As a project manager, understanding project management trends is an important part of growing in the field. Embracing new ways of managing projects, new tools, or even ways to manage your teams will help you to stay relevant and open additional opportunities for professional development and advancement.
As new technology emerges, the economy changes, and the way we work evolves there is always something to learn about or consider trying. But, how do you know where to focus your time and efforts?
Whether you’re an early adopter or you like to wait until something is proven, this article will help you decide which methodologies and modalities to focus on and provide some tactical tips for getting started or deepening your knowledge.
While continual learning is an important part of being a great project manager, it’s worth remembering that if you hold a project management certification, some of these activities may even count for PDUs (Project Management Institute), SEUs (Scrum Alliance), or other continuing education credits.
The technological, social, and market evolutions currently in play will continue to transform the field of project management for years to come. That is why it’s so important to stay on top of the project management trends that are going to change how you work, manage your teams, and envision your career.
As you read this article, you might want to ask yourself “What does the project manager of the future look like?” And here’s the tough love part, that’s you, friend. It’s up to you to learn and evolve.
In fact, you may become a catalyst for change in your organization as you champion the innovations that will help your teams best meet the needs of customers, stay within budget, and achieve business goals.
Emerging Project Management Trends to Prepare for in 2023
Here’s the trends I’ve covered below:
- Constantly Changing Digital Tools & Technology
- Hybrid Project Management Methodologies
- Focus on developing soft skills
- Preferences for remote and contract work
- Laser Focus On Data
1. Constantly Changing Digital Tools & Technology
The latest and greatest project management tools are never actually the latest and greatest anymore.
While we’ve reported on this trend in the past, it’s one that I think will be pretty consistent as we think about the future of project management (and related trends).
Right now, technology is continuing to evolve and often, by the time a piece of technology, software, or a new app has launched, there’s something new getting ready to take its place.
If none of the new tools work perfectly for your project, organization, or agency it’s worth pointing out that with the advent of low and no-code tools, it’s now possible for organizations to quickly build their own tools in-house.
Another area that is becoming more of a focus is integrations. Most software is built to integrate with other tools in your technology stack. For example, your project management software might integrate with your time tracking software, resource management software, and even your CRM or accounting software.
This change in work environments started a few years ago. With the rise of remote and hybrid work over the past few years, organizations have needed to step up their technology, especially for project management and collaboration as well as things like video conferencing.
According to a Zion Market Research study, The global project management software industry size was nearly $11.96 Billion in 2021 and is set to increase to about $15.08 Billion by 2030. So if you think you’re set with your PM tools, you might be mistaken!
What’s The Impact?
Choosing the right technology for your project or agency can quickly become overwhelming and expensive. It can also expose more risks and cybersecurity threats.
As a project manager, it will be important to learn and grow your skill set to evaluate and prioritize the kind of technology that should be in your team’s stack, as well as manage a technology budget.
Now, there seem to be new tools popping up almost every day. Over the past year or so we’ve seen Asana IPO and ClickUp grow in popularity seemingly overnight.
Digital project managers and the project teams they support should continue to develop their ability to evaluate and implement software (sometimes called a technology quotient), but it’s not just about who can implement technology X, Y, or Z the fastest. It’s also about discerning which digital technologies to use when and whether a certain technology should be used at all.
In addition to PM tools, automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies are still solidly in play. You can’t open LinkedIn or Twitter these days without seeing a post about ChatGPT (read about how PMs are using AI right now here).
And while this might be the hot technology today, it’s not the only one. Automation tools like Zapier continue to help project managers facilitate seamless connections between tools.
Knowing how to use this technology to optimize your workflows will have a positive impact on your projects. It can help with things like streamlining resource management, reducing and mitigating project risks and threats, and prioritizing tasks and projects.
Your technology quotient can’t stand on its own. It’s almost useless when not combined with project management skills. The software you implement can’t develop processes and ensure that all team members are using it consistently—that’s why no matter how much you can automate, your role is still critical to the team.
What You Should Do About It?
Treat your technology quotient like a muscle and exercise it regularly to keep it in top shape. Make use of the technology that benefits you and your project team, and ignore the hype on the rest. After all, there is only so much technology you can use in a day.
Balance your technology quotient and project management skills by:
- Doing your research. Read ‘best of’ lists, customer reviews of functionality and UX, testimonials, subject matter expert blogs, and whatever you can get your hands on before committing to any software.
- Riding the automation wave. Set up email filters, automatic reminders, follow-ups, analytics reports, and other tasks that will save you time.
- Building your PM skills. Take The DPM School course and read PM books, blogs, and other informational resources to keep progressing in project management.
- Chat with other PMs who are using the tools you’re considering. Ask them what they like best, want to change, or wish they had known before they’d invested.
2. Hybrid Project Management Methodologies
Organizations are moving to a hybrid model of project management, this means using more than one methodology to manage your team and projects. You might take some project planning approaches from waterfall methodologies and combine it with sprints from an agile methodology.
Hybrid approaches may also mean that historically waterfall-based project teams are holding daily standups, retrospectives, and other scrum ceremonies, even though they aren’t using full scrum methodologies.
While this concept isn’t totally new, you can find research and articles dating back to around 2017. Hybrid methodologies are gaining traction with many organizations including digital agencies and teams.
What’s The Impact?
Project managers have more ability to tailor their project management practices to their needs and the needs of their teams.
This may mean more emphasis on people over process (as in the agile manifesto) and borrowing from the methodologies that feel most supportive of the type of project they’re leading and the working environment of the organization.
If you’re looking for a bit of caution around hybrid project management, the most important thing to note is that you must communicate clearly about how your process will work.
When borrowing from different methodologies, there is no longer a shared understanding of the project management process, so the team will need to work together to make informed decisions on norms, roles, and how the process will work.
What You Should Do About It?
Continue to learn and develop your project management skills. Try out new methodologies and ask your team members for feedback regularly! You have the opportunity and responsibility to continue to test, iterate, and improve!
- Understand waterfall vs agile project management methodologies.
- Get the Agile Hybrid Project Pro micro-credential from PMI.
- Workshop with your team to create the best end-to-end process for managing projects in your organization. You can draw from your learnings about waterfall, agile, Scrum, Kanban, and any other methodology you might want to use. This exercise will help you build out your process and can also be a great team building activity!
3. Focus on developing soft skills
It’s not enough to simply execute anymore.
In 2023, Project Management Institute (PMI) devoted its “Pulse of the Profession” to what they call Power Skills.
In the forward, they write “For several years now, PMI has been advocating the importance of power skills—those ‘soft’ or ‘interpersonal’ skills like communication and strategic thinking.
Built on top of a solid foundation of technical skills, power skills enable project managers to align their projects to organizational objectives and inspire their teams to work together, solve problems, and deliver results that contribute value to the organization and its customers.”
If you’re new to the terminology (as many of us are!) Power skills are defined as: Interpersonal skills which include collaborative leadership, communication, an innovative mindset, for-purpose orientation, and empathy.
PMI goes on to explain that ensuring teams have these skills allows them to maintain influence with a variety of stakeholders—a critical component for making change.
Your power skills (and those of your teammates) go way beyond just good social skills, emotional intelligence, and the ability to communicate effectively. They also encompass problem solving, strategy, and the ability to build consensus around priorities.
While not every project manager is part of PMI, it is worth noting that they believe so strongly in this concept that they have also updated their Talent Triangle to reflect this new name and focus on these skills.
In the past, the talent triangle was made up of technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business acumen. Today, the triangle is made up of ways of working, power skills, and business acumen.
This evolution is due to the fact that project managers need to be more resourceful and nimble than ever before in the changing business environment.
If you don’t hold a PMI credential, you might be wondering why you should care about the triangle as it’s used to map professional development units (PDUs) to these categories.
It’s simple: as a project manager, you should be learning and continuing to embrace professional development at every stage of your career—certified or not.
You can find some ways to get PDUs here.
What’s The Impact?
PMI’s key insight is that “organizations that do not place a high priority on power skills are at a higher risk for projects that do not meet business goals, that experience scope creep, and that lose more budget if the project fails.”
- 72% of projects met their business goals when the organization focused on power skills whereas that number was only 65% in organizations that did not.
- 28% of projects experienced scope creep in organizations that focused on power skills. That number was 40% in organizations that did not.
- Only 17% of organizational budgets were lost due to project failure in organizations focused on power skills. This is compared to 25% of budget lost in organizations that put less emphasis on power skills.
PMI also found that most organizations put more emphasis on training for technical skills than power skills. In understanding the importance of these skills and their impact on project success, I would suggest that business and PM leaders (like you) rethink the training budgets for this year and beyond.
Where can you develop more power skills and how can you coach your team to continue to build theirs?
What You Should Do About It?
Create a plan to develop your power skills this year:
- Read Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor. It’s a great framework for communicating effectively and can help you grow your power skills around communication and leadership.
- Ask for more leadership opportunities or see if your organization offers leadership training. If you work for a smaller organization, you can also look for a local course. As a bonus, taking a course with people from outside your organization will be a networking opportunity and may expose you to some new ideas.
- Read this article on team motivation techniques.
4. Preferences for remote and contract work
More people are working remote gigs and continuing to fight return to office mandates.
In the “post-covid” era, we’re seeing more people continuing to push to work from home (or remotely) as they saw the benefit when the pandemic pushed them into trying this arrangement.
In Q1 of 2023 we saw a number of layoffs across the tech industry including giants like Google, Salesforce, Twilio, Microsoft, Meta, and many others.
This is leading to more people seeking flexible work and/or contract roles as opposed to full-time, in-office positions. As many workers have begun to question job security in full-time roles, the option to work on a contract basis has become more appealing.
In fact, a Vox article published in February of 2023 explored this trend, and why so many technologists are currently pushing their careers in the direction of freelance or contract work.
Since things have been trending in this direction for years now, project managers should already have firsthand knowledge of how employers are leveraging freelancers or contractors to fill gaps in project teams and departments.
Even for companies who aren’t leveraging contractors we are still seeing a number of employees asking for remote working and co-working arrangements.
This trend also applies to us as project managers. Even more PMs may be choosing to go the freelance route themselves, and companies are embracing this.
In a FastCompany article reporting on the most in demand skills for freelancers in 2023 and beyond, digital project management was listed at #4 in the top 10 skills under administration and customer service.
What’s The Impact?
More than the other project management trends, the gig economy and the use of contract workers has a direct and immediate impact on how a project manager does their work.
We as PMs often find ourselves with a smaller pool of core, full-time team members, who are supported by a distributed and shifting network of freelancers.
For PMs, remote project management comes with a whole new set of challenges in time, people, and task management. We’re continuously trying to answer the question of how we’ll keep work flowing smoothly when our teams are in different time zones and continents, and often committed to more projects than just ours.
With additional freelance labor on projects, project managers will also need to monitor contracts to ensure they’re being adhered to and renewed at the right times.
Another consideration is the line between contractor and employee—there are legal consequences for misclassifying workers in the US, so a crash course in freelance labor practices might be a really good idea!
What You Should Do About It?
It appears this is one of the project management trends that is here to stay for the foreseeable future. You’ve got to get used to freelancers and the quirks of managing a remote team.
Here’s where you can start:
- Make it your job to be aware of the risks specific to remote teams, such as burnout and isolation, and develop strategies to minimize these risks. Likewise, develop strategies for motivating and inspiring a distributed team.
- Read this article on becoming more adept at managing remote teams across time zones, as well as those who are often working flexibly and on different projects.
- Brush up your briefing. With less face-to-face check-in, setting your team up for a successful project with clear requirements and extra clear expectations is essential.
- Add structure to a distributed team through the use of tools focused on workflow automation and business process management.
5. Laser Focus On Data
You can’t “not be a numbers person” anymore.
We now live in a world where there is more data available to us than ever before. As project managers, we can easily produce data around timeline, budgets, and how accurate our estimation was.
With that mountain of information, companies expect that it must be useful. From understanding customer needs to detailing risks, analyzing data for important insights is a key activity in almost any development project.
It’s important to remember that the context in which we look at data is really important. It’s not enough to simply review the numbers. You must understand the story that the data is telling. While a project may look perfect on paper there may have been a number of issues for the project team along the way.
Conversely, a complex project that is messy on paper with budget and timeline overruns can be a big win for an organization. It's possible that the team was testing new project management processes or experimenting with a new deliverable.
The learnings from this project could be driving huge operational efficiencies or pushing the organization into new lines of service.
What’s The Impact?
With a huge focus on profitability and organizational efficiency in a tough economic climate, we as project managers have to be smarter about the way we create project data, use data to estimate, and plan and forecast our projects.
Sure, algorithms can help analyze some of the data (especially big data), but the growing availability and importance of data means that project managers will need to step into a data analysis role from time to time.
This means setting up projects and initiatives strategically with a plan for collecting the right types of data, and it also means helping teams and internal stakeholders get business insights and a common understanding from the data that is collected.
We have more data than ever before, so we need to become adept at making sense of the data (and the confusion!). We need to become data translators who extract and communicate solid, clear insights from data. A PM who can put the human spin on data analysis is worth their weight in gold.
What You Should Do About It?
Learn to love the data and find the tools you need. Make sure you’re:
- Incorporating data analysis into your process.
- Staying up-to-date on new tools for data visualization and reporting like Google Data Studio, Power BI, and Tableau.
- Using (and choosing) data in ways that effectively present risks, progress, milestones, and results to stakeholders.
What Do You Think About These Project Management Trends?
Project management trends often change the way large businesses operate, so you, the PM in the middle of it all, may very well become the driving force of digital transformation and beyond in 2023 and the coming years.
You can also find more project management statistics here.
Tell us! Do you see the effects of these project management trends in your work? What tools or methods have you found that help you manage change and transform your approach over time?