Project Management

The Latest Evolution of the PM Role, Part 2

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Categories: standards

by: Jesse Fewell, PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team member

In our previous post, The Latest Evolution of the PM Role, Part 1​, we explored how the project manager role has become vastly more sophisticated than when the profession first defined it decades ago. In particular, we revealed that the upcoming PMBOK® Guide –Seventh Edition will challenge project managers to leverage the broader project team in their practice, more than they ever have before.

In this post, we answer the next obvious question: Fair enough, but what does that look like, and what do I do? To find that answer, we begin by zooming out to a bigger perspective.

It’s official: Project Management is now a team sport.

In the 20th century, projects were closer to the post-industrial and information ages; they were more likely to be categorized into certain business functions, departments, and vendors. However, more recently the complexity of our projects are increasing. As such, project complexity has more frequently become larger than any single mind to capture and contain. To overcome these challenges, Project managers across the world are more and more leveraging project team members in the practice of project management activities. This allows project managers to scale their impact and effectiveness by expanding beyond the physical limits of their own personal capacity.

More than just a sub team. For years, we’ve discussed a similar idea with the concept of a Project Management Team, as “The members of the project team who are directly involved in project management activities.” However, the last two decades have gradually eroded the distinction between the overall Project Team and a more specialized inner circle “Project Management Team.”

In fact, the PMBOK® Guide has reflected this evolution. The document’s mention of the term “Project Management Team” has decreased from an average of 27% of the pages (3rd Edition), to 14% (4th Edition) to 9% (5th Edition) to 5% (6th Edition). Today, there is no longer a discernible distinction on most projects, most of the time, as to who does and does not perform project management skills and activities.

When you think about today’s workplace, it starts to make sense: A tech writer may be the one who coordinates interviews for a new user manual. A senior graphic artist may be collecting the estimates from junior colleagues. A junior chemist may be the one to record meeting minutes, since she’s the one who best understands what is signal versus what is noise.

So then, what does a project manager do uniquely and distinctly?

Functions, Not Roles. The draft of The Standard for Project Management now elaborates the project manager as “The person assigned by the performing organization to lead the project team that is responsible for achieving he project objectives.” That emphasis on leadership sounds to be a much more strategic description than the traditional expectation of being the one ultimately and singularly responsible for getting work done.

The draft Standard goes on to say that leadership is manifested by performing a variety of “functions.” The functions include things like Oversight & Coordination, Facilitate & Support, or Provide Resource & Direction. But it also says, “Functions related to the project can be fulfilled by one person, by a group of people, or combined into defined roles.”

That is, it doesn’t have to be you. Rather than limit a project managers’ potential impact to a single role description, the standard now reflects the sheer diversity of projects in the world today. The draft Standard goes on to say, “The needs of the project, organization, and environment influence which functions are used on a project and how those functions are carried out.”

Context is king. As long as you ensure good management is being performed, your context will determine what you alone, as the project manager, should do or not do.

The Bottom Line

So, what’s the bottom line here? Today’s project world is more complex and dynamic than ever before. That has led to a permanent change in the state of who does what in the world of project management. No longer can we say that a project manager does X on most projects, most of the time. Instead, you have the opportunity to have more impact on more people, by inviting them to the project management table.

Posted by Heather McLarnon on: June 23, 2020 04:00 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Jonathan Lee Business Development Manager| Symphony Communication Services LLC Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
Love the developments!

Eduin Fernando Valdes Alvarado Project Manager| F y F Fabricamos Futuro Villavicencio, Meta, Colombia
Thanks for sharing., very interesting

Marcus Udokang Project Manager| Aivaz Consulting Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Heather, you explain this evolution quite well. Projects becoming more complex and dynamic have certainly played a part in this evolution of the PM's role.


PETER BEMBIR Freelance PMP Facilitator and Researcher| University of Ghana Accra, Greater Accra, Ghana
Gladdening to read the increasing emphasis on context specificity and the complex, dynamic nature of project in these times.

Abdulrafe Ashrafi Consultant| Ali bin Ali Technology Solution India
Determining function is difficult compare to roles, one role can have more than one functions. context was always there, anybody can make as a weakness or strength.

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