Project Management Software

9 Project Management Trends You Can No Longer Ignore

9 Project Management Trends You Can No Longer Ignore

It can be pretty useful to look around and ask yourself what the heck is going on within the broader context of your line of work. If project management is something you do professionally, you certainly know (or you better know anyway) that product development evolves together with society and technology. The only constant is change. So let’s see what factors drive change in project management strategies and methods currently.

The collection of project management trends that you’ll find below comes from the experience of my company. We’ll look at 9 trends, and we’ll also try to outline the practical takeaways and action items associated with each trend.

1. AI and Machine Learning Tools Are Becoming More Practical for PMs

It’s no secret that the tech community likes to overhype technologies. IoT, blockchain, big data, VR — ever heard about how each of these was supposed to transform the world? Most of them have actually had their much-hyped impact, once all the hoopla settled down.

Machine learning has been one of the main buzzwords of 2018, and in 2019, the world is clearly taking a productive turn with this technology. In 2019, the Gartner Hype Cycle still features things like AI PaaS, augmented intelligence, and emotion AI. With that said, more general and pragmatic stuff from the AI/ML realm is no longer in the cycle. For instance, deep learning, a technology that has reached the “peak of inflated expectations“ in 2018, has disappeared from the 2019’s hype chart. Compare the two screenshots from the Gartner website below.

Gartner AI ML Chart

( Image Source: Gartner Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies, 2018)

Gartner Hype Cycle

(Image Source: Gartner Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies, 2019.)

These charts reflect a state of the industry where machine learning has already found its way into numerous popular products. Are you enjoying the intelligent autocomplete of Gmail? How about the portrait mode in your phone camera? Or the real-life object recognition of Google Lens?

Some of the more modern ML tools have a noticeable impact on the daily life of a PM. Just find them, integrate them into your work, (and, ta-da!) leverage the power of artificial intelligence.

How you can act on this trend

  • Identify the tasks in your work that could benefit from ML tools. These can range from simple things like notifications, scheduling, or time/progress tracking to more complex tasks. The examples of the latter include project planning (based on the data from previous projects), prototyping, workflow management, risk management, data-driven decision-making, and more. 
  • Choose one or two solutions that are the most likely to yield immediate returns (e.g. in terms of time-saving). Sell the idea of incorporating these tools to project stakeholders.
  • Use the time to deliver more value in those areas that Skynet can’t cover (yet). We’ll come back to this one in a few sections. But for now, let’s look at another technology-driven project management trend.

2. More AI, ML, and Data Products to Manage

Yes, I know. We just talked about machine learning a minute or so ago, but hear me out here:  AI and ML influence project management in one more important (and wholly different) way. Ever heard anyone say that software is eating the world? Well, now AI and ML are beginning to eat software.

One could say we’re witnessing a new wave of digital transformation (however buzzwordy this may sound). Five years ago, every company needed to embrace software products and digital strategies to stay competitive. Five years from now, every software company will need to embrace AI/ML for the same purposes.

This tendency is producing a market of readily available B2B products that focus on AI and ML. It also fosters a demand for AI/ML solutions among product and service companies. Click on the full version of the list below, and you’ll see how many products are out there.

AI and ML analytics

Source: Big Data and AI Landscape in 2019

The fact is that you will soon be working with stakeholders who specialize in one (or several) of these tools. The question is which AI/ML tool your next project and team will incorporate: TensorFlow, DeepMind, Core ML or something else.

How you can act on this trend

Project managers should be able to communicate with stakeholders that come from different spaces and backgrounds, including AI and ML. For this reason, PMs need two types of background knowledge:

  1. Understanding of the workings of AI and ML. This involves reading up on machine learning types (e.g. supervised, unsupervised), methods (e.g. deep learning), and models (e.g. artificial neural networks). The Wikipedia articles and machine learning and deep learning are surprisingly good places to start.
  2. Understanding what tools are out there and which are a good fit for your project. How is ML Kit different from Core ML? Is TensorFlow.js a good choice for a JavaScript-oriented team? Do non-AWS ML solutions make sense if you’re already elbows deep in the AWS ecosystem? Knowing how to answer these is gradually becoming a part of a PM’s job.

So basically, not only are there more AI and ML tools to facilitate project management but also more AI and ML tools to work on. Onward to the next trend!

3. Product Complexity Keeps Growing, yet the Nature of This Complexity Is Changing

You must have noticed this if you are in Software development business. About 10 years ago, a big part of commercial software engineering was about dismantling monoliths of custom code. Slowly yet surely, old-school architectures of yesteryear were giving way to more maintainable and scalable systems composed of plug-and-play solutions. What we have today as a consequence of that process, is products built almost entirely of other products.

The sheer number of readymade solutions is bringing a new layer of complexity, scope creep, and choice paralysis to software projects. Does your project need serverlessFaaS or BaaS? AWS or Google Cloud? Should you go for cloud totally, or manage parts of your data on premise? Should you migrate your mobile app from true native to React Native? Maybe, Flutter is a better option?

Primarily driven by CTOs and architects, choices of this sort are starting to involve more consultants, developers, and other stakeholders. This means there are more requirements, expectations, and communications of which to keep track.

How you can act on this trend

Forewarned is forearmed. Project managers can never stop learning, and soon, learning will involve more research on various technologies, their advantages, and tradeoffs. It’s a must that we keep up with how technologies evolve if we want to do a good job at managing teams that use these technologies.

4. Competition to Ship Earlier and Scale Faster Is Increasing

As you know, this has been around for years. The “ship early” mantra is nothing new, and neither is the strife to outscale your competition. Yet, in a culture where everybody is trying to outship and outscale everybody else, things tend to accelerate.

The technology landscape of 2019 is a direct reflection of this. Things like React Native and Flutter exist so that our iOS and Android apps can share the same code base. AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure Cloud are so popular because companies want to cut time on building and scaling their backend and data infrastructures. The nearshore and offshore outsourcing market is so prominent in the software product scene because companies need to scale their product development teams faster.

The constant strife to ship more and faster is a creeping normality situation that is affecting project management. This environment that moves at an ever-increasing pace can sometimes affect teams’ workflow and blur the line MVPs and half-baked products. It’s part of PMs’ job, then, to make sure all stakeholders see this line clearly. Yes, this may imply a certain overlap between project and product management roles.

How you can act on this trend

  • PMs and PMs unite! 2019 is the time when both project managers and product managers need to champion software requirements specifications and market validation. This involves making sure that MVPs and features remain customer-driven (as opposed to product-driven). This vision needs to constantly influence specific requirements, delivery tasks, and resource.

project management

(Source: hackernoon)

  • Make sure your project’s decision-makers are mindful of technical debt.Also, healthy test coverage is a must.
  • Having time management skills is key. Yet another important skill is being able to teach time management and making sure your time management skills propagate to your team. 

5. Soft Skills Are Becoming Less Hard to Value

If you’ve been thinking that soft skills are all about firm handshakes and remembering to look people in the eye, think again. 

Remember how we talked about the areas that AI and ML can’t cover (yet)? In 2019, LinkedIn analyzed its vast database of companies and job openings to see what soft skills are the most sought-after. Here are the top 5:

  1. Creativity. The advent of AI brings powerful automation to companies, but we also need someone with a creative vision to direct this power.
  2. Persuasion. Persuasion is critical to steer all project stakeholders in a common direction.
  3. Collaboration. As projects grow in scale and complexity, more people will need to work on a common goal. It takes a certain skill set to foster collaboration at the scale of modern-day products.
  4. Adaptability. A driving force of evolution, adaptation is integral to these huge living organisms that we call companies. And, of course, companies can only be as adaptable as the people working for these companies.
  5. Time management. As we’ve mentioned in the previous section, time management is crucial in an industry defined by its ever-increasing need to build and ship products at an ever-increasing pace and scale.

LinkedIn also says that 57% of senior leaders consider soft skills more important than hard skills. While this might sound like a biased opinion (senior leaders are soft skills people, after all), there’s a grain of truth in it. It’s soft skills that turn developers into team leads, and its soft skills that ultimately unite engineers, designers, and QAs into product teams. This drives the value of soft skills up, and this is especially true for project management.

How you can act on this trend

  • Self-education and habits development. You probably know that it roughly takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, many soft skills are about forming the right habits!
  • Read the right books. If you haven’t read “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, do yourself a favor. Rational thinking isn’t on LinkedIn’s top-5 list, yet it is an excellent base for further personal development.

6. Hybrid Project Management Methods Are Growing in Prominence

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you have to explain to (or argue with) people that Water-Scrum-Fall is not hybrid agile? Chances are you will soon.

project management method

If you chuckled (or cringed) at “Water-Scrum-Fall,” you probably know that Method melding is nothing new. As early as 2011, it has already been clear that many companies simply couldn’t change their culture to fully embrace the agile mindset. 

The situation persists in 2019. The idea of piecing together agile and waterfall hasn’t gone anywhere, which makes method melding a trend that project managers can’t ignore. In 2019, though, this trend is about getting things like method meld and hybrid agile right.

How you can act on this trend

Making clear distinctions is a good first step. Popular opinion is that mixing waterfall and agile is, technically, not hybrid agile, but rather hybrid software development. According to the proponents of this opinion, “hybrid agile” means things like ScrumBan and Scrum/XP (that is, approaches that mix several agile practices). Then, some people also call this “blended agile”, adding confusion to the situation.

The practical takeaway here is that two people might often have completely different definitions of project management methodologies. After all, project managers exist to purge confusion from this world!

Yet another takeaway is that hybrid and blended project management methods are here to stay. It purely depends on what works and what doesn’t. Check out this article on the disciplined agile delivery if you think that agile project could you more architecture-level big-picture planning.

7. The Gig Economy Is the New Economy

The gig economy reportedly contributed $1.28 trillion to the US economy and involved more than 36% of US workers in 2018. Although, the exact figures of 2020 are yet to be known, rest assured that these figures have gone up. How do you know? It’s easy to tell by the increasing number of coworking spaces in cities and towns — and the crowds of people with laptops in cafes.

Besides, the user bases of gig work platforms (like Uber or Upwork) have grown by more than 30% in emerging economies. What’s interesting, the trend doesn’t just come down to software or digital: education, finance, and even agriculture now have gig workers. In fact, one of the clients we are working with right now is bringing elements of the gig workforce to patient care.

The greater economy is embracing the gig economy. In what seems to be a side-effect of this trend, more companies are embracing various forms of remote work, be it freelancing or outsourcing. This is particularly true for software where employee turnover has been at a record high 13% according to a report.

What this means for project managers is, basically, fewer watercooler talks and more video calls. Of course, there are other things to consider as well.

How you can act on this trend

Working with remote teammates has its benefits and tradeoffs, so be sure to know about them. Interestingly, it is good to understand what strategies worked for companies in your industry and space and learn from their experiences. Also, be mindful of the following:

  • There is more work involved in keeping a remote team’s spirit high (unless you’re working with a colocated remote team). Make sure that communications aren’t just about work: have a chat for sharing news, interesting reads, etc.
  • From day one, proactively build a strategy for working across time zones if your team is global. When working with dedicated teams that have an effective process for doing this, see how this process fits into your workflow.
  • Be crystal clear with your requirements, expectations, and feedback to compensate for the lack of face-to-face communications.
  • Research tools that facilitate your work with remote teams and use them. This shouldn’t just come down to productivity. Setting up notifications for your remote teammates’ birthdays is a good way to build team spirit.
  • Experiment with the frequency of video calls. On the one hand, video calls are all you have in place of a face-to-face check-in. On the other hand, people do not wish to be a part of a call that should’ve been an email.
  • Building distributed teams that mix low-context and high-context cultures often results in a need to overcome cultural barriers. In fact, this one deserves a separate section.

8. PMs Need to Get Good at Diversity

Last week, one of our engineers got into a bit of trouble for starting an email with “hi guys” instead of “hi team”. The situation didn’t cause much trouble, yet it seems like a perfect reminder of an ongoing trend that will matter even more in 2020 and beyond.

It’s perfectly obvious to everybody that in 2019, all communications within teams should be inclusive. Yet, sometimes people forget that the way they’ve been addressing their teams for years isn’t appropriate and might offend someone. Preventing such things from happening is part of PM’s job — and so is knowing what to do if they do happen.

As teams grow more diverse, it will become increasingly important to foster inclusive communication within these teams.

How you can act on this trend

  • Be mindful of where issues may arise. Gender, race, cultural differences, age gap, and other factors might influence communication within teams.
  • Research ways to foster communication and inclusion. One way to have a discussion on how teammates from different cultures or social backgrounds will work together.
  • Ask your HR for a crash course on inclusion, diversity, and conflict management or research the info yourself. As mentioned before, forewarned is forearmed.

9. Software Is Growing More Human-centric Than Ever

Project Management Software is another trend that involves closer cooperation between project and product managers. In fact, some of the best project management software solutions like Microsoft Project, Wrike, Paymo, Asana, Zoho Projects are designed to demand all stakeholders to work closely together in a cross-functional context. This trend is the ever-growing prominence of human-centric products and services.

This trend is also beginning to matter more in 2019, and it will probably become even more important later on. Let me explain. Nowadays, companies have more data about their potential customers than ever, and they also have the best tools to analyze this data and put their knowledge into action. The general public is growing increasingly aware of this, which is why they expect software to get better at recognizing their needs.

Giants like Google and Apple have known about this for years, and they are raising the bar with their products. Now, it’s up to your product to ensure the best user experience and customer journey your company can provide. This largely comes down to fostering the right culture within your team.

How you can act on this trend

  • As we’ve said, do your best to ensure that the things your team is building are customer-driven and not product-driven. This involves customer research as well as being able to recognize market feedback and act on it. Building an effective process for customer-driven product development is often a task for project managers.
  • Management might have the best visions, but developers and designers often have the most brilliant ideas. Think of a constructive way to enable stakeholders to share their ideas and criticism within the wider cross-functional team. Idea management software might be the right tool, but sometimes, an idea box might do just fine.

Bottom Line

The industry has gone a long way in the past few years in terms of cutting-edge technology, diversity, and flexibility of project management approaches. It’s easy to see how these trends will persist in 2020, yet it’s also exciting to find out how they will evolve. Many of the recently updated project management software solutions come inclusive of all the latest project management trends. If you have not used one, try with a free and open source project management software solution. Once you get familiar, you can start with any plans that suit your budget and purpose. What, in your opinion, will shape project management trends in the near future?


 

Ilya Goncharov
Ilya Goncharov

Ilya Goncharov is a content specialist with 7+ years of experience in software product development. Presently a content writer and subject matter expert at AgileEngine, he writes about technology trends, the global software development market, and product development strategies and methodologies. Follow him on agileengine.com for more content.

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