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How project management has evolved and what to watch for

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 05 Jan, 2018
Essential Essential topic

4 areas where leaders can effectively manage the chaos

Project managers are faced with an ever-changing landscape of new technology, media outlets, and remote workforces.

Some people end up in very static careers. They do the exact same tasks for 30 years, because the job itself barely changes. For better or worse, project managers don’t fall into that group of professionals.

Project managers face constant changes that they must respond to. The nature of their job, technology they use and compliance requirements can change on any given day with little notice.

A lot of major changes have shaken the career in 2017. Here are some of the biggest things project managers must prepare for in 2018 and beyond.

Agile management is expanding into new fields

Agile management has been the cornerstone of software development for over 15 years. Few people expected it to expand into new fields. That has started changing over the last few years.

Financial management companies started using Scrum for project management solutions in 2012. Lisa Pollack, the head of new projects for the Financial Times, reported that it had made a tremendous impact back in 2015.

The biggest growth in agile methodology has been its adoption by marketing teams. Creating small marketing tests to learn and pivot quickly has produced wildly successful results, while putting larger burden on project managers to ensure teams are on task and on budget. As project managers start to be spread out over multiple “sprints” in the agile approach the task list grows in number and complexity. This is where effective project management technology combined with the proper scrum framework makes the difference between success agile implementation and complete chaos.

The acceleration of automation in project management

The trend of marketers who are using automation across many of their duties is at a sharp increase. In fact, 49% of B2B marketing project managers are using automation to perform their jobs more effectively. While automation isn’t going to completely replace project manager anytime soon, it can greatly decrease the mundane and repeatable tasks that inevitably fall within their purview freeing them up for more important tasks.

Automation technology is changing the project manager’s role by:

  • Offloading routine tasks to focus on truly important ones. Automation has already helped project managers offload tasks like reporting progress and tracking time but as algorithms become more sophisticated things like quality assessment will be automated as well.
  • Facilitating communication for more accuracy and speed. Many project management applications today can automate the communication of updates, create key reports and trigger alerts when issues are detected.

Project managers search for new ways to engage remote staff

Project managers are expected to oversee employees in locations all over the world. Remote employees have played an important role in minimizing costs and expanding the pool of talented staff businesses can call on to execute projects.

However, they have also created some new challenges as well.  The biggest is maintaining engagement. Project managers have been struggling with this since the dawn of the remote workplace.

Fortunately, they have started to find some tactics that have proven to be highly effective. Sujan Patel wrote a piece for Forbes on engaging a remote workforce, where he quoted TINYpulse’s Sabrina Son:

“Technology has evolved to the point where it’s easier than ever for workers to communicate with their colleagues in real time — no matter where they happen to be. So invest in a real-time communications platform. Whether that’s Google for Work, Skype for Business, Slack, or any number of other tools will depend on how much money you’re willing to spend and what kind of functionality you’re looking for.”

Though this communication has made managing remote workforces easier, there are other difficulties that project managers need to tackle before a remote workforce can truly work as an extended arm of a business’s internal team. To effectively manage remote workforces project managers need to:

  • Delegate effectively. This goes way beyond just providing tasks to the right talent with a corresponding timeline. To avoid “rubber band delegation” where we delegate something and it snaps back incomplete or inaccurate, use a framework where the task owner needs to explain your expectations, timing and how they are going to accomplish the task. This gives ownership and accountability to the person you delegated the task to.
  • Define the “why.” In a remote work environment, it’s easy for employees or contractors to feel isolated on an island. They can’t walk over to a colleagues office to ask a question or bond over last night’s game. It’s important for remote workers to understand how their tasks fit into the overall picture of the organization's objectives. For example, you may give your copywriter a task to rewrite the company’s “Pricing” landing page. Instead of assigning the task without context, you might say “the pricing page has seen a significant drop in its conversion rate since last month and we need your talent to get people buying again.”

Finding new ways to inspire

Inspiring employees is one of the most important duties of any project manager. Unfortunately, too many fail to get it right. Despite decades of research on the topic, many still approach project management strictly from a binary approach. Either the tasks were completed or they were not. While accountability is extremely important for any team working together towards a common goal, a project manager needs to act as a leader and a motivator.

Visual Planning put together a list of 7 must-watch TEDTalks for project managers where best-selling author, Dan Pink, spoke about The Puzzle of Motivation. Pink explains how leaders need to change the way they motivate in the 21st century. “There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic collapse, is that too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.

If we really want to get out of this economic mess, and if we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things, to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach.”

Pink continues, “And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.”

Today’s business challenges are more complex than they have ever been. New technology and media channels are moving at a clip that makes it extremely difficult for business to keep up which puts more strain on teams to find new ways to organize, motivate and execute in this environment. Project managers are starting to recognize the need to find better ways to incentivize their employees.

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