Project Management is at an inflection point. With so many changes, we are likely to see big changes in the daily life of a Project Manager in 5 years’ time. That’s the gap between starting a career with a foundational qualification – like CAPM – and achieving a measure of professional expertise like the PMP. So, what is in our Project Management Future?
And all the changes I predict are real. They are already underway. So, the only speculations are around detail and degree.
In this article, I want to survey my ten predictions for what Project managers will be doing differently and how we will be operating differently, in the 5 to 10-year time frame.
Two Big Themes: 10 Big Predictions for the Project Management Future
I’m not going to pick obvious themes like technology, society, or environment. We can all anticipate these will overlay every professional life. Instead, I want to divide my predictions into:
Each of these will contain five predictions.
This article does not supersede my 2020 article, What’s New? Project Management Trends: Your 2020 Update. The focus of that article was on the trends that will affect us, as Project Managers. This one is about the different ways we will work, as a result of those changes.
The Way Project Managers Will Work in the Project Management Future
We will look at five changes that I anticipate:
There is also one change I do not anticipate:
A big change we will see is new Project Managers will be digital natives. That is, many of the things PMs of my generation and even younger see as ‘new’ or things we need to learn about will be familiar and automatic to the youngest Project Managers.
Data literacy is the ability to understand and manipulate data. It will be as much a part of the job as mathematical literacy (the ability to work with numbers and formulas) and linguistic literacy (the ability to read and write in your native tongue).
Today, data analytics has the status of a disruptor. It can deliver great power – not least to Machine Learning models that I will talk about in the next section but one. However, the current way we think about and do Project Management is not data-driven. Data is still just a tool for us. And the range of capabilities in its use varies from ‘nil’ to ‘high’, with a big peak at ‘low’. That is, most PMs today have little understanding of data analytics.
I believe that the trend towards the use of Artificial Intelligence tools in Project Management will drive this up, rapidly.
For more on digital literacy:
- What is PMTQ – Project Management Technology Quotient? | Video
- PMTQ: PMI’s Vision for the Future of Project Management
- PMTQ & Digital Literacy: Essential PM Career Assets for the AI Revolution (LiveStream)
Cultural Literacy: Not a Prediction for the 5-10 year Project Management Future
I did, by the way, think about including Cultural Literacy as a change I can predict for the future. However, I am pessimistic here. I do not believe that, in the 5 to 10-year span, all Project Managers will need to be able to work effectively in multicultural environments. It will continue to emerge as a desirable capability for many of us, but won’t yet be an everyday part of the landscape.
I hope I am wrong and that things will move faster. But, I think the best we can hope for is continuing growth in the sensitivity of leaders and institutions to the importance and necessary methods of fostering diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
For more on Diversity and Inclusion:
- How to Support Diversity and Inclusion in Your Team | Video
- Building Inclusive Teams: A Conversation with Anita Phagura of Fierce Project Management
It’s no longer anything like an original though to predict that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will drive massive changes. I don’t predict autonomous AI agents running (or even participating in) our projects. But I do expect to see routine AI/HI collaboration. That is, machine intelligence and human intelligence working together routinely.
I have written a lot about this in both articles and videos, so please take a look at:
- What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? | Video
- How will Artificial Intelligence Impact the PM Profession?
- How can AI Transform Project Management? | Video
- How AI Knowledge will Help Your Project Management Career
- Can AI Really Predict Project Outcomes?
- Decision-Making AI for Project Portfolios – with Stuart Easton | Video
- How to Use Machine Learning in Project Estimating, Scheduling, & Planning
But, best of all, take a look at our Artificial Intelligence and Project Management Professional Briefing.
The blockchain is most famous for cryptocurrencies, but the underlying technology has far wider applications. It is essentially a way to create a secure chain of records. It therefore has an obvious use in Project Management for governance and assurance.
Because there is no way to change the value of a block in the chain, once a user or program enters data it is fixed. This reduces the need for project audits and therefore reduces project costs while increasing confidence.
I suspect that, by the time our 5-to-10-year window of prediction is up, a lot of project contracting and record-keeping will make use of blockchain technology.
2020 saw a major shift in the attitude of many employers to remote working. That is, employees working from home and connecting with colleagues and partners vias internet-based video technology. Post-covid, things will not be the same.
But we cannot separate this trend from others that will combine to make the working lives and styles of work very different in 5 to 10 years. The raw power of mobile devices continues to grow and the applications they can run – especially supported by cloud storage and cloud processing – are now approaching the scale of full enterprise applications. This means we can work not only remotely, but while on the move. Project Management has always been a mobile profession, with contractors taking roles wherever their preferences and the demand for our skills overlap. This will become easier still.
And there is a darker trend emerging alongside this – the so-called gig economy. This is allowing employers to shun the traditional employer obligations towards their staff. With globalization will come a wealth of talent from countries where Western pay rates are so appealing that employment protections will seem less important. There is a real risk that unscrupulous employers will drive down the value and protections of Project Management contracts. As demand for highly-skilled PMs increases, those at the lower end of the industry may find themselves open to exploitative contracts.
Integrated learning and certification
There was a big announcement that went largely un-remarked, in the summer of 2023. At the Association for Project Management annual conference, a senior PMI representative and the CEO of APM shared a platform. They were clear that it was a significant moment and that the two organizations are making the first baby steps towards aligning their certification programs.
I don’t expect to see a common exam, nor even a common syllabus. But I do think they will work towards explicit equivalence between tiers of certification. And that will lead to the ability to use one organization’s low-tier qualifications as a stepping stone to meeting the prerequisites for meeting another organization’s higher-tier certification.
We will see wider syllabuses, containing much that I cover in this article. And we will see greater choice in certification and professional accreditation pathways. And that will be a big win for the profession.
How We Will Do Project Management in the Future
We will look at five changes that I anticipate:
Design Thinking is a process for putting people’s needs at the heart of the design. While Design Thinking is not new and the principles go back even further, I think it is still not widely enough understood by Project Managers.
PMI recently added business analysis to the syllabus of its first-tier CAPM certification (Certified Associate in Project Management). This recognizes the importance for us in understanding how to articulate what users need. But finding solutions to their problems is equally important. I predict that this recognition will flow into the training of new project managers over the coming years – admittedly driven by the rise of agile – some practitioners of which sometimes claim it as their own.
All things are connected. And understanding how loops of cause and effect ca have subtle and unexpected consequences has always been the mark of high-end Project Management. But, for reasons that we’ll discuss shortly, even smaller projects will become more complex. The result is that more Project Managers will need to become adept at systems thinking:
- Looking for connections
- Integrating related ideas
- Charting relationships
- Bringing ideas together
Agile Project Management is here. Let’s not waste time predicting its continued rise. Yes, uptake will increase, but the upshot of that will not be substantially more agile projects.
Rather, I think by the early 2030s, we’ll reach the point where ‘all project management is hybrid project management’ becomes beyond obvious. People will talk about agile methods and planning methods as knowledge areas within one re-unified Project Management.
Project Management delivers changes, and the effects of those changes can be profound. So, we have an obligation to think responsibly about what we do and how we do it. What are the impacts our choices will have on individuals, communities, and the planet we occupy?
In light of all the potential for good or for harm, we need to build ethical frameworks into our project governance. And I don’t think that simply signing charters, ethical statements, or codes of conduct are enough.
This is a ‘wishful thinking’ prediction. But I predict/hope that the nascent ideas within Responsible Project Management and Green Project Management will mature into solid tools and methods that Project Managers will learn and use in our work.
Let’s go one step further. Projects deliver value. I think the trend towards thinking about benefits and value is well-underway. Even PMI (here, as often, late to the party) has done an excellent job of building value delivery into the heart of the seventh edition of its Standard for Project Management. I’m not going to go for the easy win of predicting constant growth here. Although, I will note that my best-selling Project Benefits Management course is a winning bet that I placed on this in 2020.
Instead, I’ll note that benefits can follow the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. As well as the economic value our projects can deliver, there are environmental value and societal value too. Taken together, they are known as Social Value. And there have always been Social Value Projects.
What I hope and predict will happen is that more and more economic value projects will find ways to craft social value on the margins. Project Managers will become increasingly adept at steering their projects to use marginal resources and make subtle scope changes, to deliver real social value in much of what we do. Perhaps even in everything. Wouldn’t that be a future to aspire to?
What Do You Predict for the Project Management Future?
Please share your thoughts and start a discussion below.