Project Management Is Shifting Dramatically. What's Next?

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Categories: Career Help

I have a feeling the nature of project management -- which has sustained my career for more than 20 years -- is changing radically.

Two tectonic shifts in the business world made project management an obvious career choice for me back in the late 1980s:

1. Just as I was about to enter middle management, 25 percent of such jobs were eliminated from the economy.

2. Around that same time, organizations began to reorient their thinking and started to define and organize themselves as project-based businesses.

Explicitly in response to these two phenomena, I consciously made the decision to leave line management and enter project management. The writing on the wall is certainly clear in retrospect. And honestly, it was pretty clear at the time as well.

Now, I see three things happening that give me pause. They're clearly things I need to react to, but unlike last time, I don't know how.

1. Lower-level IT jobs continue to go to emerging markets. As the people who took these jobs 10 years ago mature in their roles, more of them are becoming project managers. They're close to their teams and to the work -- even if the sponsors are elsewhere.

2. The way project work gets done, particularly in the IT industry, seems to be undergoing an important shift. I really don't know what's underneath it, but I do know that PMI has embraced Agile development, even offering an Agile certification. Is this the direction in which IT is headed?

3. As we emerge from the economic crisis, every indication is that the way the global economy will function in the future will be very different. We keep hearing of a "new normal."

To me, these three things spell change, and it seems to me I ought to be making some changes as well, but I'm not sure what they are yet.

I'd be interested to hear and learn from you. What are your observations? What are your plans?

Editor's note: In Project Management Circa 2025, published in 2009, editors David I. Cleland, PhD, PMI Fellow, Bopaya Bidanda, PhD, and 39 experts from around the world share their insights on the future of the project management profession.
Posted by Jim De Piante on: April 13, 2011 12:02 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Scotty Bevill
Working in PM for a long time kept coming back to the change and development of people. Agile put a large emphasis on this. As I still maintain project work as a passion for that type of work, I have been focused on helping others grow through that project work.

Be it a grad student advancing their career or an intern who wants to begin this journey, I think the important key is successful delivery on all products and professional branding. This allows us to read the market and stay positioned for whatever comes next.

The interesting relationship I'm seeing today is the companies wanting a "full-time employee" commitment from each person, but is only willing to commit the liabilities of contract work from their side.

Being a contract warrior I have no issue with that, but GEN-Y people are asking questions about long term commitment to the company or short-term commitment to the product.

In any case. I agree, change is afoot.

Breno Barreto Machado

Congratulations for the article and reflects a reality today.

I agree with you in relation to the Agile movement in the field of the software development and therefore realize that there is no looking back.

How do you see project management in other areas. I believe it has great market ahead, especially in new product design and engineering.

Owen Anthony
Hi, thanks for the blog - it's thought provoking. I'm not specifically IT so maybe it's a little different but I see the current climate of the need for significant changes, more efficient delivery both in cost, time and scope terms and a more short term view of programmes (seeing fewer large scale national change programmes and more consolidation) as synchronous with project and programme management drivers.


Two things:

1. If the agile software development movement really takes hold, I think there will be a de-projectization of the workforce, with a related shift toward product management.

2. Related but not the same, the increasing influence of business analysts in project strategy.

Matt Kirchman
I agree with the sentiment that things are changing. I would hesitate to call it a "tectonic shift" but rather a steady evolution of something that started in the last 10 years or so. Along with the continued off-shoring of jobs, I think you are starting to see an earnest re-evaluation of the ways in which Project Management should best contribute to an organization's success.

The good news is that my observations indicate that disciplined project management continues to spread to new industries and to smaller organizations. Clearly they are recognizing some sort of value to having a consistent approach to selecting and managing strategic initiatives. With this spread to smaller companies is, I think, an interest in a bit less formality--less heavy-handedness.

This is already being embodied by more interest in Agile-based frameworks, which is particularly appealing to a company that wants to get things done, but not feel burdened by lots of bureaucracy and formality. I believe that this is going to be the key to remaining relevant in an evolving world.

A project manager should be cultivating versatility; lots and lots of versatility. Versatility will allow a PM to be relevant to multiple business groups, or a variety of companies, and will even provide the ability to engage multiple industries. Couple that versatility with the diplomatic ability to identify and incorporate a project management framework that will play well with the customer organization, and one will make himself invaluable as a project manager.

Focusing my energies on such activities helps me sleep well at night, in spite of the changing nature of the world.

Shawn Matthews
I recently acquired my MBA specializing in project management and plan to be PMP certified by year's end.

I went after a PM specialization because I believe that the global market climate makes PM more valuable. We've seen manufacturing and IT jobs move offshore to those emerging markets but those moves come with limitations.

Someone still needs to be physically present for many aspects of any exchange and PMs can provide all of those services as well as perform PMO functions.

In many ways the ease of outsourcing creates a greater need for a central command to maintain accountability in a multinational team. I for one am truly excited about the future of PM!

Shawn Matthews
I believe that the PM field is gaining ground in the global culture. With IT and manufacturing being outsourced, service-based professions like PM become more important locally.

For example, because local clients (companies) may be using IT resources from India and manufacturing resources from China, etc., there is an increased need for a centralized command structure to track and hold those widespread resources accountable. This means that even though the global economy has introduced massive amounts of competition in 'fixed-site' functions, control must still remain local to the business or project.

PMs are becoming more important in this "cent-com" structure, because we have highly developed skill sets in the broad ranging needs of a project or process. We communicate, control, budget, QA check, and many more things. Without PMs, costs, quality and time lines would run out of control even more quickly in a widespread supply chain market.

In my view, the PM future looks very bright indeed!

Bob P.
I think project management is becoming pretty mainstream. I believe that it will shift into more of a focus on change management and coaching. The soft skills of project management will become the more desired skill, and it will become more agnostic.

Emmer Morales
Dear Jim De Piante,

Very good comments and observations about our global economy. I think that the most important reason to be a PMP is because we have to understand the problematic around the world about economy in the projects and how do I need to work in that aspect?

Suddenly the economy is going down and we have to make a work plan against it for our projects.

My CONGRATULATIONS about your article.

Best regards.
Emmer Morales

Bob Tarne
Jim - I agree, the times are changing. However, what I've observed with off-shoring is that there still needs to be an on-shore presence driving the projects. I think we'll see program management becoming more mainstream as a way to manage off-shore projects. I've also found having an on-shore business analyst is also more effective.

As far as agile, it's another tool you should have in your toolbox. It's effective on projects with uncertainty, as a lot of IT projects are. The dynamics of off-shore and agile get tricky, but there are success stories out there so it can be done.

Stan Hutchinson
Project management terminology and practices have become mainstream today. The workforce has seen a great increase in PMI certified individuals, so much so that a hiring manager can easily make it a prerequisite.

Almost every manager or technical expert has heard of a "risk plan" or "mitigation" or a "work breakdown schedule." These managers and high level techs know how to speak the terminology but often don't really know what goes into the planning, execution, or monitoring processes that can make a project run more smoothly.

I have witnessed many of these higher level individuals being put in charge of projects, acting as the daily decision makers, but running things as they always have been, usually from a daily crisis management mode. They talk the PM talk and sound great when giving the weekly status to executives.

So, where does the PM fit into this? The PM is there but often only in the shadows.

The PM is increasingly becoming a documentation artist, filling in the required forms that management likes to see are part of the project. The PM becomes the "Radar O'Riley" of the project team but often has no authority. The new ideas of agile and scrum don't help either as planning takes on shorter and more reactive roles, using terms such as flexibility or adaptability as replacements for having the end product clearly in view.

The certified PM is a critical component of successful project teams. However, the PM's contribution is increasingly as a support role, administrative role, or documentation role, filling in the holes after issues arise and are acted upon.

In short, I have witnessed the PM being relegated to a more subordinate and administrative role, being devalued more and more as practices and terminology become part of the everyday conversation of executives and managers. Everyone today can talk the talk, but it is the PM who walks the walk in the shadows and makes the project look good.

Stan Hutchinson, PMP, FAC P/PM III

Shoaib Ahmed
There is always a happy medium in managing IT projects. Agile is great where you have developers working in close proximity to users. I still do not think Agile has cracked the stakeholder management, reporting, contracting ... some of the major elements project management professionals have to deal with.

In my view, Agile has to be implemented alongside a management framework, not on its own.

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