As new trends in project management (PM) are reshaping how the the job is handled, they are also redefining the profession—the growth of its importance within an organization, the development of soft skills needed to handle its functions and its widening range of uses.
Perhaps the greatest force for coming change is technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), which, by automating tasks, may free project managers to focus on strategy, business goals and other important functions. Or new collaboration tools can help facilitate increasingly common flexible working arrangements, where part of or a whole project management team may work remotely
“The acceleration of technological advances will have a direct impact on the way organizations are structured and operate,” says Stephen Townsend, director, network programs at the Philadelphia-based Project management Institute (PMI) industry association, in an interview with Monday.com. “In fact, 81 percent of respondents to PMI’s recent Pulse of the Profession survey reported that their organization is already being impacted by AI technologies.”
Automate Routine Elements of Project Management Work
While industry professionals don’t know fully how AI will impact PM, they agree that the changes will be major. For example, it will likely help automate routine functions such as tactical planning and scheduling of meetings. Beyond these prosaic tasks, it could also incorporate data analytics and automatically analyze project team data, providing clear indications about how to improve performance.
“Because of this, project managers are no longer just asked to deliver on time and on budget,’” says Townsend. “Today, they must also ensure they are delivering value that ladders back into the strategic and business goals of the organization.”
With so much data at their fingertips, project professionals will be called upon to do more than ever before, serving as “change agents, value creators and leaders in the fullest sense.”
Collaboration Tools Cater to Flexible Work Arrangements
To attract and retain the best talent, and to cut overheads, organizations are increasingly offering more flexible work arrangements. These allow staff and suppliers to work the hours and places (often at home and other remote locations) that suit them best.
The HR value of flexible work arrangements is underlined by a Gallup study that reveals that 51 percent of workers would leave their job for one that gave them flexible work hours, and 37 percent would leave for one that offered the choice to work away from the office at least part time.
To cater to this move to partly and fully distributed PM teams, project managers are more and more turning to software solutions that allow advanced project planning/tracking, task management, time tracking, reporting/dashboards, collaboration, budget management and other functions.
But more than offering the benefits of face-to-face communications with videoconferencing, group chat and file-sharing capabilities, these tools help to cultivate a larger sense of group purpose. “Members of effective teams have to feel connected to each other and connected to an outcome they understand is bigger than what they can do individually,” says Townsend.
Embracing Hybrid Project Management Approaches
Changing and increasingly complex project environments are driving project managers to look at more flexible ways of working, perhaps supplementing or replacing traditional waterfall methods with customized and agile approaches to work.
Agile methodology focuses on speed to market and adaptability, as opposed to the more linear and sequential waterfall approach. But the division between these is not always clear as organizations adopt hybrid approaches to workflows, based on their specialized needs.
Rather than doing the same work day after day, PM teams are continually called upon to tackle new challenges and cultivate new skills. Perhaps reflecting the movement to a gig economy and freelance work, PM teams will be less likely to work on single projects but have a number of different ones on the go.
Developing Soft Skills for Hard Challenges
As technologies play a greater part in PM, uniquely human qualities that machines can’t (yet) easily mimic will become more important. These can include creativity, empathy and the capacity for leadership.
Also, as projects themselves become more complicated and involve more stakeholders, project managers will need to develop the skills to get effective collaboration and team-wide understanding.
Not only do project managers need to have organizational skills, they must cultivate “emotional intelligence,” so the can motivate the best performances from themselves and their teams. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Work Report claims that employers favor “social skills” as the most desired work trait after complex problem solving.
“Project managers will have to be masters of influence and soft skills because projects will have more stakeholders outside the core team who are affected by and receive the completed project,” says Jon Broome, chair of the U.K.-based Association for Project Management contracts and procurement special interest group, in a Forbes interview.
While new skills will be needed in the close future to be an effective project manager, questions remain about how fast workforces be able to retool to meet new requirements. In its Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap report, PMI points out: “Across the globe, there’s a widening gap between employers’ need for skilled project management workers and the availability of professionals to fill those roles.”
The situation is made particularly dire by the number of skilled PM workers reaching retirement age and growing demand for the profession in rapidly developing economies, such as China and India.
So project management professionals who embrace change now will be well positioned to flourish in the future.