Project management has been a job since the Egyptians mapped out plans for pyramids – and probably before that too. We’ve seen a lot of changes over the past 4,000 years, and the pace of change for our profession shows no sign of stopping.
I’ve been around project management most of my professional career, which has given me over 20 years on the job. I’ve been reflecting on where we are today and what factors are affecting how project management will evolve in the coming years. Do you want a peek into the future? Let’s go!
1. More (and better) technology
We’ve been talking about the role of artificial intelligence in project management for some years now, and yet I’m still here – haven’t been replaced by a robot yet! We are seeing an increase in low and no code solutions to create workflows, better project management tools that enable predictive scheduling, and intelligent insights from the vast amounts of data we create.
This is a trend I can’t wait to jump on. In my current role, we’re moving from a manual process of pulling out key data points to then share via a monthly report to smart dashboards that dynamically capture and reflect key information in our project management tool that includes dashboards to support reporting. Thank goodness.
As project managers, we need tools that empower us to lead our projects. The tool is there as management support, and the sooner we get away from software being a PMO overhead, the better. Software should help us make projects more predictable, leverage our data , and support decision-making. Software should enable us, and our teams, teams to plan, predict and perform better.
2. Unstoppable organizational uncertainty
The last few years have introduced a whole new array of uncertainty. Project teams around the world shifted gears during the lockdown from the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m thinking that this level of uncertainty isn’t going to stop any time soon.
Businesses need to be agile. Projects need to quickly get started, deliver and launch. Failing to adapt and deliver quickly gives competitors room to win or the window of market opportunity simply closes. And, it isn’t just market and competitive pressure we are dealing with. Leadership changes at the top have always created a bit of fallout for project teams, as the new executive stakeholders rethink organizational priorities.
In my mentoring work, I often talk to project managers who don’t have a plan – at least not one they believe in. A project manager friend I went to dinner with last week said her company was reorganizing again. It was only recently that her team was facing mass redundancies. When does it stop? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
When priorities change, as they so often do for all sorts of reasons, we need to be able to quickly switch to working on what matters. We need a plan that stands up to scrutiny and helps the team focus on what’s important. We will be dealing with uncertainty for the foreseeable future so we might as well get comfortable with it.
3. More external pressures
It’s not just uncertainty in the workplace that is affecting the prioritization of work and how projects get delivered. The impact of external events from war to natural disasters can make a difference to your project – even if you are geographically far away from the epicenter.
This isn’t a new pressure – I remember the supply chain issues for electronics from Japan after the devastating tsunami in 2011.1 As the world supply chains become ever more intricately linked, the impact of a problem in one area can have unforeseen implications elsewhere.
Business acumen is important for project managers, but there’s also a growing need to be industry-aware and commercially-minded. Keep an eye on what is happening in the world and how that might need to be reflected on your risk register and whether your processes and tools in place are well suited to flag risk and execute change.
4. Talent challenges
The role of the project manager is getting broader. While the latest PMBOK® Guide is certainly a slimmer version than the Sixth Edition, the contents represent a departure from project management as a process-led discipline. We’re now firmly in the role of influential business leaders… except only a few of us have been trained to fill that role. Add to that the fact that many non-project management jobs are now ‘projectized’, and you get a workforce expected to lead projects without having much support.
We need smarter planning tools to help with the administrative tasks like scheduling and time management to make more time for leaders to do the work that really matters: aligning people and priorities. Then we can support project team members and the people we mentor and coach within the organization to do their best work. Focusing on giving the right skills to the right people is part of how project management will evolve.
5. Putting people first
It’s not just finding the right individuals to do the work – it’s keeping them too. A Pew Research Center survey found that 63% of workers who quit a job in 2021 did so because of a lack of advancement.2 Another 63% left because of low pay, and 57% reported leaving because they felt disrespected at work.
Even if you find talented project professionals, the chances are they are judging your project management tools, culture, and processes from the moment they join their first meeting. And if they don’t like what they see, they’ll be gone.
Successful project teams will invest in creating a culture that embraces uncertainty, trains and supports staff, is aligned to strategic objectives, and dialed into what is important in the organization and beyond. Over time, that will build up organizational knowledge, create strong working relationships, and translate to better, more successful projects.
Technology, uncertainty, world events, skills, and people: that’s how I see the levers for the evolution of project management. Things have changed in the 20+ years I’ve been in the project management field, but new challenges for today’s working methods mean more evolution to come. And that’s absolutely the right thing. Who wants to work in a profession that isn’t adapting to the world around it?
One technology solution that can help launch project managers into the future is LiquidPlanner. Their software takes a portfolio approach to project planning to manage uncertainty and deal with change across the entire organization with their automated scheduling engine. LiquidPlanner takes the mundane administrative tasks out of the equation and aligns team members to the right work, freeing individuals to do the work that matters most. They are the only project management solution that calculates when work will finish with 90% confidence.
What do you think? Join the debate on our LinkedIn page and let us know what you feel are the big factors influencing the future of project delivery.
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.