Project management is one of the oldest careers in the world. When you think about it, even building the Colosseum required someone to oversee the whole endeavor.
At the same time, it’s one of the fastest-evolving disciplines.
Project management today is nowhere near the same as it was 10 years ago. Nowadays, we see a lot of product managers taking on traditional project management responsibilities as well.
Let’s see what 2022 brought to the discipline and how it will evolve further. Below are four predictions for the future of project management.
In the early years of project management, the waterfall approach was the king. It was just natural. You start one thing, finish it, then add another and repeat the process. It worked well when building monuments, bridges, and the like.
Over time, the nature of the project evolved. The growing information technology industry started shifting from predictable and simple projects to more complex and unpredictable ones. Everyone wanted to be agile.
Scrum was everywhere. It quickly became the default solution for every problem. Whomever you asked, they claimed to be working in scrum. The fact that it was often far from the truth is a different topic.
But in recent years, the hype for scrum started to die off.
Time has proven that there’s no perfect solution and that there’s more to creating value than just following a predefined framework.
Product evangelization reminded people that it’s all about ensuring the team delivers as much business value as possible. It was never about a specific framework.
People stopped caring so much about how a project is managed, as long as it delivered desirable outcomes.
This shift in thinking resulted in the rise of hybrid project management, where project teams created their own tailor-made approaches to delivering results.
An example of a hybrid project management framework might include:
Some might say that the approach I just listed is full of antipatterns. Maybe.
But if it works, it works. Being a purist rarely helps.
Over time, more people will shift from deferring unquestioningly to the Scrum Guide to doing what works best for a given situation.
Let’s face it: years of the bull market and a rapidly growing IT sector have made the industry somewhat lazy.
In past years, it was more common for companies to have too many people on board than too few. When you had a problem meeting deadlines, it was easy to throw more people at it, buy a third-party solution, or outsource it altogether to a software house.
The ease of getting more money from technology companies made it common to solve problems by just throwing resources at them.
Then the tech bubble burst. The 2022 crisis was a harsh wake-up call for many.
Raising money became more difficult, maintaining debt was more expensive, and rising inflation changed consumers’ spending habits.
Project managers will have to deliver the same results with fewer resources available. Look at recent layoffs: teams of 20 suddenly became teams of eight.
The project manager’s focus will shift from coordinating big groups to maximizing the unit economics of the team.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean exploiting people and making them work harder; it’s about making every tiny 1 percent improvement count.
To maintain the pace in the new reality, project managers will have to challenge every needless meeting, remove distractions, and seek the tiniest inefficiencies.
Team dynamics will also play an important role. Small, high-performing teams will be trendy again. Back to basics, you might say.
There’s a strong movement of focusing on outcomes over outputs, which will impact project managers significantly.
Although there’s a difference between being a project manager and a product manager, the direction the industry is taking is to have everyone accountable for product success, not just product managers.
Project managers are already expected to focus more on value and consider user needs and business impact. Actually, many project management roles are changing to product owner roles to reflect this evolution.
The measure of success has changed. More companies have found it more helpful to measure a project’s success based on its impact on the bottom line versus its delivery time and whether or not it is within budget.
This new definition of success will also lead to a new approach to how we evaluate project managers.
Simple projects are becoming simpler, whereas complex projects are becoming even more difficult.
On the one hand, there’s a rise in no-code/low-code solutions.
A few years ago, if you wanted to build a small ecommerce site, you needed a dedicated designer, frontend developer, backend developer, QA, DevOps, and at least a few weeks of work. Nowadays, one developer could set up Shopify’s backend with a custom web flow front layer to achieve similar results.
Projects that required 10 people for a quarter-turned into three-man squads that deliver similar results in one sprint.
On the other hand, new technologies, such as blockchain, AI, AR/VR, metaverse, etc., present a new layer of complexity.
Noticed a small bug in your new predictive algorithm? Great, now you need to add another month to your timeline to properly retrain it.
VR bugs don’t take hours to fix — they take days. And one small error in an Ethereum smart contract might cost billions, no exaggeration.
Projects used to be somewhere in the spectrum between simple and complex ones.
As time passes, we’ll see a stronger differentiation between simple and complex projects with less in-between.
It might also impact project management specializations.
That will be project managers specialized in specific, complex projects (e.g., blockchain project manager), as well as octopuses that can handle numerous simpler projects at the same time.
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