If there’s one thing that my career as a project manager has taught me, it’s that while the fundamentals of delivering a good project don’t change much, the environment in which we have to do the delivery is constantly changing.
I don’t think I could have predicted how different the technological landscape would look to what I started out using. Equally, the economic and political landscapes that also shape the context of our work are hugely different to what life was like 20 years ago.
The basics of good collaboration, communication, scheduling and managing risk might still underpin everything we do, but project professionals have to regularly adapt to the world around them. Staying on top of project management trends means we can adapt our ways of working to stay relevant and deliver the best results in a changing environment.
But what has been shaping the direction of project leadership in 2023? Here are five project management trends that have been top of mind for me.
1. Economic landscape changes
It feels like making the right choices about what projects to do and prioritizing work is harder than it used to be. At the start of my career, it seemed that the decisions felt easy – perhaps because I wasn’t so involved with strategy, but also perhaps because the world felt like an easier place.
Today, the economic landscape seems to change frequently, and not in a necessarily predictable way. That makes project selection trickier, especially for multi-year projects or those that have longer term funding commitments.
The International Money Fund (IMF) predicts a rocky economic recovery, with the baseline forecast for growth predicted to fall from 3.4% in 2022 to 2.8% in 2023, with what they call “advanced economies” seeing an even more pronounced growth slowdown to 1.3% in 2023.
What does that mean for project management? Ongoing turmoil in the financial sector, pressure on prices and the supply chain, the cost of living and the cost of global warming… if it was my money, I’d be choosing projects that skewed toward low risk for now, but that’s a conversation to be having with your strategy team and the portfolio management office (PMO).
Longer term, project managers aren’t in a position to predict what the economic landscape will look like for our organizations. Instead, follow these basic guidelines:
- Make sure there is a strong strategy and that your projects align to it so the organization is doing the right work.
- Focus solutions on value for money across the whole product lifecycle, not just your ‘project’ part.
- Get good at budgeting so you keep project costs under control.
- Use tools like LiquidPlanner that literally help you predict project outcomes.
- Future-proof your own career by keeping your skills up-to-date in case an economic downturn changes the resources needed at your organization and you find yourself looking for a new role.
2. AI trends in project management
If you follow project management leaders on social media, you’ll probably have noticed the buzz about artificial intelligence over the last few months. AI has a huge capacity to help us deliver projects more reliably. In a time where everyone is trying to do more with less, it could also help remove some of the admin burden.
For example, you can add an AI bot to your meetings and they will summarize key discussion points and collate the actions for you. No more note-taking! In my 2023 project management survey, 24% of project managers said they wished they could get rid of meeting admin. Over 40% said they wished they could stop chasing people for updates.
Tools that make it easy for people to enter their own progress updates and quickly view priority updates, like LiquidPlanner, will help project managers save time.
AI has a lot to offer beyond simple admin tasks. Generative AI provides text-based responses to a prompt. You can ask it things like: “Here is a risk. Give me three alternatives to how this could be managed in a professional services business.” Generative AI could be writing your project status reports soon, and I already know of HR professionals using it to create job descriptions for project roles.
While the explosion of large language models and the platforms based on them is relatively new, it barely feels like a trend any longer. AI development is progressing at pace, but it’s here to stay. In 2023, project professionals should be learning about how these tools are going to shape project delivery. Get on board with the trend or get left behind (doing all the note-taking and admin that can’t be pushed to AI tools).
3. Emerging platforms
The technology landscape is changing at pace. Which platforms should we invest in? Which ones do we want to build for or sell on? What are our customers expecting and where are they expecting we will be?
These are all considerations that project teams have to think through before starting on solution design, and it can be hard to know if you are making the right choice.
In addition to thinking through the platforms that help deliver projects, we also need platforms to manage our work.
According to Gartner’s 2023 strategic portfolio management roadmap, strategic portfolio management tools carry a low adoption risk and a high enterprise value. Leaders are choosing to put platforms in place to enable data-driven decision-making in what is expected to be a challenging socio-economic situation this year.
Platforms that support demand management and dynamic resource planning are being implemented to help manage the challenge in sourcing resources. It’s hard to find the right people, so once you have them, it’s important to make the most of their time without burning them out.
Gartner’s April 2023 Magic Quadrant report for strategic portfolio management predicts that by 2025 , 70% of digital investments will fail to deliver the expected benefits as businesses don’t have strategic portfolio management in place.
Successful platforms need to be able to scale, reach wide audiences and remain profitable. Project teams need to consider whether building, using and integrating with them is a strategic move – will they give you what you need?
4.New product markets
Projects create something new, and sometimes that’s a product or service. Traditionally, project management was simply about creating the asset: someone else would have to market it and make sure the adoption levels and revenue created was in line with business case expectations.
Today, project professionals are getting involved in a much broader sweep of the product lifecycle. That’s a nod to sustainability in project management and methods like PRiSM, but also because the role and expectations of project professionals has changed.
Product owners take a much longer-term view, building in features that will appeal to new markets, and iterative development methodologies mean it is easier than ever to adapt a product to fit a new market.
Digital technologies have opened up new market segments, especially in areas where most products and services are accessed via a phone rather than a laptop or desktop computer. Equally, products can create markets: remember the iPod? Mine was a gift from work and it sat in a box until I got bored of looking at it. It became my most prized possession and revolutionized how I traveled because I could still “read” on journeys without feeling sick.
The future of project management is also about the future of products: what we build and how we create the need for them.
5. Project management technology
Finally, remote project management has been enabled by project management technology, and while you might not notice the changes that have been creeping in over the past few months, they are there.
We’ve talked about AI, which is and will be embedded in our tools, but there are also shifts in how users engage with tech. I’ve noticed a greater willingness to put cameras on, people using reactions in online meetings, better structured agendas and making the most of the tools available for collaboration and facilitation – all while blending remote and in-office teams.
Project management technology is constantly evolving. You might not notice the new features added, like the ability to add files via the project intake form, package templates and guest dashboards (coming to LiquidPlanner NEW soon!) but developers are working behind the scenes to make sure your tools are fit for purpose and giving you as much flexibility as possible.
The five project management trends above are domains where we will no doubt see further investment and change. The positive thing about all of this is that while we’re in the change, it feels gradual and almost evolutionary. If I dropped my 25-year old self into today’s project management environment, I’d feel lost. That level of difference would be a world away from my experience.
However, we’re all in this together. The future of project management and the trends that will shape it are happening to us, around us and with us, and we can influence how we want to lead projects in that emerging environment. What will you do to lead us into the future?
About the Author
Elizabeth Harrin is author of Managing Multiple Projects and several other books. She is founder of Project Management Rebels, a membership community for project managers who want to deliver with more confidence and less stress.