Projecting the Future: the big trends in project management for 2020

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The Association for Project Management’s big conversation around the future of work, Projecting the Future, outlines a number of factors reshaping the way that project managers will be working in the coming years. As the conversation has progressed, more information has been gathered as to how this will affect project managers’ day-to-day lives.

“More and more, what we’re seeing is that we’re finding ourselves in situations that are complex or chaotic – you need to probe and sense and respond,” says Patrick Woodman, a consultant who is working on delivering several reports as part of Projecting the Future. “You need to develop novel practices. Adaptability is important for the project profession as a result.”

Woodman spoke to delegates at a recent APM Corporate Partner meeting about the importance of the research and what it meant for the project profession, including the main findings so far.

Everything’s a project

Organisations are increasingly reliant on projects to deliver what they’re doing, Woodman explains. “You have more project-based teams. You have more non-project specialists spending more of their time on projects, including senior executives.”

This ‘projectification’ of work is a symptom of the sea change in the way we work in general. The project profession is all about change, so it’s a huge opportunity for project managers. It will also pose challenges, as businesses start running as essentially continuous projects. “How do you resource organisations and how do you resource work when you’re continually working through projects?” 

There is also a risk that lessons learned from projects will be completely lost in the churn – often data is often not used to its full potential: “We’re losing too much knowledge from each project as it’s completed – data from each project is going into a dusty filing cabinet, never to be looked at again.”

Working culture is changing

Organisations are creating a more open innovation culture. For example, car manufacturers are collaborating on more products as they identify shared objectives and values. The biggest driving factor for this is increasing competition elsewhere – digital giants in particular, says Woodford.

“The gig economy and the platform company has changed the way people work and the way that they interact with businesses. More people are freelance and working on shorter stints for multiple companies, and platforms have revolutionised communications between brands and consumers.”

The workplace will be more diverse

The biggest-growing demographic in the workplace is the 55 to 64 year old age bracket. The population is ageing – more and more people will live to be 100 in the coming decades. This creates implications for social care, financial products housing and mobility. In the workplace, you’ve got to think about how our organisations are changing to have an intergenerational mix.”

Machine learning-based project management is on the way

The project profession needs to be utilising the technology available to them, says Woodford. Project managers need to review their tasks and work out which of them could be automated. The use of such technology will become the norm in all areas of business, so the profession needs to embrace it, to ensure it is deployed in the right way.

Technology will change the workforce in four ways:

Substitution: technology directly replaces the human work

Generation: it creates new work and roles

Augmentation: where technology supports us in our work

Transference: where workers are moved directly from one task to another

Woodford sees a point at which we will see machine learning-based project management. “You put in information about past projects and it analyses what went right and what went wrong. You feed in your current project and it will be able to make recommendations for how you should proceed in order to maximise your chances of success.”

Project managers will be people managers

Creativity, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, collaboration and cognitive flexibility will be key skills for the future project manager. Data analysis skills will also be very important. General project management skills will still be incredibly valuable as project-based working becomes the norm. “A lot of leaders are actually starting to realise: ‘our work is becoming more project-based, so we need to learn from the project profession.’” 

APM wants to hear from you

This is just the starting point for Projecting the Future. APM wants to collect as much data from the profession as possible, to paint an accurate picture of the trends in project management. Click here to share your thoughts about the big issues.

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Image: Vasin Lee/

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 6th Jan 2020

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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