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Project Trends 2013

By Andy Jordan

Via ProjectManagement.com 01/28/2013

As the New Year rolls around, it’s only natural to look back at what happened in the last year and consider what we might want to happen in the coming 12 months. In this article I want to consider some of the things that I would like the project management discipline and its practitioners to consider--things that are happening and that will impact project managers and project management whether they are ready or not, a few things that I want to plant in your minds to consider over the next year. Some of you may already feel prepared for some of these things, and some of you will probably think that one or two of these ideas are out to lunch. But that’s okay…if they are making you think, then I’m achieving what I set out to do!

Agile is mainstream

Project managers have been hearing about agile for a decade or more, and you don’t have to be that involved with it to know that it is becoming more prevalent--just look at the increase in the number of articles written, certifications available, etc. As someone said to me, “With the PMI having an agile certification, you better believe it’s here to stay.” And yet for many project managers, agile is still seen as one of those outlier things that they can ignore because it doesn’t affect them.

If you are one of those project managers, I have news for you--agile does affect you, and it’s going to affect you even more in the months and years ahead. Agile is no longer a niche approach to a small subset of software development projects. Organizations are recognizing that the successes that agile has delivered on those development projects can provide lessons that can scale to larger enterprise initiatives, that they can help establish best practices that can benefit all projects and that they can potentially integrate with waterfall project execution approaches to create hybrid approaches (if you are skeptical, just Google “hybrid agile waterfall” and you’ll be amazed).

Whether or not you think that you will ever have anything to do with an agile project, you need to recognize that this is now a widely recognized--and mainstream--project execution approach that your organization does or will embrace. As PMs we need to understand the implications of that and look for ways that we can learn from it.

Leadership is more important than ever

I hope that PMs recognize that they have a leadership role within organizations--project management is about leading and motivating people, not about filling out spreadsheets and status reports. However, this is something that will continue to become even more important as organizations look to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of project execution. In the economic turmoil of the last few years, companies have been looking to make themselves as lean and streamlined as possible, always seeking to do more with less. We are now at the point where there is no excess capacity anywhere in our project execution infrastructure--and the only way that further improvements are going to come is from improving the performance of the teams that work on projects.

That’s not going to come from assigning them more work or stretching resources ever more thinly across the projects. It’s going to come from the ability of organizations to create environments where people feel empowered and motivated. It means providing flexibility to work in ways that team members want to work, in locations that they want to work from and at times that they want to work. That level of flexibility will only work in an environment of trust and respect, and that is only going to happen with project managers who know how to build, maintain and lead high-performing teams.

If you are a project manager within your organization, then you are rapidly becoming one of the most valuable leaders within the organization--and your administrative workload is becoming less important every day.

Tools are creating fundamental change

Project portfolio management tools have been around for a long time, but many over-promised and underwhelmed in delivery. Today, that has changed significantly with many powerful PPM tools that can offer organizations the ability to manage their project portfolios from end to end--and offer everything from team member collaboration to powerful reporting and analytics within a single tool suite. More significantly, these tools no longer require significant financial and time commitments to implement, offering modular and scalable solutions that make the functionality available to all users without the fear of outgrowing the tool.

The adoption rate for these tools has expanded rapidly and is likely to continue to accelerate to the point where they are as common as standalone tracking tools. This will drive fundamental change to the way that projects are executed and managed--automating much of the tracking and reporting functions and providing project managers with new ways to communicate work items and interact around risks and issues. In conjunction with the section above on the increased importance of leadership, this will create a fundamentally different work profile for PMs that will allow them to focus on areas where they can add more value and spend less time on relatively low-value administrative tasks.

More portfolio, less project

With every annual planning cycle, organizations are recognizing that the overall performance of the portfolio is more important than the success of individual projects. While some projects will always have to be treated as standalone initiatives (regulatory compliance initiatives, for example), in most cases the project is simply the unit of execution for a subset of the organization’s goals and objectives for the reporting period.

That doesn’t mean that the project manager is becoming less important; quite the opposite, in fact. A project will always be the vehicle for doing the work, but it does mean that PMs have to look beyond their project and understand the importance of how their work fits into the overall portfolio. That means that PMs are going to need an improved understanding of how the business operates and of how the specific initiative that they are responsible for contributes to the improvement of that operation. PMs will need to consider the overall portfolio needs when making decisions on their projects--potentially sacrificing their own deliverables, budget or schedule for the overall good of the portfolio. PMs will also need to recognize that projects aren’t about specific deliverables, but rather what those deliverables provide to the business.


In this article I have identified four trends that I firmly believe are going to become increasingly important to project management and project managers. All of them will permanently change project management in a significant way, and all of them are already starting to happen. For some of you these may not all be welcome changes, and I can’t tell you to fix that feeling--that’s a personal thing. However, I believe that this is a tremendously exciting time to be a part of our industry, and I personally think that they are some of the most positive changes in a long time. I didn’t get into project management to create status reports or update task completion percentages; I got into the discipline because of the opportunities to deliver significant projects as part of a cohesive team of dedicated individuals.

All of these changes help to make that aspect of project management more important--ways to improve the way that projects are managed, freedom to focus on the value-add elements of leadership and the related soft skills, and an opportunity to make an even more significant difference to the organization through contributing not only to individual projects, but also to the overall portfolio. Change can sometimes be scary, and it can take a while to find a new comfort zone, but for me project management is rapidly becoming what it should have been a long time ago--a leadership function critical to the overall future success of organizations.

For more information on this topic, as well as how Corporate Education Group can help optimize your organization’s performance, contact us or call 1.800.288.7246 (US only) or +1.978.649.8200.

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