10 Project Management Trends to Watch Out for in 2015

We begin the New Year, as is tradition, with a look ahead to the top 10 project management trends for 2015 that have been identified by our senior executives and subject matter experts.

The headline news is that project managers will experience many changes in the year ahead, which will impact them in a number of ways – but none more significantly than the growing need for project outcomes to be aligned with organisational strategy.

ESI’s Managing Director in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Alan Garvey, explains this further: “In the coming year the trend will move toward a stronger focus on managing the critical links connecting the two. Organisations will increasingly begin to view strategic execution as a core discipline. At the same time, the PM’s role as a critical enabler of business strategy will emerge. It will be a positive development for project managers who can make that move.”

Rather than just being accountable for delivering project outcomes, project managers will instead become responsible for how those deliverables impact the business.

It is therefore vital that all PMs sit up and think about the increasing number of opportunities this shift will bring, and most importantly, whether their skill sets are up to it.

2015’s trends

As well as aligning strategy and execution, the following 10 trends provide a detailed insight into how the whole discipline of project management will evolve in 2015, including managing sponsor expectations and creating links with organisational culture.

1. PMs need to bridge the gap between cloud-based platforms and business’ expectations

While cloud based solutions solve a lot of problems, they also create them. As centralisation wins over complexity, the high expectations of business owners will need to be managed.

Project organisations will find themselves caught between the cost-benefit trade-off between standardisation and customisation. Though a strong case can be made that highly customised client-server applications never really delivered the promised business value, project managers will increasingly need to be able to identify, communicate and manage the high expectations of the business owner, within the constraints of cloud-based platforms.

2. Talent management within the PM community comes back into focus

The practice of hiring only for the immediate need, outsourcing whenever possible and developing talent later – that many organisations default to – are starting to take their toll.

This is despite research by the Project Management Institute (PMI) that shows that organisations with a successfully aligned talent to organisational strategy have an average project success rate 14 percentage points higher than those who don’t, and consequently risk 50% fewer project dollars.

2015 will be the year this will be addressed, with a move back toward a more strategic approach to talent management for the project community.


3. Hybrid project methods will become the norm

With many industries undergoing rapid changes, project management methods that allow for accelerated development and rapid learning will become critical to serving the business.

Industries such as financial services and healthcare are being forced to employ new business models to keep up with changing customer expectations and increased regulation and compliance requirements. These and other industries will look to technology-based solutions to bring products and services to the market and to accelerate the data capture and reporting requirements driven by regulation.

Existing project management methods will therefore become strained and PMs will need to learn to adapt to these new, innovative business models and technologies. As a result, Agile will continue to grow in importance.


4. The ability to find and hire top PM talent will dwindle

The cost of senior project talent continues to increase as demand rises and availability dwindles. The existing shortage of supply, combined with an aging workforce and a growing demand for projects all add up to a serious problem for organisations not actively developing their talent.

According to an ESI Project Manager Salary and Talent study, 83% of project organisations reported that they were understaffed – and 44% of those positions were for senior project professionals.

This number will continue to rise as other macro supply and demand trends continue. Increased regulation and compliance, emerging technologies, rising globalisation and several other business trends continue to generate increasing numbers of projects. Since these trends appear to be accelerating, it seems obvious that the demand for projects and the people who manage them is not going to level off anytime soon.


5. Processes linking project outcomes to organisation strategy to be built from the bottom up

Project portfolio management (PPM) processes traditionally rely on a top-down approach where portfolio decisions are made in the boardroom and permeate down to project selection and funding. The problem occurs when strategy shifts, as it often does, and the existing project portfolio does not follow.

When misalignment occurs, projects ultimately pay the price. Project teams therefore need to take responsibility for delivering business value – or risk delivering meaningless project outcomes.

To correct this, project organisations must work to build a bottom-up process that continually links project outcomes with organisational strategy.


6. PMs’ coaching and mentoring needs will continue to be overlooked

Project professionals will continue to be ignored by their managers. Managers of project professionals are of course busy people who typically manage projects as well as project professionals, so it is understandable.

However, coaching and mentoring are instrumental to the success of project professionals. An ESI Interpersonal and Leadership survey of over 500 project professionals revealed that the top three skills required to successfully lead project professionals were coaching and mentoring (52%), setting goals and expectations for team members (47%), and the ability to motivate team members (36%).

The survey also asked what the greatest deficiencies project professionals found in their managers – again the number one response was coaching and mentoring.


7. PMs will continue to sacrifice project transparency by avoiding conflict

Project professionals will continue to avoid conflict – something which is human nature. Unfortunately though, fear of conflict can plague project performance, as project management success depends on transparency – both of which often involve difficult conversations and, potentially, conflict.

ESI’s Interpersonal and Leadership survey validated the impact of fear of conflict. Of the 500 project professionals who responded, 36% of them ranked having difficult conversations and conflict management as the top skills lacking in most project professionals.

Beyond our natural tendency to avoid conflict, other factors that promote this behaviour include closed management styles and cultural tendencies to ‘shoot the messenger.’ It is therefore critical for managers to train their project professionals to effectively manage difficult situations and to enable them to be transparent.


8. Change management and project management will continue to merge

Traditionally, change management and project management have been kept apart. Projects have been entirely about delivering project outcomes on time and on budget. This perspective has, for the most part, entirely ignored the underlying purpose behind any project — to move the business forward.

Most people would say that a good project manager has strong business acumen and is more than capable of challenging project deliverables that seem misaligned to project objectives. But why stop there? Why not expect project managers to deliver business value as a direct result of the project?

This means taking responsibility for not only what a project delivers, but also how those deliverables are implemented and how they impact the business. Things look set to change in 2015 to achieve this level of integration.


9. Execution and strategy will align to the benefit of the organisation

Project management will take a big step closer to business strategy in 2015. As business leaders continue to adapt to the increasing volatility and velocity of markets, they have to get better at connecting the dots between strategy and execution.

In order to bridge that gap, project management will make big in-roads in the coming year. The trend has not gone unnoticed by PMI, which has written extensively on the subject in its Pulse of the Profession® and other recent publications.

As more organisations take notice of the links between strategy and execution, the discipline of project management can only benefit.


10. Organisational culture will become more significant to risk management

Having a project culture is fundamental, but not if the overall culture of an organisation is at odds with the type of projects it undertakes. Success is difficult to come by in organisations where disconnects between culture and strategy exist. When this is the case, project impact often suffers, leaving sponsors shaking their heads as to why.

Organisational culture strongly influences working relationships, and some types of relationships may impede successful execution. Unfortunately, the project community currently does not have much say in the organisation’s strategy – or the projects it chooses to undertake. By being able to identify the cultural disconnects in strategy, PMs will be able to recognise risks that would otherwise go unnoticed.

For the project manager who is willing and able to move with the changes 2015 will bring, there are very positive outcomes to look forward to – as long as they have the relevant skills in place.

As Alan Garvey puts it, “2015 will be the year of the project manager. Bettering interpersonal skills, learning the discipline of strategic execution and becoming well versed in change management practices should be on every PM’s list of New Year’s resolutions.”



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