Project management: trends and challenges 2023

Dean Reš’s view of project management, its trends and challenges in 2023.

Dean Res’ view of project management, its trends and challenges in 2023

When we talk about project management, many of us still envision charts with tasks and endless updates of project documentation. Is it still the same, or are there changes happening in the project world? We asked senior consultant Dean Reš from FBE.

Project manager, who is he and what should he know?

If we understand a project as a temporary effort bringing about change, it is logical that the project manager will be its driver. Ideally, the project manager is engaged with the project from its inception, gradually working with the project team to develop the business case, validate stakeholder requirements, define the scope, allocate tasks, monitor deadlines, manage finances, establish communication, and handle risk management. During the project, they respond to developments and manage changes. Upon project completion, they formalize lessons learned and hand the project results to their future managers.

Is the project manager in 2023 the same as it was in the past?

We have been able to track this question since we have data from global associations dedicated to the professionalization of project management. These associations were established after 1965, and currently, the largest ones are IPMA – International Project Management Association and PMI – Project Management Institute. Of course, some techniques such as the Gantt chart emerged earlier. The project manager must adapt to an environment that is constantly changing.

Turning points occurred after realizing the need to include a broader range of stakeholders during the project scope configuration. Not just the end customer, not just the investor, but also other internal departments of the company and the external project environment. Today, this direction is best captured by the principles of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance), which go beyond the goal of profit maximization.

Another radical change was the increase in computing power, which today enables the management of growing project complexity. What fragmented teams used to handle in the past, managers of complex projects can now encompass. Do you want to select and monitor the product’s appropriate physical, functional, and business parameters in the project? With requirements traceability matrices, no problem. Do you need to plan and manage a project with 1000 tasks and 30 human resources? A license costing 25 euros per month is sufficient.

Project managers probably took a deep breath while reading the previous paragraph: “Increase in complexity?” Yes, the data collection system for big data, new business intelligence reports daily, automation of periodic tasks, and the complete transition to digital record circulation have saved time and resources. But can we keep indefinitely increasing the complexity of our projects?

We have already reached the limits of traditional project management methods: missing expectations, too many levels of management between the team and the customer, prolonged escalations, and decision-making based on past, often outdated data. As a solution, agility has emerged.

So is agility the answer to all the drawbacks of traditional approaches?

I’ll use the analogy of seasoning a soup. A little seasoning can enhance the taste, but too much can ruin the dish. Some industries have successfully transitioned to full agility. Their ability to keep the customer in focus on obtaining continuous feedback, create agile budgets, and trust the self-governing function of the team has helped them. In such organizations, traditional project managers are no longer needed; their roles have been taken over by Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, and Product Owners.

A typical client from the corporate environment faces a slightly different situation. The parent company prescribes procedures, procurement is handled according to precise parameters, no changes are allowed after the design freeze, approval levels cannot be bypassed, and the management demands 100% achievement of customer milestones, such as production start. Going over the budget is seen as a project manager’s mistake regardless of the triggers for change requests.

Do regular corporate clients have a way out of this situation?

Yes, after 2018, there has been experimentation with what is known as hybrid management. The simplified point is: to take what works from traditional methods and add agility where it doesn’t jeopardize the company’s structure. The assumption here is one: the willingness of management, project teams, and their clients to experiment with change and learn from experiences gained through their practice.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work by simply giving the team free rein while still demanding fixed delivery times, a fixed budget, and 100% scope in the required quality. We typically incorporate agile elements into project stages where we consciously accept the uncertainty of needing to prototype, readjust, and sometimes backtrack from a development dead-end. We also have fully agile departments, pockets of agility where we can implement process standards based on Kanban and delegate responsibility to the operational level based on trust.

Can hybrid management be a response to the challenges of the coronavirus crisis?

Hybrid management within the context of agility had already found its way into the concepts of both PMI and IPMA even before the COVID-19 crisis. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has helped in the flexible arrangement of workplace relationships, remote work, and team collaboration. From a project management perspective, it taught traditional organizations how to conduct online status meetings, moderate them more effectively, capture and visualize outputs in real-time, migrate documentation to the cloud, and obtain feedback from project stakeholders more quickly.

Among the temporary negatives, we can include overwhelming colleagues with information and inconsistency in the use of agreed communication platforms. When receiving messages through Teams chat, WhatsApp, or intranet, along with another Jira ticket and a reminder for a task in MS Project, the natural human reaction is to try to tune out and focus on the current task at hand.

What would you recommend to clients today?

Project managers are not alone in the field; they have a key ally within the company in the form of a PMO – Project Management Office. The PMO can oversee the implementation of a tailored project methodology so that the company only uses the tools it needs and will use. This is a crucial recommendation: neither overcomplicating nor underestimating the setup of the project management system.

Currently, there is a high demand for assistance in establishing or enhancing PMOs (Project Management Offices). A basic-level PMO provides guidelines, and templates, and offers training and coaching. At an intermediate level, PMO specialists are involved in project initiation and scoring, maintain a knowledge repository, manage the company’s portfolio, and report progress. At the highest level, the PMO partners with management in strategy creation, participate in project prioritization, balances resource allocations based on availability and priority, and optimizes financial aspects such as tracking returns or setting aside reserves for managing project risks.

One advantage of today’s PMOs is that they can manage traditional, hybrid, and agile portfolios within a single organization, effectively deploying project managers, project specialists, scrum masters, agile coaches, and product owners exactly where they are needed.

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