Project Management “Trends”?

Every year, some folks write about the latest trends in project management. But are there really "trends" in the field of project management?

Project Management is a well-established field. Really it's been around forever. Some examples include such construction projects as the Egyptian pyramids, the roman aqueducts, and the Great Wall of China. I think these were more than feats of engineering; certainly the leaders of these efforts had some sense of project management!

Project management arguably remained fairly constant as a discipline until very recent times, when, with the advent of specialized techniques that were later computerized, sophistication began to advance. In addition, methodologies were formalized - and today we have the Project Management body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, which represents the collective knowledge across the profession.

So, with this level of established practice, is it possible that there could be "trends" in project management? And if the answer is "yes", could those trends change ANNUALLY?

project management trends

I don't know the answer for sure, but it's certainly worth thinking about, because there is a lot of talk. And there does appear to be a "sea change" of sorts. That sea change, in my view, is one of expanding "perspective" of project managers. In other words, I question whether the role and responsibilities of project managers is really expanding as much as the trends might indicate. After all, unless existing responsibilities would be decreased, it would take more than one person, and perhaps more than the skillset of a PM, to execute!

Let's take a sample of the basics of these increased responsibilities, as indicated by the Top Ten PM Trends as presented at ProjectsAtWork.com:

  1. The Permanency of Agile - While IT, particularly software development, project managers arguable need to have this skill, I think there is a degree of specialty here. Not every PM needs to be an expert at agile or scrum - but I think it is important that all project managers learn to practice agile thinking. I think this is somewhat evolutionary...but not a sudden change.
  2. Broaden Strategic Role of Project Manager - I don't think this represents an expansion of the duties of a PM but rather the expansion of the perspective. PMs do need to see the big picture, and it is their responsibility to ensure that their project achieves the strategic goals that provide the reason for the project in the first place. See my post "Is Strategic Value the Fourth Leg on the Project Stool?" for more perspective on strategy and PM responsibilities.
  3. Manage Change for Impact - I think that change is more rapid today, but projects have always been at the center of change. Change management is what projects are about. However, the PM needs to have the perspective to see this.
  4. Master Modern-Day Complexity - This is an item with indicates increasing complexity for PMs. I think the world is getting more complex over time...and PMs must and are growing with it. But maintaining good old fashioned grounded perspective is required.
  5. 'Up-Skilling' Talent - There is a never-ending quest to upgrade talent - whether of the project manager or the technical specialist.
  6. The Need for Design Thinkers - This is clearly an expansion of project management responsibilities as we know it. While this is a good thing, I think this cannot just be "trained in" to people's heads. This is a basic talent mastered by engineers, architects, and more creative types.
  7. The Significance of Portfolio and Program Management - It makes sense that the perspective involved with these disciplines is needed. However, not all PMs will necessarily be exposed to this, at least not in depth. For the moment, I think it is a higher level talent or skill.
  8. Diversity Matters - Diversity is such a buzz word...that it is becoming common! Does that mean that at some point it ceases to be diversity? At some point, a new type of diversity may be needed...in order to still be "diversity". Seeking different viewpoints is of indisputable value and is really nothing new! We need to be careful to not seek diversity for diversity's sake, or to define diversity based upon some particular attribute.
  9. Co-location, Global Teams and Distributed Work - The workplace has changed for sure. It will continue to do evolve, and one trend mentioned is especially interesting. There is a clash between the ideas that the workplace is becoming more distributed, whereas agile work teams are actually less distributed and more collocated. PMs do need to understand this and strike the right balance between distributed and collocated work.
  10. Adoption in Non-PM Arenas - I think it's only natural that EVERYONE adopts a project mindset. The world has be come projectized - where everything is a project. As a result, there is an opportunity for people across many disciplines to become more skilled at project management.

Are there trends in project management? Of course there are. But I think the basics of project management are in place, but as knowledge and sophistication grow in project management, the capabilities and expectations of project managers is evolving also.

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