The tasks in companies are changing – and with them the project management methods. Globalization, digitization, artificial intelligence, and mobile work may change the world of work more than the industrial revolution. The consequences for the project landscape can be summarized in five trends.
Trend 1: Strategic Initiatives
Many corporate strategies continue to peter out in day-to-day business. The operational implementation falls by the wayside because circumstances, practical constraints, or inability hinder the implementation. This is amazing – because never before has the need to keep up with competitors or get ahead of unknown competitors been so urgent. To make strategic initiatives more effective in the future, project management in many companies has to change fundamentally.
Annual strategy plans, which are more reminiscent of good resolutions for New Year’s Eve, are still typical: The minutes of the annual strategy meetings often read like a string of good intentions. Much is decided in long meetings, but only a few are implemented. What was launched with a lot of vigor later falls victim to changed priorities and a loss of strength – and ends up in the drawer as a strategy paper. Some managers are happy when they manage the day-to-day business. She tries to avoid additional project work as much as possible.
Slowly the realization grows that such behavior can no longer be afforded – after all, successful strategy implementation is probably the most important project of company management. The big challenge lies in the scarce resources: employees’ working hours and skills have long since become a limiting factor in the implementation of projects. It is, therefore, crucial to set the right priorities and focus on significant projects. Company management does not succeed in putting the very existence of the company at risk.
In addition, there must be a willingness to take the thorny path of solid strategy implementation. This includes the familiar details of stringent project management: project goals, project plan, milestones, defined task packages with deadlines, and responsibilities. Every company should have several project managers who can manage strategic projects so that a strategy bears fruit in the end.
Trend 2: The End Of Predictability
Digitization is accompanied by acceleration and increasing complexity – a development that will continue over the years. Business processes and value chains are globally oriented and increasingly networked, while companies can use less plan. It is obvious: none of this will leave the project management behind without a trace.
Classic project management comes from a time when it was assumed that a project could be planned. Even if many projects were large and complex and often broke new ground, the environment in which the projects and organizations operated was comparatively stable. Of course, this classic project management has not had its day. It makes sense to continue to use it in projects where the necessary plannability is given – for example, in the construction industry and engineering.
In most companies, however, digital change is placing new demands on project planning. It is hardly possible to set concrete long-term goals. Companies are moving towards an unclear target state and have to react adaptively to changes. This also ends the project’s ability to plan: a project manager often has to do “pioneering work” that is difficult to plan per se. Projects in digital change require a step-by-step approach in which those involved always keep moving and react flexibly. This cannot be achieved without agile methods.
Trend 3: Digital Leadership
The term digital leadership is often associated with “only” leading over a distance via digital communication media. That is demanding enough, but on closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear: Project managers have to acquire completely new qualities in a digitally networked world. For them, it is about more coaching than leading, enabling more than determining, controlling more processes than controlling tasks.
How a project manager organizes the management of his project team in practice depends on the situation and the type of project – there is no blueprint. The trend, however, is clear: the development is moving towards decentralized structures with agile teams in which project employees act independently. The project manager encourages his employees to be actively involved and creates conditions for his team’s “collective intelligence” to develop as best as possible.
The project manager’s task will be to keep the team together and create a (virtual) space where the employees can design their work themselves and freely develop their potential. All communication runs through a wide variety of channels – analog and digital – at the project manager. This shows that a project will be controlled to a large extent with the help of tools in the future.
Knowledge of processes and technology is not enough. Anyone who wants to be successful as a project manager in the future needs excellent skills in communication, leadership, and moderation. Working in networks requires a different kind of leadership and collaboration. The keywords here are agile teams, self-organization, virtual and networked collaboration – and a management style based more on coaching than on control and specifications.
Trend 4: New Project Management Methods
One technical innovation chases the next in ever shorter succession; disruptive innovations call entire business models into question. To react adequately to all these changes, an agile organization is considered to be of vital importance. At this point, however, a fallacy often occurs: An agile organization does not simply arise from the fact that projects are now carried out according to Scrum or another agile framework. Instead, the agility must extend beyond the project organization. Management, as well as processes and structures, also require an “agile mindset.”
The project manager plays a central role, who, through his actions and behavior in the projects, can both inhibit and promote agility in the company. His job is to rethink classic project management methods and tools and incorporate new techniques into his work. Concepts such as “Task Boards,” “Daily Standup Meetings,” and “User Stories” are now also used in projects outside of software development and allow more agility to be achieved in everyday project work.
However, the mere use of agile project management methods does not go far enough. Techniques that help a company to act faster and in a more customer-oriented manner are just as important. Design Thinking, Design Sprint, Lean Start-Up, Scrum, and Business Model Canvas will in the future be at least as much a part of the basics of project management as structure plans, Gantt charts, or risk logs. Ultimately, however, one thing is decisive for success: the attitude with which the project managers and their teams approach issues – ultimately the project and corporate culture.
Trend 5: A Flood Of Small Projects
The cooperation in project form has proven itself in adapting quickly and flexibly to a changing environment. Project work has therefore become part of everyday life in many companies. Even in small and medium-sized companies, it has established itself as a form of work in recent years. In almost all departments, the proportion of process-oriented work is decreasing in favor of project work.
The result: A large number of small and medium-sized projects are emerging in the company. More and more employees are involved in projects. Whether in HR, in accounting, or marketing – today, every employee must be able to carry out smaller projects.
Managing small projects has its own set of problems. The standard project management methods turn out to be oversized – effort and benefit are often not in a good relationship to one another. These techniques were developed for large highways or multi-billion dollar power plants but not for small and medium-sized projects. Your involvement in a small project is like building a dairy to get a glass of milk. Instead of the classic tools, you need simple tools with which small and medium-sized projects, in particular, can be professionally managed.
Another challenge is to keep track of a large number of projects. The effort involved in coordinating and managing projects across the board is often underestimated. In many companies, neither the organization nor the managers are prepared for the flood of small projects.
Also Read: Kanban Vs Scrum: Which Method Is Better?