I don’t do project management forecasts. Things change too quickly and any forecast is a hostage to fortune. But we can spot project management trends and infer from them how we need to prepare. And that’s what I’ll do in this article.
This article is an interim update of last autumn’s article. I wouldn’t normally update so quickly, but 2020 has been quite a year.
I do want to make it clear that this is not a new article or a re-write. I’ll do that in a year or two. Rather, this article adds to and comments on the 2019 version. I’ve taken that text and supplemented it with new observations. And there are a lot of them.
In this article, I want to re-examine the visible project management trends. In doings so, we will:
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:
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
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.
Just a year ago, I assessed the project management trends by five themes. In this update, I am adding two to the front, as well as a short section on the industry context:
First up, I want to spell out two things that have become increasingly obvious to me over the last couple of years.
Before we get started, I thought it would still be worth your while glancing over the trends I identified four years ago, in Summer 2016.
Four 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 plenty of new trends too.
I’ve taken down the original article, so here, in a nutshell, are the 14 trends we spotted:
I will discuss them as we go through our new trends.
So, let’s get started…
It would be absurd to suppose that all projects will change in nature. many will look very much tomorrow as they did yesterday. But it does seem clear that the overall complexity of projects will increase.
At the more complex end of the range, the trend is for continued growth in complexity. And this will shift the median and men complexity. More project managers will need to deal with ever-more complex projects. And, at the top of the range, the complexity will be awesome. This feeds into a trend e’ll look at later – towards increasing use of:
I predict we will start to become reliant on these kinds of smart technologies. And this to the extent that, by the end of the decade, day-to-day project management will feel significantly different.
I don’t see a clear trend towards either bigger or smaller projects. What I see is a trend towards greater extremes:
Project Managers have always had to think in terms of whole systems. And systems integration has long been a part of many IT projects. But what’s new is the rise of the Internet of Things (which I’ll talk more about below).
The impact of this is already and will increasingly become the need to think about systems integration in almost every project we do. Not just technology projects. Think about this for a moment… This is a BIG thing!
The trends that are shifting the nature of our projects are also working on the enterprises that commission them. In particular, I am thinking of the trends towards complexity and integration.
What this means, in practical terms, is the increasing integration of Project management into business as usual monitoring and measurement. Organizations are looking for meaningful metrics to assess project performance and measure their contribution to business value.
An important part of this is the establishment of Portfolio management and the creation of sophisticated PMOs – which I will discuss below.
Globally, the leading player in the Project Management industry is the Project Management Institute (The PMI).
In my assessment, the PMI is fighting to remain relevant. It has always had a clear focus on traditional, predictive project management methods. But it knows that this is no longer enough.
The sixth edition of its Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide) saw a substantial retro-fit of Agile onto the methodology, in the form of a bolt-on Agile Practice Guide.
They followed this up with a new Exam Content Outline for a new exam in
January 2020 July 2020 January 2021.
But what will really set the tone for the next few years will be the forthcoming seventh edition of the PMBOK Guide. This is THE PMI trend to watch in the coming months.
The Association for Project Management is the UK-based professional membership organization for Project Managers. Their APM Body of Knowledge (the APMBoK) takes a very different approach to that of the PMI.
And the direction APM is taking is also different and, to me, more interesting.
First, they are capitalising on the excellent APMBoK with a series of individually-authored in-depth books about specific topics. This promises to create an excellent reference library. The initial titles they have announced are exciting:
Diversity – and the need to harness it and manage it effectively – are massive trends in Project Management. And APM is working hard on this in a way that I don’t see in any other industry body.
As I write this, I wish them well with their forthcoming ‘Think Differently 2020 – redefining diversity in projects’ conference. I am unable to attend, but last year’s ‘Diversity Delivers’ conference was exceptional. More on Diversity below.
Their events program is, of course, on their website.
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.
In the PMI’s 2017 report, ‘Project Management Job Growth and the Talent Gap’, PMI found 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
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 br
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.
Alongside the trend towards more diverse project teams needs to come greater skills among Project Managers in harnessing the best work from our diverse teams. We need cultural multi-sensitivity and a fluency in multi-cultural working.
Aside from conferences that talk about it from the APM (see above), what I don’t see yet are practical skills-based training. I hope that will come soon.
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.
Since then, of course, COVID-19 has meant that many project teams are dispersed around various kitchen tables and spare rooms. Project teams have been isolating themselves by sheltering in their homes for much of 2020.
Of course, these are difficult to manage without technology to make their processes work. And we see constant innovation in cloud-based collaboration technology. Luckily, Zoom has provide infrastructure for small businesses, while its enterprise scale competitors have fought to catch up on its ease-of use.
All of these platforms are developing – and will continue to develop – rapidly now.
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.
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.
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.
With the recent publication of:
…we can glean some insight into where the professional bodies see the profession moving in terms of the professional knowledge and skills they require.
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:
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.
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
Also important for
What I think will matter is that project managers and our teams become ‘T-shaped People’.
But I’d go further. We need:
We could look at the topics that APM has identified (above) for future professional publications. But I want to focus on two project management trends in soft skills that show a real development. They underline how important soft skills will be to project managers.
You may enjoy our articles, which each have a perspective on this question:
A number of trends converge:
All of these point to one further key skill that project managers need: critical thinking and the ability to analyze and use complex information with ease.
I think the trend here is for this to be a differentiator between:
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:
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:
Twenty to thirty years ago, Gantt charts 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:
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.
I think the big shift I’ve become aware of in the last year is that fewer people are talking of a polarized traditional versus agile choice. And more are talking about the benefits of hybrid approaches.
Whether you call it ‘predictive agile’ or ‘adaptive waterfall’, this is a welcome shift. I look forward to the time when every project its own hybrid and we talk fo the two extremes as parts of a wider toolset. What, I wonder, will come along to disrupt this picture and add a completely new approach to project management? I cannot yet wee it on the horizon, but I am sure it’s emerging as I write.
Along with the importance of Scrum, Kanban, and other Agile skills, I can see a trend towards greater adoption of Design Thinking. This is now an approach for all Project managers to understand.
While it would be wrong to suggest Agile is the only trend, it does dominate.
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:
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). The time has come for us to train all project managers in Benefits Management, and also to develop and mature our toolset.
As I indicated above, under Enterprise Requirements, delivery of value to organizations is of paramount importance to us now.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Perhaps that is as it should be. As I’ve already discussed, the trend towards data complexity is clear. And AI assistance in dealing with it and in assisting with related project processes could soon be an imperative.
In 2018, PMI published a report: ‘Maximizing the Benefits of Disruptive Technologies on Projects’. It’s a pretty transactional article that highlights:
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’.
I’ve been privileged to see demos of some newly emerging software tools for Project Managers recently. Without sharing commercial secrets, the trends seeem clear. The most innovative new tools don’t just tackle the same problems – maybe more effectively. Rather, they exhibit:
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.
The two project management trends I see here will evolve together, the one contributing to solutions to the challenges that the other presents.
Our use of widely distributed teams grows and grows. As project leaders we need to:
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…
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.
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:
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.
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.
…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.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 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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