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A vision for project management in 2020 from the 1990s

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During thorough tidying of the archives of APM Knowledge collection at the APM office, Ibis House, we found Association of Project Managers: Project Management Yearbook* from what looks like 1994. And aside from the old logo, name and shiny cover, there is an article about the British Colloquium in December 1993 where ‘A Vision for Project Management in 2020’ was discussed. We’ll take you back in time to explore a selection of things project managers of the 1990s considered ‘key in the development of the profession over the medium to long term’. Do any of these seem familiar to you?

1. Strategic contract management:

  • New approaches to standard forms of conduct;
  • Harmonising European approaches to contract law, management and strategy;
  • More cooperative approaches between clients and contractors on Contract Management claims.

2. The project manager as change agent managing in three directions:

  • Downwards: the task, the team and the individuals;
  • Outwards: to professional colleagues; resource providers, stakeholders and consumers.
  • Upwards: the champion, sponsor and political supporters. 

3. Choosing a project manage-ment methodology to achieve key success criteria.

Until the Project Manager has determined how the project will be judged successful, he/she cannot determine what factors will help achieve that success, and hence choose an appropriate methodology. 

4. Project managers will have to adopt new tools and approaches to achieve the greater integration of the work of a project

  • Project managers must concentrate less on their toolkit and more on their contribution to the business. A soft systems approach will help to achieve this.
  • The customer should become the project manager, driving the project organisation to achieve their exact requirements.
  • Project management should become a more chaotic approach to problem solving. The structured approaches of the past are very constraining on the solution which can be found, whereas chaotic approaches open up much wider ranges of potential solutions.

5. Stepping outside of the box. Project managers have a powerful mindset about projects: 

  • Projects have clear objectives or end points;
  • Projects have clear plans to deliver those end points;
  • Project managers need to focus on those end points

These paradigms are being challenged by increasing complexity of projects, and trying to be clear about end-points up front usually leads to disappointment because the context has changed in the meantime. The key to success is to have a clear idea about the project’s purpose and how functionality will be delivered. Traditional planning and objective setting processes lead to self-fulfilling limitations.

6. Communication technology will make us more effective.

This will be especially useful by integrating teams apart. However, the same technology will make other continents into competitors. Moreover, children are learning through modern computer games about planning, resource allocation, uncertainty, and fast response times. They will not tolerate hierarchical organisations and their inflexible attitudes.

Although technology and hierarchy are mentioned in the visions for the future, the recurring theme of the article is around how the future of project management lies with projects of unclear objectives and goals: ‘Even the functionality of the product required to meet the users requirements will be uncertain. The only thing that will be reasonably well defined will be the expected benefit from the project. Rigid approaches to the management of project will no longer be possible.’ The future of project management lies in approaches which are:

  • Intuitive rather than mechanistic;
  • Flexible, or even chaotic, to maximise the range of potential solutions
  • Based on dynamic networks rather than rigid hierarchies;
  • Based on inferential (Boolean) logic rather than command and control structures.

Now we’re in 2020; it's been almost 30 years since thee 1993 Colloquium, and the world has changed rapidly; so have various aspects of project management, but what do our readers think. Did the visions of the project professionals in the 1990s come true? Are any yet to happen or is this still ongoing as our future presents new challenges? Let us know by joining the big conversation, Projecting the Future

Image: lassedesignen/

*This blog is adapted and paraphrased from Association of Project Managers, Project Management Yearbook circa 1993-1994. Available as a reference at APM Library at Ibis House.


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