What’s The Future of Project Management?

Background

What is the next generation of project management? What is the impact of Agile on the future of project management?

  • Does it mean that project managers who are heavily trained in a traditional plan-driven project approach will become obsolete over some period of time?
  • What do project managers need to do to adjust their career direction to adapt to the future direction of project management?

I believe that the project management profession is at a major turning point that requires:

  • Broadening our view of what “project management” is and
  • Reshaping the direction of the project management profession for the future

The new direction should fully embrace and integrate both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as complementary approaches within an overall project management portfolio.

Reinventing Project Management

What sort of image comes to your mind when you think of the words “project management”? Does it have any relationship to Agile?

  • My guess is that many people have a very well-ingrained image of what “project management” is and
  • Many people wouldn’t associate “project management” with Agile at all

In fact, some people still see those two disciplines as polar opposites. To see things differently,

  • We have to broaden our thinking about what “project management” is and
  • Get past many of the well-established stereotypes of what “project management” is.

Why Is Reinvention Important?

Long-lasting companies have learned to “reinvent” themselves from time-to-time to keep up with changes in technology and the business environment they operate in. Here’s an excerpt from Harvard Business Review on that topic:

Harvard Business Review Excerpt

Sooner or later, all businesses, even the most successful, run out of room to grow. Faced with this unpleasant reality, they are compelled to reinvent themselves periodically. The ability to pull off this difficult feat—to jump from the maturity stage of one business to the growth stage of the next—is what separates high performers from those whose time at the top is all too brief.

“The potential consequences are dire for any organization that fails to reinvent itself in time. As Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever demonstrate in their book Stall Points, once a company runs up against a major stall in its growth, it has less than a 10% chance of ever fully recovering. Those odds are certainly daunting, and they do much to explain why two-thirds of stalled companies are later acquired, taken private, or forced into bankruptcy.”

Source: “Reinvent Your Business Before It’s Too Late”, Harvard Business Review, January 2011,

Another Excellent Article

Here’s another excellent article on that subject:

“A successful company is like a great white shark. In its prime, it chews up the competition, but if it dares to sit still for too long, it dies. Some of the world’s most profitable and enduring companies have achieved their long track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves.”

“Cell phone maker Nokia started off selling rubber boots. The oil giant Shell used to import and sell actual shells. But these companies and the eight others on our list adapted with the times, evolving their product lines and business strategies to stay one step ahead of their customers’ needs. In business, it’s better to be a chameleon than a great white.”

Source: How Stuff Works, “10 Companies That Completely Reinvented Themselves”

Check out the link above for some great examples of companies that have done that successfully. As the article points out, the trick is recognizing that you are at a “stall point” and taking action before you have stalled for very long and that can be a difficult thing to do.

Project Management History

To understand the transformation that is going on, its useful to look at the history of project management and how we got to where we are today:

Early History

Project Management could probably be considered to be one of the world’s oldest professions. Think of the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China:

  • The level of “project management” at that time may have been very crude and they probably didn’t call it “project management” at all but large efforts like that don’t just happen without some kind of planning and organization behind them
  • In the US, the development of the Transcontinental Railway in the late 1800’s is another example of a very large effort that had to have some kind of planning and organization behind it.

Scientific Management Approach

Around the turn of the century, along came Frederick Taylor and his co-worker, Henry Gantt. Frederick Taylor started developing new theories on how to organize workers and Henry Gantt created his famous Gantt Charts to describe the order of operations in work.

World War II and the 50’s and 60’s

World War II resulted in the Manhattan project which was another huge effort and the 1950’s and 1960’s had more large scale efforts such as the Polaris missile program and the Apollo program to put a man on the moon. PERT and CPM were invented and then in 1969, PMI was founded.

The Next Generation of Project Management

The general approach for doing project management hasn’t changed significantly since that time and the big question is “What’s next?” and also “Why Now?”

  • Has the project management profession reached its peak or is there yet another major phase of growth that is just beginning to take place? I believe it is the latter.
  • Here’s why I believe it there is some level of urgency to rethink the way we think about “project management”. The diagram below shows how the adoption rate of new technologies has changed over the last century.
Consumption of New Technology Trends

“Source: Mulbrandon, Catherine, Visualizing Economics – Adoption of New Technology Since 1900, http://visualizingeconomics.com/blog/2008/02/18/adoption-of-new-technology-since-1900

This data only goes through 2005, but you can be sure this trend hasn’t slowed down since then. (Think of how quickly smartphones have evolved as an example) This rapid proliferation of new technology calls for a new approach to project management. The traditional, heavily plan-driven approaches of the past can’t keep pace with the speed that technology is changing in many areas.

This dynamic and rapidly changing environment calls for a more adaptive project management approach in many areas. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that

  • We need to throw out everything we’ve learned about traditional, plan-driven project management and
  • Start over again

However, it does create some significant challenges for individual project managers and for the project management profession, as a whole.

What’s the Impact on Project Managers?

This “raises the bar” for project managers significantly:

  • In the past, if you had a PMP certificate, that was as far as you needed to go for many project management roles
  • PMI has now created the Agile Certified Professional (ACP) certification and that’s not an easy certification to get, but that’s only the beginning, in my opinion

I think the PMI-ACP exam is good certification but it doesn’t go far enough:

  • It is really a test of general knowledge related to Agile and Lean
  • It doesn’t really test whether you know how to integrate Agile and traditional project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation. That’s the real challenge for project managers, in my opinion
  • It also doesn’t prepare a project manager for a specific job role. And, the role that an Agile Project Manager might play in the real-world is not well-defined

What Needs to be Done to Address These Challenges?

This is a huge challenge to transform the project management profession and broaden our thinking of what a “project manager” is and it will take some time. However, the alternative of ignoring these trends and continuing to think of a project manager in the narrow context of someone who only does traditional, plan-driven project management will seriously degrade and undermine the project management profession over time. Here’s what I think needs to be done to address this challenge:

1. Acknowledge the Need to Make a Change

The first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem. We cannot deny the impact of Agile on the project management profession and think that:

  • A traditional, plan-driven project management approach, as we know it, is the only way to do project management and
  • Agile is just a fad that will go away.

2. Get Past Sterotypes

There are many stereotypes about what traditional project management is and about what Agile is that we need to overcome. And, we need to change our thinking to see both Agile and traditional project management approaches as complementary to each other rather than competitive.

3. Redefine Project Management

We have to better define and develop the concept of what an “Agile Project Manager” is and better define the role that an “Agile Project Manager” might play. In my view,

  • An “Agile Project Manager” is not someone who only does Agile projects
  • It is someone who has a deep knowledge of both Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices and knows how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situationIndent1

4. Develop Agile Project Management Training

We need to develop training programs and resources to help project managers reach the goal of becoming an “Agile Project Manager”.

5. Influence Enterprise-level Management Practices

Project Managers are a product of the environment that they work in. For example,

  • Many project managers take a heavily plan-driven approach to controlling costs and schedules of a project because that’s what their organizations expect of them
  • To change the behavior of project managers, we must change what companies expect of project managers and that can require some significant changes in organizational culture

Overall Summary

The Project Management profession is going through some very rapid and profound changes that will radically shift the way we think about project management. This will present a challenge to many project managers to adapt to these changes

Additional Resources

Here’s a related article on comparing the evolution of the science of Physics to the evolution of project management. There are many parallels:

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

I encourage any project manager who needs help in making this transformation to check into my online training courses and to contact me directly if I can be of help.

3 thoughts on “What’s The Future of Project Management?”

  1. I believe the Project Management community should look upon this change as an opportunity for personal and career growth, and develop more as Program Managers, and agents for the business. In other words, increase their value to the organization.
    Furthermore, the whole definition of what a project is may need to be revisited. The PMBOK describes a project as ” a temporary endeavor undertaken to deliver a unique product, service or result”. How does this apply to SaaS/Cloud/Browser – DEVOPS – based solutions that may be updated with new features monthly, or even more often. Is this sustaining/maintenance or new development? Should each Sprint be viewed as a mini-lean project in and of itself?
    In my view, each Spint can be considered a project. It has an initiation, Planning, Execution with Monitoring and control, and a close (Sprint retro). It is lean. lightweight, efficient, and just the model that the business and technology needs to remain relevant. It removes waste.

    Older models, especially for software, will fade away.

  2. Another thing to address is how Project Manager’s market themselves. Most resumes and LinkedIn profiles paint a picture of success and roses. And that as PM they were the main reason the project was a success.

    In reality this is not always true. We are quick to promote our successes, but slow to promote our failures. There is a lot of talk about failed projects, but I don’t see many PM’s readily put up their hand and say “I was responsible for that failed project”. I would be more interested in projects/work that you have been parted of that have not been successful but be more interested to find out what you have learnt as a result. It is that learning that builds character and a better PM.

    1. Chris, I agree that there is a lot to be learned from failed projects. I think it’s healthy to be somewhat self-critical and look at failures as an opportunity for learning. That’s an important shift in thinking that needs to take place. From a larger perspective, the project management profession, as a whole, needs to be more self-critical to recognize the limitations in the traditional plan-driven approach that is so prevalent in project management. I think there are a lot of PM’s who are in “denial” about that.

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