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The 5 Biggest Project Management Trends Shaping 2018

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Normally I start off these project management trends pieces with a celebration of what I got right the year prior (all my insights for 2015, 2016, and 2017 are still available), but 2018 is going to be different.

What’s special about 2018 is not that there’s going to be a breakout technology or a sudden surge of government-hired PMPs. Instead, the scope for project management trends has gotten bigger. As predicted, project management is no longer sequestered to IT, and the entire business world is changing because of it.

That means role changes.

Hiring changes.

Paradigm changes.

Project management trends for 2018

With a keen eye on promise, delivery, and actionable advice, let’s jump right into the five biggest project management trends shaping 2018.

1. Meet ‘business Agile’

Project management trends 2018: Business Agile

Last year, I pointed out that several industries, including marketing, finance, and construction, were beginning to adopt the Agile development framework. And that makes sense; various research has shown that the Agile methodology improves communication, makes teams more adaptive to change, and has an overall higher return on investment, especially for small to midsize teams.

What we’re witnessing—which started just in 2016—is the rise of business Agile.

Unlike most business trends, business Agile is bubbling from small businesses up to the enterprise level—not the other way around.

Research from Babson College shows that as businesses grow larger, their median workforce age grows older; conversely, the smaller the company, the younger the workers. And as these younger workers are more flexible in their mindset about work, they’ve discovered that Agile business processes benefit them far more than traditional work processes.

Plus, there’s been an influx of tools that makes Agile easier.

For example, artificial intelligence and project management are creating a symbiosis where metrics such as LOE (level of effort) are automated, and project management decisions, such as which task to assign which person, will be met with relentless machine-based objectivity (more on this trend to come later in the piece).

Like jumping from scratch paper to a computer to do calculus, these machines will—and are—freeing up head space for new business ideas.

Consider this graphic:

Project management trends 2018: The future of business Agile

Project management trends 2018: business Agile

Between the rise of the bots and business Agile, think of 2018 like 1869; business Agile isn’t just a trend, it’s a new way of doing business (just like the Second Industrial Revolution was). It’s been ramping up for a while, and we’re going to start seeing far more reporting on the trend over the next twelve months.

What does this tangibly mean as a project management trend in 2018?

Our community is about to get a lot larger, and Agile will transform into a business philosophy more so than what it is now.

Project managers, get ready to serve as advisers in your own company (and as consultants in others) on the Agile process—you’re the de-facto experts! If you’re unclear on what Agile is, be sure to brush up on the Agile Manifesto, what Agile software development is, and whether Scrum Mastery is worth investing in this year and beyond.

Finally, be sure to examine your own teams. Are you already business Agile, or do some changes need to be made? Be sure to reference the above graph to check to see if your company aligns.

2. DevOps will be considered a part of Agile

According to Gartner’s definitions, splitting DevOps and Agile doesn’t make sense.

Project management trends 2018: DevOps and Agile are the same

Consider how the tech giant interprets the two business philosophies:

Agile: “A method that applies tools, processes and organizational design concepts, inspired by software development methodology, to make [any] program more relevant, more adaptive and efficient.”

DevOps: “A change in IT culture, focusing on rapid IT service delivery through the adoption of Agile, Lean practices in the context of a system-oriented approach. DevOps emphasizes people (and culture), and seeks to improve collaboration between operations and development teams. DevOps implementations utilize technology — especially automation tools that can leverage an increasingly programmable and dynamic infrastructure from a life cycle perspective.”

In other words, the separation of the two practices is a moot point. Atlassian explains this point well: “DevOps seeks to bring that Agile attitude toward change to a new audience: IT operations.”

If we, as a project management community, can accept marketing Agile, construction Agile, and business Agile, then IT operations Agile should be no stretch.

What does this tangibly mean as a project management trend in 2018?

We can already see it.

Consider that major DevOps conferences such as DevOps West are announcing Agile speakers, just as Agile conferences have always included DevOps in their own.

As the silo between DevOps and Agile breaks down, project managers will start to see DevOps and Agile jargon intermix, job postings become more vague (not this DevOps or that Agile, but both), and training, at least in IT, to require an understanding of both frameworks.

Luckily, if you’re familiar with one, it’s very easy to learn the other—probably because they’re just about the same thing.

3. The culture war arrives

Project management trends 2018: Culture wars

This project management trend may have started in 2017, but it’s going to explode through 2018 and on.

The now infamous memo titled, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” came out in August 2017—right up against Agile Alliance’s annual flagship conference, Agile2017. Furious about the memo’s implications—that women aren’t biologically designed or inclined to be interested in STEM—keynote speaker Jez Humble went rogue and deconstructed the entirety of the memo to an audience of hundreds of people.

There aren’t many affinity groups in project management; there are groups such as Women in Project Management (SIG) and Vets2PM, but a brief Google search doesn’t show any for the LGBTQ community or for racial or ethnic minorities.

One thing that makes this trend so interesting is the absence of diversity initiatives up until this point—many other sectors of business, such as marketing and IT, have long had proactive efforts to include a more diverse community—and those trends became stronger in the build-up to the 2016 U.S. election. The status quo has been to largely eschew the broader business pivot against homogeneity.

I imagine that’s going to change. As groups such as Scrum.org add language about inclusivity and openness to their guidelines and the Agile Alliance stresses their fully rewritten Code of Conduct, the project management community will become proactively inclusive of under-represented groups in IT.

With all value statements aside, this is a trend that is trickling in from the business community and the political climate as a whole, and as 2018 is an election year, there will be opinions on both sides.

What does this tangibly mean as a project management trend in 2018?

If Jez Humble’s diverted speech stirred any emotion within you, expect a lot more of that to come. Looking at project management conferences coming up in 2018, there are already a lot of diversity initiatives that didn’t exist before; consider Scrum Gathering’s theme of the Community of Agile, or the (anticipated) follow up to the first-ever Diversity in Project Management Conference.

But the broader cultural direction is now in full swing, which will only be amplified by 2018’s election cycle.

Project managers, to follow up on 2017’s trend of emotional intelligence: continue to invest in yourself as managers. Take advantage of new community offerings about diversity and inclusiveness, and get ready for industry-level conflicts about people management in regards to ability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and class.

Conflict will be amok—learn from it and contribute to growing as a community.

4. The internet of things and artificial intelligence combine into a powerhouse of actionable information

Project management trends 2018: The Internet of Things

Capterra’s Andrew Marder points out that the internet of things and artificial intelligence are going to affect most small businesses in 2018:

“The internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML)—or Iotaiml—were the buzzwords that Big Tech couldn’t stop talking about in 2017. Expect more of the same in 2018… It’s likely that your small business will never directly implement any part of “Iotaiml,” but it will certainly employ software or services that tap into the tech. My bet is that in 2018, you will touch this tech more than ever before and—if properly implemented—see associated returns.” – Andrew Marder, Capterra

The growth of IoT and AI in union are going to change how project management is effectuated. In some industries, that change will be dramatic. The most notable effect from these concurrent trends in 2018 will be in project management software and in the project management role itself.

Artificial intelligence is slowly making its way into project management tools—just look at options such as Aurora, Clarizen, ClickUp, Forecast, and Rescoper. These tools are using AI to automate many existing project management tasks, including matching talent to tasks, reducing calculations for LOE, providing a hub for knowledge management, and creating reports with untiring objectivity.

Read more about how artificial intelligence is changing the project management role.

Tim Clark, writing for LiquidPlanner, summarizes IoT well: it “connects anything with an on/off switch to the internet or to each other. Examples of IoT in action include security systems, thermostats, electronic appliances, household lights, alarm clocks and more.”

In other words, IoT has the potential to introduce swaths of new data to project management software.

Internet of things and artificial intelligence combine

For asset-intensive project managers (like those in construction, field service, and logistics), get ready for all your “stuff” to start reporting to you like it has a mind of its own, informing you if it’s operational, needs attention, or should be left alone. Combine that with artificial intelligence, and hands-off safety and maintenance becomes a reality.

To be sure, these interconnected systems have existed for a while—Gartner reported in the Hype Cycle of the Internet of Things 2017, “While APM has been practiced for more than ten years in a handful of industries, its broader adoption has been stalled until recently,” (research available to Gartner clients).

Their analysts go on to explain that until recently, the technology to correctly implement the internet of things required the end user to know how to properly match their ones and zeros.

Now, assets are emerging designed for IoT. You can embed sensors into concrete, track an individual piece of clothing in a retail store, and automatically send and receive business card information based on proximity. You can now buy all these systems as-is—or implement them without coding knowledge—which means that they’ll start to permeate everyday businesses.

That means two things: the artificial intelligence that’s emerging in your project management software will start interpreting this data (and some project managers might find that they need integrated business intelligence software to handle the load), and there is about to be a boom in internet of things implementation projects.

IT project managers, get ready. There will be an entirely new positions created to handle the load, and you’ll be the first wave of the uniquely qualified to take them on.

What does this tangibly mean as a project management trend in 2018?

Beef up your assets: 2018 is going to be the year that commercially available IoT- and AI-enabled stuff will actually become affordable and worthwhile.

For construction, manufacturing, and other asset-intensive project managers, audit what you have in your lots. If items take a lot of maintenance and and monitoring, consider working with your business leadership to implement a new project: IoT everything.

And be prepared for these projects to come in as well—business owners are keenly aware that this trend is here to stay. Project managers will largely be in charge of implementation, so study up on how to effectuate an IoT project effectively. I’d start with “Three Strategies to Achieve Better-Than-Planned Outcomes for IoT Projects” (full research is proprietary to Gartner clients).

5. Millennial project managers will make their debut

Project management trends 2018: Meet the Millennial project managers

Millennials have long been in the workforce, but they haven’t existed in the project management space for long.

Millennials will be between 14 and 36 years old in 2018. However, consider the factors affecting project management and career choices among Millennials. The tl;dr? The PMP’s work requirements and the economy have made it difficult for Millennials to earn their certifications up until this point.

A longer explanation

The PMP has only been recently accessible to Millennials.

The PMP requires 4,500 hours leading and directing projects—a little more than two dedicated years—for college-educated applicants. For those who haven’t gone to college, they need a high school degree and 7,500 hours (almost four dedicated years). As the average high school graduate is 18-years-old and the average college graduate is 22, that means that the absolute youngest project managers that could have the PMP, while completing all of the PMP’s years-long requirements, are 22 years old in 2018.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that many 22-year-old PMPs.

While I couldn’t find hard numbers on the average age of someone with a PMP (the BLS will start tracking project management information in 2018), there are plenty of signs that the average PMP wanes older.

For example, the Project Management Institute released a report in 2017 (PDF) highlighting that retirement is the main reason why project management positions are opening up. And it’s important to note which industries are most impacted; 97% of manufacturing position openings are due to retirement, whereas in IT, retirement “only” causes 52% of new job openings.

The economy

And don’t forget about forces outside of the project management industry that impact whether or not Millennials become project managers. When trying to accumulate that needed work experience for the PMP, Millennials were struggling to find a job—any job—when the Great Recession devastated entry-level jobs between 2008 and 2012. For college graduates, that means that they’re just now able to finish up requirements for the PMP on a systemic level.

With all that said, there are certainly some Millennial project managers who have defied the norm and have been project managers for years—and not all project managers are PMPs. But certification holders are a reflection of the industry writ large, and Millennials are going to start joining the profession in larger swaths in 2018.

The impetus is two-fold.

Millennials can now claim enough work experience to be qualified project managers. As Millennials rise as managers in general (the average age of managers in general across the U.S. is 33), they now have the choice to take their experience and apply it to project management.

Second, the U.S. government is incentivizing the PMP. Before leaving the Oval Office, former President Obama signed in the “Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act” (PMIAA).

CIO explains, “Any government agency that is required to have a CFO are mandated to appoint a Program Management Improvement Officer… PMIAA creates an increased awareness of the need for certified experienced PM professionals across America.”

The PMIAA, now in its first full year, creates two incentives known to attract Millennials: educational opportunities and government jobs. While Millennials are underrepresented in government, it’s largely due to a high turnover rate and not a lack of interest. This program gives the Millennial generation leadership opportunities to change how business functions as a whole—an opportunity they likely won’t give up.

And with all those things noted, 2018 will just be the beginning of this project management trend.

What does this tangibly mean as a project management trend in 2018?

As Jeffrey Mann and Achint Aggarwal write, “Employees are increasingly using social collaboration tools rather than formal project management products to keep their projects on track, requiring application leaders to accommodate and manage these situations,” (research available to Gartner clients).

Collaboration programs, such as Slack and Slack competitors, are and were hallmarks of Millennial social life—it’s no surprise that there is and will continue to be an importance placed on messaging systems. Expect Millennial project managers to rely on ad hoc tools more than traditional project management programs.

Millennials will also change the face of project management; though Millennials only make up 23% of the American population, The Brookings Institution notes that they comprise “a whopping [sic] 43% of primary working age minorities.”

With diversity comes conflict and growth—both for project teams and for the business at large. For example, research from the Institute for Public Relations and Weber Shandwick finds that “47% of Millennials consider the diversity and inclusion of a workplace before selecting a job, compared with only 33% of Gen Xers and 37% of Boomers.”

For businesses looking to create a work environment conducive to Millennial considerations and tastes, start with this Harvard Business Review article about Yelp, Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook’s quantitative breakdown of what worked when emphasizing hiring a diverse workforce—and what didn’t.

Finally—and I know the horse has been long buried by now—be ready for younger workers to have even more enthusiasm for Agile than other generations. As Sharon Florentine writes, “Agile is key to helping attract and retain the next generation of engineers and developers, because the principles of the methodology dovetail with millennials’ intrinsic motivation.”

For example, Gallup found that “Millennials don’t want bosses—they want coaches” and “Millennials don’t want annual reviews—they want ongoing conversations,” like the equality of a Scrum team and retrospective meetings.

The University of North Carolina also found that, among Millennials, “flexibility is highly valued” and that they prefer an “unstructured flow of communication”—both essential to the Agile mindset.

Being Agile is intrinsically valuable to the Millennial generation. As their representation in the workforce grows, so too will its continued popularity.

What other project management trends do you anticipate for 2018?

There were plenty of options to choose from when writing up this piece. I’m curious what trends you think are most important. What did this list miss? What should have been prioritized?

I’d love to hear your comments and will respond below!

Want to do some more reading on the future of project management? Check out these recent articles:

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a content manager for Capterra, a free online resource that quickly matches businesses to their software needs. She specializes in project management tips, tools, and tricks . She also runs her own blog on content marketing. On the rare occasion Rachel isn't writing, she's reading, hiking, jogging, or spending time with her friends and family.

Comments

Rachel,

A good piece lots to think about there but fundamentally I have to say as someone who comes from an engineering background and moved into IT later on I’m not sure it is about the rest of business catching up with IT in terms of finally recognising PM. More like the circle is completing with PM coming back to it’s source!

I agree it is returning rejuvenated, strengthened etc. and hopefully that momentum will kick us round increased cycles and speed of development to the advantage of everybody.

What will be interesting is how well traditional engineering/manufacturing business adopts agile, there is lots of skepticism still. They see how it works in R&D but much less so how it helps in other areas. We will all watch, learn and grow.

Cheers

Malc

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