Project management trends anno 2021 and beyond

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. (Albert Einstein)

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

From then till now

Project management or at least a project-based way of working goes far back in history. But the word “project management” was only introduced in 1954 by Bernard Schriever.

Project management as we know it today, is mainly shaped by the contribution of millions of project management practitioners worldwide to one of the many project management standards, methods, or frameworks like the PMBoK Guide from PMI, PRINCE2, ICB from IPMA, Scrum, etc. These institutions and organisations have documented best practices for many years and have put forward guidelines to improve the way how projects are initiated, planned, delivered, and closed. By following these guidelines, project managers have the necessary tools and techniques to avoid common problems and issues along the path from start to finish.

Knowing the theory and passing a certification exam, was introduced as a quality guarantee for being a good project manager. It also created a huge market for project management certification trainings and the number of certified project managers is booming sky-high.

Since 2017 Agile PM is no longer exclusively used in IT projects, but also in other project types. Management techniques from other industries have found their way into the project management profession like A3 project plans (from Toyota), Lean, Kanban boards, Gemba walks, Stand-Up meetings, Daily and weekly retrospectives.

Tailoring and customization of theoretical project management models and frameworks is widely accepted and promoted to adapt the theory to real-life situations. New hybrid approaches are being developed, combining waterfall approaches with agile approaches and other management techniques.

Technology firms are launching new types of online information sharing and cloud collaboration platforms at an incredible tempo, because there is a need and a demand to improve and facilitate the way how project teams communicate internally and externally.

Finally, the human factor in project success is acknowledged. Projects are planned, realized, and delivered by people. Project managers, team leads, and project team members are no robots that must follow strict rules. The focus is no longer on “technical” project management only, but also on soft skills and leadership qualities.

A long list of evolutions and improvements. However.

After all these evolutions and improvements in project management over the past 40 years, still 70% of projects fail to deliver their objectives !

What are the new trends for 2021 and beyond ?

Due to the devastating global pandemic crisis, the reconstruction of the economy, healthcare, social care and so on, will require a huge number of initiatives and projects. The world will see more projects in the next five years than ever before. And all these projects will require millions of project managers to get them done.

But after 40 years of experience, still 70% of the projects fail ! That’s not a good starting point.

The reason of project failure is not only to be blamed on poor project management or lack of competences. One should also look at the project environment and the business management hierarchy which is not always supporting the projects as it should. Silo structures and multiple management levels are hindering projects that go transversal and which touches all parts of the organisation.

Multidisciplinary teams, task forces, agile teams, etc. Whatever you name it, is a way to bring different minds closer to each other, to shorten the communication lines and to avoid miscommunication as much as possible. But what about mandates and decision power ? Self-empowered teams don’t seem to be the solution for everything. It might work, but it also might not work.

What if we move away from hierarchic functions and job descriptions, and introduce project roles ? Employees will no longer have a job title and a job description but will get a project role (including responsibilities). They will move from one project to another and use their skills and competences in a more performant way. Once the project is over, they move to another project.

Projects are often linked to strategic goals. Projects are a way to achieve these goals with the allocated resources.  Depending on the project approach theory, a project manager is assigned when the project is approved and ready for kick-off. However in many occasions there is a pre-project phase to analyse and evaluate the project feasibility. In my opinion, project managers are onboarded too late. They should be involved in the project as soon as possible, and they should be aware of its strategic importance and the benefit objectives after the project is being delivered. So the role of the project manager will be upgraded to change agent or even strategic implementation professional.

Hybrid PM is the future, and tailoring or customisation will be key. Each project is unique and so  is each project environment. Project management specialists should be able to adapt whatever technique and make it fit for purpose to each project (and even to each specific project phase). A pre-project phase, or initiation phase might require another way of thinking and working than the realisation or delivering phase.

As already mentioned before, we need cross-domain thinking and embrace techniques and methods from other (management) disciplines to tackle the problems that we encounter along the project life cycle.

What will be the role of the PMO (as we know it today) in this new project world ?

With a reduced number of management levels and employees operating in project roles instead of classic jobs, the PMO of the future will be more on an enterprise level instead of the lower departmental level.

This will emphasise the strategic function of the PMO : selecting , aligning and prioritizing projects according to strategic goals and programmes. If needed the PMO can thus be upgraded from Project/Program Management Office to SIO : Strategy Implementation Office.

The next role of the PMO - developing and maintaining a customized project/program approach - will continue to exist, but need to be adapted to the new supporting technologies for smooth information sharing, inter- and intra-project communication, online collaboration, project documentation archives, etc.

The third role of the PMO - onboarding and educating project team members - will face a similar challenge as new learning technologies and learning strategies will enter the workplace.

The last role of the PMO - supporting the project team with various (admin) services - will become a temporary role on project/program level and can thus be categorized as a PSO : Project/Program Support Office.

As already mentioned, the introduction of new technology is going faster and faster every year. We have no longer stand-alone applications, but cloud applications with multiple ways to interact with each other directly or indirectly via middleware. Data exchange between systems is becoming the new normal. No need to copy/paste data manually from one application to another.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is entering our daily workspace with small steps. AI algorithms are being introduced in common software applications, assisting is in doing more in less time, supporting us in search/find activities, taking over “old” jobs like transcribing voice recording to text. Imagine that your new project team member is called Siri or Alexa or Hawk. Imagine that day-to-day project monitoring activities are done by an AI system, search and find documents and project info is voice-activated, accurate and reliable, project dashboards are updated automatically in real time, and project outcome predictions are instantly available.

According to Gartner, 80% of the project management task will be taken over by AI by 2030. So we need to embrace AI in project management soon.

When AI takes over the common project management activities and tasks, the role and the added value of a project manager will change. Imagine a new world where an AI-based project information system having access to all project data (actual and past) is a permanent project team member.

Conclusion

We are facing a situation where only 30% of all projects are delivered successfully, while an unseen tsunami of new projects is presenting itself on the horizon.

Albert Einstein once said : “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

The work we do now, and the way we do it, may impair our abilities to do the work of the future. Initial forecasts indicate that future work will require creativity, human-to-human interaction, and a deep level of cognitive engagement.

Cutting-edge technology is swiftly entering the workplace, with profound implications for the way people are hired, fired, and the type of work they do. On the bright side, co-working with nascent technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to unlock skills and possibilities that currently do not exist.

At the same time, swift digital transformation is actively forging new educational priorities. Ease of access to enormous amounts of information and new technological tools has fundamentally transformed the skills required to live and work in fast-changing digital economies. Alongside the corresponding demand for technical skills, there is a growing need for critical and creative thinking. To this end, lifelong learning is no longer a luxury for priveledged workers but a necessity that public, private and educational institutions are already having to contend with.

A new era of project management has started, and we are now building the foundations for the next generations of project managers. Let’s do it good but also do it fast.

Notes

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