With the advent of new technology and leadership paradigms, the project management discipline—like virtually every other industry—is undergoing significant change and evolution.
Read on to explore some of the most notable project management trends impacting the industry, and learn about the best steps both project managers and non-project managers can take to adapt to these changes today.
Emerging Trends in Project Management
1. A Closer Connection Between Projects and Strategy
Traditionally, project management has been a tool that organizations use to work toward and achieve discrete goals, which might include the launching of a single product or service or the pursuit of a particular result. In this sense, a project is a temporary endeavor with a finite start and end, and the role of the project manager is to shepherd the project through to successful completion.
While this fact remains true, in recent years, the role of project management in many organizations has begun to shift. It is no longer being seen simply as a tool for carrying out these discrete goals; the framework is now also being applied to broader strategy and initiatives.
“We know the importance of strategy and vision within the organization,” says Joseph Griffin, a certified PMP and associate teaching professor in Northeastern’s Master of Science in Project Management program. “But the question that always arises is: How do we execute? How do we make that strategy actionable?”
It is “through the vehicles of projects and programs [that] we’re able to execute and make that strategy actionable,” he says. “So one of the big trends that we’re seeing right now is a focus on program and portfolio management, and how that is a mechanism for us executing the strategy and managing the strategy in an organization.”
For project managers who wish to put their skills to better strategic use within their organization, it is essential to understand the relationship between project, program, and portfolio management. Doing so will allow you to see how individual projects relate to each other and to overarching strategic goals, which can help you make smarter decisions for your organization moving forward.
Griffin further explores the impact of this significant industry trend in the video below:
2. A Greater Reliance on Digital and Remote Teams
Project management, like other industries, is no longer strictly bound to the confines of a typical office. Due to the confluence of a number of factors—including greater connectivity, changing corporate values, and the rise of the gig economy—digital and remote teams are more common today than ever before, a fact that brings with it a unique set of challenges for project managers.
When everyone involved in a project is co-located, many business functions are more easily carried out than in situations where part or all of the team is remote. Spontaneous collaboration, team-building, project alignment, and other project management tasks are simply more manageable when all members of the team are in proximity to each other.
It is also important to note, however, that these challenges do not mean that digital or remote teams should be avoided. The increased flexibility that remote work offers can help an organization attract and retain top talent no matter where it is located and can bring with it a number of additional benefits.
Since the number of remote and virtual teams are likely to increase in coming years, project managers need to find ways to reduce any friction or inefficiencies that might arise from such a reality. Clear and open communication has always been a key strategy for effective project management, but it will become even more relevant as this trend continues to evolve.
3. The Emergence of Hybrid Project Management Approaches
In the not-so-distant past, project managers—and even entire organizations—typically pursued all projects according to a single project management methodology. While the specific methodology embraced may have varied from project manager to project manager or from organization to organization, a reliance on a single framework was generally the norm.
In recent years, however, project managers and the organizations that they work for have become much more adaptable in their approach, with many going as far as to merge different methodologies into hybrid approaches that are unique to the needs of their specific project or industry. This has been partially attributed to the increased adoption of alternative project management methodologies—such as Kanban, Agile, Scrum, and Lean—but is also likely due to changing corporate values that allow for this increased flexibility.
Exactly how widespread is this trend? According to one recent survey, more than half of the polled manufacturers use a combination of different methodologies. The same survey indicates that those who use a combination also tend to be the most satisfied with their project management practices.
While there are advantages to specializing in a single framework, those who hope to continue evolving alongside the project management industry should aim to become familiar with all of the major methodologies that they may encounter.
4. An Emphasis on Soft Skills
Project managers need a certain level of analytical and organizational skills in order to be effective in their roles, but a project manager’s job does not end with the completion of project scope and budget documents. At the core of their work needs to be an understanding of people and how to manage them in a way that will yield the best results. For this reason, possessing an effective array of “soft skills” can be equally as important as possessing the hard skills that are typically associated with this type of work.
Effective project managers must be able to anticipate the needs of their team, understand their hopes and motivations, and identify and remove roadblocks before they impact the progress of a project. Data from the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” report supports the need for these abilities, showing that social skills are ranked as one of the top skillsets employers look for in new hires and that this is likely to increase over time.
5. The Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics
As with virtually every other industry, project management will be impacted by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and proliferation of data collection and analysis that has begun to characterize the 21st century.
Exactly what this impact will look like is difficult to predict with certainty, but most experts do agree that some degree of disruption is unavoidable, a fact which the Association for Project Management discusses at length in their “Projecting the Future” report. One impact of artificial intelligence, for example, will likely be the automation of many administration-focused tasks that currently fall to project managers, including resource allocation, project balancing, and schedule and budget updates, among others.
While some may be concerned about the change that this automation will bring to the profession, the fact remains that it brings a lot of potential with it, too. By automating away low value-add tasks, project managers can focus their efforts and energy on completing the tasks that will add the most value to their organization, which will affect greater change and increase the likelihood of achieving the strategic goals of each project.
Project management professionals do not need to become experts in AI or data analytics in order to prepare for these changes, but they should aim to understand their organization’s plans for AI in order to anticipate changes in their roles and daily work.
Preparing for the Future of Project Management
Individuals who work in a project management capacity, or plan to do so in the future, should prioritize identifying, anticipating, and adapting to the changing needs of the in the industry. Even non-project management professionals can benefit from project management skills, considering project management is an aspect of most modern businesses and industries.
Pursuing a Master’s in Project Management
One way to properly prepare for the future and stay abreast of evolving industry trends is to pursue an advanced degree in project management. Northeastern’s Master of Science in Project Management program, for example, offers students the opportunity to study under the guidance of industry professionals with the capacity to interpret trends happening in the field and pass along the corresponding insight to their students in real-time. Experiential learning opportunities also offer a chance for students to practice addressing these trends hands-on through work in an organization within Northeastern’s expansive network. What’s more, students are able to customize their education to best fit their own interests or the needs of their particular industry or organization through one of ten concentrations. At Northeastern, these concentrations include:
- Clinical Trial Design
- Construction Management
- Geographic Information Systems
- Information Security Management
- Leading and Managing Technical Projects
- Organizational Communication
- Agile Project Management
- Program and Portfolio Management
- Project Business Analysis
Obtaining the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the face of these changes and challenges is easy with a Master of Science in Project Management from Northeastern. Take the first step toward mastering these changing trends and breaking into the project management industry by downloading the free e-book below.
This article was originally published in May 2016. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.