Project Management Trends for 2021 and Beyond

The dumpster fire of 2020 is slowly being extinguished. Project management, like many professions, has undergone a transformation in the past 12 months. Project managers (PM’s) have experienced disruption and needed to adapt. The way they, and their teams, have worked shifted. Businesses had to pivot, causing projects and the way they executed them to also change.

Pat yourselves on the back people. You deserve it!

It’s now time to look ahead to the future. 2021 is just around the corner and who knows what opportunities and struggles will come along with it. To that end, I’ve been following six project management trends that have started and will continue into the new year, and beyond.

A Wave of Emotional Intelligence in a Sea of Remote Teams. Remote teams were already on the rise pre-COVID. The team you’d meet in the cafeteria for coffee three times a week now met over the phone, maybe with cameras on, maybe without. Because some companies have seen an increase in productivity and decrease in office overhead, they’re keeping the WFH model, forever.

With the new remote team model, opportunities have opened up to add new members who are already virtual from a wide geographic area. Instead of having a team member in an adjoining cube, they now may be in an adjoining state. Or, in other cases, another country. This also means different styles of working and communicating (a New Yorker communicates differently than a team member in Fargo, ND) as well as cultural diversity. A PM will need to navigate these dynamics within their teams.

In addition to remote, diverse teams, some team members may be struggling being isolated, having lost some of their identity not being around their coworkers. Showing empathy and letting them know it’s OK not be OK is critical. Having high emotional intelligence, or EQ, is becoming a must-have for project professionals, as is building psychological safety on your team.

The 9-5 will become 6:30-10, 1:30-4, and somewhere between 6-10:15. “Normal” will be subjective depending on each person’s situation. Maybe you have a kiddo attending virtual school for the rest of the school year. Maybe you sprung a parent or grandparent from the nursing home and they’re living with you for a year. Everyone’s situation will differ.

That said, with the new dynamic of remote teams, 9-5 is going away. Instead of “you need to be here or online during these hours”, you’ll instead focus on “here are the tasks assigned to you and when they are due by.” As a PM, you’ll then need to remain flexible, also adjusting your hours to assist team members who are working during non-traditional times. Global teams were already moving us this direction, but new circumstances will only increase the flexibility we need to keep in our schedules.

Get Your Head Out of Your Ass and Into the Cloud. In April, at the height of the lockdown, I received a call from someone needing documents from a server for an important meeting coming up. I’ve been with this nonprofit for years supporting their technology, and knew the server was a timebomb. Sure enough, the old server had crapped out. After going onsite and several reboot attempts, I was able to slowly download the more critical documents before it blue-screened one last time.

It didn’t take much of a business case to get approval for Microsoft O365 after that. Now, everything is in the cloud. No more legacy systems that need patching, maintenance, and TLC. That’s someone else’s problem. More and more companies will look at moving to cloud applications also. Once a decision is made to move to the cloud, make sure there are solid requirements for what you need and what would be nice to have. There is an ever-growing number of software apps on the market, so pick the one that’s right for your business.

Greater Grasp on Strategy. I’ll never be a Michael Porter or Henry Mintzberg (business strategists and authors), but I do understand business strategy and what considerations are made when developing it. Simply put, strategy is an action plan for competing successfully and operating profitably.

Traditionally, companies would come up with a strategy, develop a prioritized portfolio of projects, assign one to a PM, and told GO! If there was a question or issue, the PM would have to track someone down. The PM and team wasn’t sure how the project fit into a bigger picture, nor did they care. They had a deliverable, and that was that.

But if the PM knew the industry and position of the company, and how the project output would affect the company’s place in the market, they could make better decisions and overcome issues quickly. Instead of just knowing the project scope, the PM could also be an advocate and educator by communicating how the initiative fits into the company’s value chain. This also helps with change management.

What's Google's strategy? - Biznology

Shameless Plug: I have a presentation called Strategy for the Project Professional that I’ve done for PMI and other professional chapters. Contact me if you’d like to learn more!

“Alexa, Change My Project Schedule.” Every industry will be affected by artificial intelligence, data collection, data analysis, and machine learning. Any constantly repeatable, administrative task will be subject to automation. I for one would love to tell Alexa to make an adjustment to the schedule or resources so I wouldn’t have to.

“Alexa, I need to change some shit!” Response: “OK, what shit would you like to change?”

While some may be nervous their jobs will be impacted by automation, there is also an upside. Instead of trying to handle low-value, time consuming tasks, project managers can instead focus time and energy on meaningful communications, building relationships, solving issues, and driving strategic value.

DEATH TO THE PMO!! At least, the PMO in the traditional sense. I’ve read that something like 50% or more of PMO’s fail within the first three years. They fail for a variety of reasons; process police, no or diminishing executive buy-in, no flexibility or unable to adapt, just to name a few. PMO’s in the traditional sense are walking the plank into an ocean of failure.

As we’ve seen over the past year, business moves fast and has to be agile and pivot at a moment’s notice when changes (or pandemics) happen. PMO’s can support that by being close to the strategy makers, understanding what those strategic goals are, and helping create a prioritized portfolio that can be quickly executed on. Leadership is aware of the progress the PMO has made through tactical “marketing” by the PMO leader. The group can also adapt to changing conditions, both internal and external to the company. I could talk PMO’s all day, but Jennie Fowler and Laura Barnard are a couple of my faves to listen and learn from.

Another shameless plug: I have been implementing what I call P4MO; P4 = Portfolio, People, Process, Performance; M = Metrics; O = Optimization. Contact me if you’d like to learn more!

2020 has been a hell of a year. But now is the time to look ahead to the future. Trends we have seen will only accelerate in the new year and beyond. Are you ready?

Hey, if you’re looking for some robust cloud-based project management software that works in a variety of industries and supports lots of integrations, check out!!  You’ll find everything you need, and more, to support your successful projects.

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