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2021 Project Management Trends

Increased reliance on virtual collaboration and digital communication defined the last year for project managers. While these changes brought about many challenges for project teams and their leaders, as we move into 2021 they pose promising avenues for productivity growth and efficiency gains. In the coming months we expect to see increases in task automation, more tailored project delivery methodologies, and a greater focus on business value as just a few of the key trends that will continue to change project management.

TREND #1: Artificial Intelligence to Facilitate Project Planning and Delivery

It comes as no surprise that as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes an integral part of an organization’s business processes, the impact is making its way to project management. Numerous applications for AI in project management exist today, and we will continue to see the integration of these tools as well as the development of more advanced technology to streamline project tasks and leverage analytics for decision-making.

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AI will likely play a more active role in project team selection – integrating previous project learnings to provide suggestions based on resource skills and project needs. It might soon be commonplace to receive automated suggestions, such as “Individuals with this skill profile have traditionally done well in these types of projects, might you consider Resource X, Y or Z” for this project? Similarly, project planning activities that incorporate historical learnings in an automated and context-relevant manner is a capability that we may see in the near future.

Another trend we’ll see is the automation of recurring project hygiene tasks to free up a team’s time for more value-add activities. Technology companies, like Cisco Spark and Redbooth, have partnered with AI/natural language software platform to create messaging bots to help streamline information requests and capturing, such as status reports, hours worked, budget items, and more.

Myriad tools exist today focused on individual-level productivity; the trend toward an overall team’s productivity is emerging. Microsoft Outlook’s MyAnalytics provides AI-powered suggestions to aid productivity, including suggestions for work schedules, how to collaborate effectively, staying on top of tasks, and more. This example shows the success of fusing AI within an existing enterprise tool; we’ll see the growth of ecosystems as individual AI-powered tools merge with other tools.

Artificial intelligence is as “intelligent” as the data fed into the system, and making sense of nuanced data and high-level decision-making still require, at minimum, some human input. In order to combat these challenges, companies should emphasize the importance of training its employees on the use of tools and the contextual processes, as well as ensuring and the accuracy and comprehensive of captured data. Inarguably, the automation of project management tasks frees up project managers to dedicate more bandwidth to solving complex project challenges and making higher-level decisions.

Download the Full 2021 Project Management Trends Here

According to Gartner, 80% of project management tasks might happen autonomously by the year 2030.

TREND #2: Tailored Project Delivery Methodologies for Fit and Efficiency Gains

Waterfall, the execution of project activities in a linear fashion via phases, is so commonplace that many consider it the “traditional” methodology by which others are contrasted against. Though simple and relatively ease to manage, its rigidity created a space that other methodologies, like Agile, served to fulfill. Waterfall methodology is useful when requirements are clear upfront, allowing for predictability. Agile, with its incremental and iterative execution, is more tolerant of ambiguity. Although Waterfall and Agile remain the most common project methodologies, we see variations of Agile (Kanban, Scrum, etc.) and methodologies based on principles like Lean, and others designed for specific use cases, like eXtreme programming (XP for software development.)

We’ll continue to see this trend of hybridization, as organizations continue to seek novel ways to address modern project challenges. For example, with the desire to test products before full
commitment and the uncertainty of business requirements, some organizations choose to adopt a phase-like approach with sprints. This hybrid model pieces together the most relevant aspects of Agile and Waterfall, thus, having the ability to leverage the robustness of Waterfall’s planning with the more iterative work “sprints”. The Project Manager retains his or her ownership over the project, but engages the Scrum Masters for facilitating agile sprints during the development phase. This is one example of the creative tailoring of project methodologies to fit one’s needs.

Organizations’ and project managers’ awareness of the various project methodologies and a flexibility to adapt and “hybridize” based on business needs will serve as a critical competitive advantage.

Organizations will increasingly rely on hybrid project management methodologies like Agile and Waterfall, the use of which has made them achieve goals 73% more often.

Download the full 2021 Project Management Trends here.

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Contributions by Eliza Cox

Tags: Project & Program Management