As a profession, project management is in a constant state of evolution, with advances in technology, approaches, and techniques putting project managers under enormous pressure to stay abreast of new developments as they emerge.
So, what does the future of project management look like? Certainly, COVID-19 has made it difficult to predict what lies in store for the profession over the coming months, never mind the next few years. Nevertheless, looking beyond the pandemic there are some changes and trends that already becoming evident, and providing a glimpse into what the future holds for project management.
1. Greater projectification of work
Organizations are becoming increasingly complex, and one of the results of this is an increasing need for different elements of work to be undertaken simultaneously rather than sequentially. Typically work would be carried out in a linear fashion, with one team focusing on one particular stage of a project before handing it off to the next team. However, any delays that occur between the various project development stages can create bottlenecks in the process. Through projectification, work is divided into a number of sub-projects, with each being handled simultaneously by different teams. The concept of ‘projectification’ isn’t new, but one that is expected to be increasingly embraced by project management teams in the future.
2. Increased demand for project managers
Increased projectification of work will lead to a rise in demand for project managers. According to research from the Project Management Institute (‘Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027’), ‘the project management-oriented labor force in seven project-oriented sectors is expected to grow by 33% or nearly 22 million new jobs’ by 2027. Not only will there be more jobs, but they will also continue to pay well above the average salary. Typically, a professional working in a project-oriented industry earns 82% more than someone working in a non-project oriented industry.
A study into the impact of COVID-19 on earnings by UK freelance marketplace YunoJuno found that during the pandemic, specialist freelancers working in the social media sector and project management saw the largest positive increase in pay rates of 27% and 16% respectively. The study concluded that a rise in rates and higher demand for disciplines such as product and project management suggests an acceleration of digital transformation projects in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, for example, traditional bricks and mortar retailers switching their operations to e-commerce, and services companies moving towards digital or virtual rather than physical delivery of their services in response to demand.
3. Acceleration of the technology revolution
Project management is becoming increasingly digitized: AI has already made a huge impact on the project manager’s workflow, enabling them to automate more of the routine admin side of the job and focus more on the strategic elements, while greater integration of platforms and devices has further helped to streamline workflow. In terms of tools and applications, project data analytics, with the support of AI and 5G, will have a major role to play in delivering projects in a more efficient way.
Data will continue to play a key role in helping to predict trends and inform other departments, with the latest dashboards able to continually measure and predict key business metrics, that enable project teams to analyze trends such as ‘support caseload prediction’ or closely monitor risks and performance milestones on implementation projects.
4. The need for technology skills to manage the complexities of work
With the ongoing digitization and projectification of work, the work environment itself will inevitably become more complex. It will fall to the project manager of the future to develop the technical skills and the capability to adapt and organize in the face of the challenges this will bring.
As a project manager for over 10 years, with companies like Goldman Sachs and Accenture, Neil Sheth has experienced his share of complexities but believes that AI, VR, and other technological innovations will take the word ‘complex’ to a new level.
He says: “Innovation and speed go hand in hand, which is why companies are adopting agile methodology. However, knowing your implementation process should be an automatic requirement, and it is vitally important that project managers also understand the impact and risk of these new technologies on an organization. They should strive to gain the appropriate certification, but what is really going to set them apart is knowing the technology. Are we going to see more technology-based training for PMs? I think so.”
5. Masters of collaboration, communication, and influence
As projects become more complex and interconnected, project managers will find themselves working more closely with broader groups of stakeholders. The effective collaboration that underpins project success will increasingly rely on exceptional communication skills, and project managers becoming masters of influence.
Imogen Sammon, a senior project manager within the NHS, has experience of running projects in the UK higher education and private sectors. She says that strong project management skills are a given, but what makes a real difference is how you well you adapt your project to your stakeholders to deliver true and lasting change.
“Being able to deliver a system is one thing, ensuring that it was the right system to meet the requirements of stakeholders to allow true change in process or practice is something else,” she says. “A project manager should not be driven just by the desire to deliver and implement. They must also be able to change perceptions and respond effectively to the emotional side of people and how they respond to change.”