. And we see constant innovation in cloud-based collaboration technology. 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.

I think there is still a dearth of good research and empirical evidence about the best way to get a virtual team working well together. Consequently, Project Managers who figure out how to coordinate their distributed teams will boost their chances for successful career advancement.

The Gig Economy

In many countries, after years of labor organization and progress in securing workers’ rights, we are seeing reversals. The ‘gig economy’ seeks to harness workers’ commitment without employing them. This means less certainty for professionals. Some will rejoice in the greater flexibility, but this change may reduce our options to find secure employment.

Crowd-sourcing and Crowdfunding

I don’t know whether this is a social or a technical trend. And that tells us a lot about the big shift in society: the centrality of technology in how we manage our social interactions. Last time, I saw crowd-sourcing and gamification as a long way off the mainstream.

They still are, and I’ve not seen much movement in gamification. But I have seen apps focused on crowd-sourcing project judgment. And more and more start-up projects are being funded through crowdfunding platforms.

Professional Knowledge and Skills

With the recent publication of:

  • Association for Project Management’s APM Body of Knowledge (APMBoK)
  • Project Management Institute’s new PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO)
  • Leadership and core team members for PMI’s 7th Edition of its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)

…we can glean some insight into where the professional bodies see the profession moving in terms of the professional knowledge and skills they require.

Emphasis within the Bodies of Knowledge

The two published documents, plus what we can infer about the direction for the PMBOK Guide 7th edition suggest a few pretty big trends, which both professional bodies share:

  • Ever greater emphasis on the integration of traditional and agile methods. This is not just about putting agile on an equal footing, but expecting all project managers to be able to play across the spectrum of project styles from pure predictive to highly adaptive, and to build hybrid models to meet the demands of their project.
  • Increased focus on people-oriented skills like leadership, stakeholder engagement, and communication. One shorthand concept for this is Emotional Intelligence, or EI. While not universally liked by the PM community, this model is a great framework to hang a large part of our skills requirement off of.
  • Coaching and mentoring seem finally to be getting more prominent in the conversations we have. The APMBoK discusses them as leadership skills. They are how we, as leaders, develop our colleagues, team members, and the next generation.
  • Business Orientation is also a clear focus for both PMI and APM. There is a wholly reasonable expectation that you need to understand the business and strategic contexts of your projects. And certainly, the APM has an agenda to place project managers at director-level / C-suite in large organizations.
  • The final big change we are seeing (at long last) is the arrival of Benefits Management language at project level, again both within APM’s and PMI’s documentation. This is long overdue and will, I hope, create a boost in methodology development, and project success rates – particularly in the business-oriented projects I am so familiar with.

Curated Learning

There is so much learning material out there. While PMI has been protective of its knowledge model and rigid in its designation of Registered Education Providers (REPs), APM has been far more open in its knowledge model. The APMBoK is filled with references. I expect the next edition of the PMBOK Guide to emulate this.

How Much do Qualifications Matter?

Skills are certainly more important than qualifications. The shift this summer in PMI’s Examination Content Outline and the hints this holds for the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition suggest to me that PMI is trying to stay ahead of this curve. Until now, many formal qualifications have been a poor measure of skills. Broadening the qualifications is a first step. Also important for PMI, is the need to ensure fewer people achieve their PMP based solely on examination performance, with only thin experience that didn’t get caught out at audit. I’d like to see a review of how CAPM is used as a pre-PMP stage.

You may enjoy our articles, which each have a perspective on this question:

Trends in Project Management Methodology Methodology

We can’t talk about trends in project management methodology without starting with Agile and the many forms of hybrid between predictive and adaptive approaches. Indeed, to a first approximation, this is the only new game in town. Almost all methodology trends link to this theme.

In simple terms, we can see the APM and PMI both embracing adaptive project management. And the summer has seen three big announcements from PMI that underline its thinking. These were:

  1. The new PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO). This announced that, from 1 July 2020*, the PMP exam will change. And one of the big differences is that… ‘About half of the examination will represent predictive project management approaches and the other half will represent agile or hybrid approaches.’
    * the date changed from the initially announced December 2019 date, in August 2019.
  2. The Core Team for the development of the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide will be co-chaired by Mike Griffiths – who was involved in the creation of the Agile method, DSDM, and has over 20 years of experience in Agile methods. He’s an Agilist through and through. Mike has said: ‘this will not be just an update, instead a radical departure from all previous editions aligned with PMI’s new digital transformation strategy.’
  3. The PMI has acquired Disciplined Agile: the Disciplined Agile Consortium, along with its methodology, qualifications, and leadership team.

Agile Outside of the IT Project Environment

Agile will also continue to make its breakout from pure IT projects, where it was born, and where it finds its most natural application. We are increasingly seeing the adoption of agile principles in other sorts of project – especially business-focused corporate projects.

But we will also see agile principles applied outside of the project management environment. Two places already show a lot of signs of adoption:

  1. Business Agile: Agile’s move from the IT department to the C-Suite
    I regularly read articles from the magazines of big strategic consultancies, like McKinsey, BCG, and PwC. These regularly contain articles, aimed at senior executives, about the adoption of agile across the enterprise.
  2. Integration of DevOps and Agile
    Kanban is widely used for IT Service Management. The underlying philosophies of DevOps and Agile overlap, so it will be surprising if there is not a greater integration and overlap over time.

The Rise of the Kanban-board Project

Twenty to thirty years ago, Gantt cg=harts started to rise up in popular culture. More people became aware of them, and they started to be widely used by pert-time project managers on small-scale projects. The basic metaphors and tools of project management have become embedded in management learning:

  • Milestones
  • Gantt Charts
  • Network Diagrams
  • Stakeholder Maps
  • Risk Registers

Just watch… By 2025, I predict that no self-respecting middle manager will be unaware of Kanban, and many will post Kanban boards as part of their day-to-day operational management and small organizational change projects.

Other Methodology Trends

While it would be wrong to suggest Agile is the only trend, it does dominate.

Outsourcing

There is one other trend that as run for many years and will continue. This is the outsourcing of IT systems and specialist project components. What this means to me is that there will be an ever-greater premium on project managers with high-level:

  • Procurement and purchasing skills
  • Negotiation and vendor selection skills
  • Contracting and contract management skills

Benefits Management

Finally on this, I want to return to the adoption of Benefits Management as an important PMP skill, by PMI. Program Managers have known the importance of Benefits Managers Since the late 1990s (when I was active, and working to develop a Benefits Management methodology within Deloitte Consulting). I think the time has come for us to train project managers in Benefits Management, and also to develop and mature our toolset.

Technology-related Project Management Trends

There are always a lot of technology trends. And the challenge is to determine which will truly impact our profession. Because, many will simply mean there will be new projects to do – but they won’t fundamentally change how we do those projects.

I think some of the big technology trends will lead to new projects that bring in new products in familiar ways, include:

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • 5G Phone technology
  • Wearable technology
  • Autonomous vehicles

But, some technology will augment our project management practice, without changing it radically. An example would be how wearable technology could give us another way to interact with Project Management Information Systems. It may make activity tracking more rigorous (intrusive) and give faster access to data. But the change would be one of degree, rather than of kind.

Other data trends will impact our procedures and policies. The changes will again be quantitative, with the new approaches simply updating the old. Data security and protection of personal information is a good example.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Once again, the first impact of AI is likely to be to augment existing project management software solutions. This will doubtless make it more effective at supporting project teams that fully adopt the solutions, and allow them to increase efficiency.

But is there a true revolution coming for us?

I don’t think we’ll be employing T-800s in our project teams any time soon. But I do think that machine learning and AI will start to generate actionable recommendations on thorny project decisions.

AI is particularly well suited to, for example:

  • data-gathering and analysis
  • real-time allocation of resources
  • procurement and supply chain management

But it is already going further. In the PMI’s ‘The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ’ report (see below), a case study describes how NASA is stiving to treat digital employees like humans. They get user IDs and email accounts just like we do. Maybe not a T-800, but possibly T-1 is with us already.

PMTQ: PMI’s Vision for the Future of Project Management

In 2018, PMI published a report: ‘Maximizing the Benefits of Disruptive Technologies on Projects’. It’s a pretty transactional article that highlights:

  1. Cloud Solutions – already heading towards maturity
  2. Internet of Things – a benefit to operational efficiency and a new product set – but how will it affect our project practices
  3. Artificial Intelligence – for me, the biggest potential contributor to project management change

But then, at the start of this year, they published a more visionary report: ‘The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ’. We did a full analysis and critical assessment of it in our article: ‘PMTQ: PMI’s Vision for the Future of Project Management’. It argues – reasonably, I think – that project managers will need to up our Technology Quotient (TQ) if we are to thrive in the coming years. TQ is, of course, an analog for IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, and for other analogs like EQ and SQ (Emotional and Social Quotients) that have become popular in recent years.

I shan’t cover this here, because I have covered it fully in PMTQ: PMI’s Vision for the Future of Project Management’.

Trends in Project Management Infrastructure

Infrastructure will probably have the biggest impact on our day-to-day working lives. And, while none of these trends are new, we will see them all continue to evolve and mature. I’ll divide the infrastructure into two, while it is still acceptable to do so. Maybe there will be a time when discriminating between people and machines will not be.

People: ‘Human Infrastructure’

The two project management trends I see here will evolve together, the one contributing to solutions to the challenges that the other presents.

Serving Virtual Teams

Our use of widely distributed teams grows and grows. As project leaders we need to:

  • Harness their capabilities
  • Improve efficiency and effectiveness of working, and
  • Serve them well, so that we can gain from their diversity without threatening their autonomy or causing offence

There is still a huge amount of work to do, if we are to overcome millennia of working exclusively with people in the same city, town, building, and room. One source of support will be…

Project, Program, and Portfolio Management Offices, and their Big siblings, EPMOs (Enterprise PMOs)

The future of the PMO is not a topic I specialise in. But expert, Nicole Reilly, recently wrote for us a feature article: Setting-up PMO 3.0 |The Project Management Office in the Age of Digital Transformation. This nicely draws the connection to the some of the technology trends I identified above.

But a sign of the richness of this evolving field is her assessment that the term ‘PMO 3.0’ that she uses is also used in other ways, by other commentators. There are at least four different conceptions of what PMO 3.0 can mean. The future of PMOs will be varied and their contribution will grow.

Technology: ‘Machine Infrastructure’

The most obvious Project management technology infrastructure trend is the continued rise of cloud solutions. These will serve virtual teams and large, multi-enterprise projects. But don’t for on moment, think that technology is the solution to effective virtual teams. It’s just an enabler.

I think there are two more-interesting project management trends at play in the technology infrastructure world:

Integration of Business Software Tools

Projects don’t stand alone in an organization. And PMOs are rising up the organizational food chains to become EPMOs. Likewise, I expect a closer integration of project management software tools and wider business software. This may mean consolidating to fewer, more capable, business tools. Or it could mean close data integration between tools. Either way, I expect it to become easier to draw and integrate data from across organizations, and build trends and forecasts. The challenge will be to interpret them, and assess their validity.

Real-time Automated Reporting Dashboards

This same trend towards more comprehensive access to data and anaytics will also mean project reporting will continue to trend towards better real-time reporting through online dashboards that integrate huge amounts of project data. If project managers can design useful dashboards and executives can avoid information overload, this could serve good project governance and lead to enhanced project performance.

What Project Management Trends are You Seeing?

…and which do you think are the most important? Please do add your thoughts to the comments below. It would be great to build up a dialogue.

Other Articles on Project Management Trends, that You may Enjoy

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 ProjectManager.com 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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