The Ultimate Guide to Project Management in 2017

Okay. Moment of truth. I’ve been working on this blog post for pretty much the entire year. After recently attending the 2016 Global Congress by The Project Management Institute (PMI) in September 2016, and in celebration of International Project Management Day, it’s about time I finished this...

I attended this recent conference to learn more about current trends in project management, to learn more about the areas of project management that I don’t encounter on a daily basis, and to meet new people; a definite challenge all around, but one I embraced.

My approach to this conference was to spend each day on “something old, something new, something inspiring, and some review”. And the results? Although some sessions were mostly review, the majority of the sessions were purely technical in nature, and some of which, admittedly, were way over my head.

Although I could easily write a novel on all of the things I learned and my general observations, I’ll try to keep it simple. The biggest trends in project management today are all centered around methodology, being adaptive, and how customers and businesses drive change today, rather than the project manager driving change.

Read on for some tips and a detailed guide on the latest trends in project management and what this can mean for your business or your project in 2017.

“We Are Going Agile” – An Adaptive Project Life Cycle

One of the most popular project management methodologies used today is agile. This particular project management methodology is a popular approach for IT projects.

When a team claims that they are “going agile”, this sparks two very different reactions in project managers: one of excitement and an opportunity for greatness, and one that sends many project managers into cardiac arrest. After speaking and listening to several different professional project managers, many described the agile methodology as a “nightmare”, while others explained that it is only successful and effective when following the methodology to a T.

After learning more about agile project management, I found that this was a bit ironic, considering that the very methodology behind agile project management is being flexible, open, adaptive and responsive to change.

Here are some key characteristics of the agile methodology:

Lack of formal structure – Don’t panic. I don’t necessarily mean that processes, procedures, and general management of a project all become a free for all. We all know that some structure is still needed, or risks and the margin for error both increase. This simply means that teams need to communicate openly about change, they must be open and susceptible to change, and a solid change management process must be established.

Defining scope – Because agile project management involves approaching projects with a flexible and open attitude and approach, this makes defining the scope at the beginning of the project even more critical. Once all of the necessary requirements and specifications have been clearly defined, verified, and validated, then the project can be broken down into tasks and activities for team members and key functional areas.

Increased team collaboration – One of the key elements to successful agile project management is collaboration for both teams and customers. Encouraging team collaboration can be challenging at times, especially for new project managers or new team members. However, one way to approach open communication, discussions, and dialogue is by holding “stand-up” sessions during brainstorming or project meetings.

In a “stand-up” session, each team member will take turns answering the following types of questions:

-          What did I accomplish yesterday?

-          What do I want to accomplish today?

-          What are the obstacles in the way of accomplishing my goals?

On the customer front, agile project management involves constant customer collaboration. Depending on the type of service or product being delivered, this can involve sending a customer “batches” of a deliverable as well as encouraging continuous feedback in order to ensure the overall successful delivery of a project. This approach means that open and continuous communication an absolute must.

Shorter, cyclical work cycles – By providing a customer with “batch” deliverables, this can mean shorter, cyclical work cycles for internal team members. This means that team members will need to quickly adapt to fast-paced changes, while still focusing on the importance of accurate and proper documentation and team collaboration and communication.

Although the goal of agile project management typically means getting customers what they need as quickly and as efficiently as possible, this doesn’t mean that all hell has to break loose; some order is needed in order to ensure an efficient delivery.

All in all, depending on the industry in which you serve, or your clients’ needs or the types of projects you manage, the agile methodology – when managed appropriately – there are numerous agile project management benefits.

The Scrum Methodology – Agile’s “Better Half”

Scrum is another popular project management methodology used today, similar to agile. In fact, scrum can actually work alongside agile in some projects. Scrum emphasizes collaboration, the use of functional software; and a proactive, resource, flexible self-starting team.

When comparing scrum and agile, think of the two as a married couple. Each methodology has its strong and weak points, and advantages and disadvantages. Scrum basically provides the benefits and shortcomings where agile falls short. I like to think of scrum as agile's "better half".

For example, agile doesn’t provide concrete project steps in the project lifecycle, and although a level of flexibility is necessary with scrum as well, scrum rather provides simpler steps to the completion and delivery of a project.

Organizations and businesses that implement the scrum methodology effectively will focus on two sides: 1) business, and 2) technical.

Business Management – The business side of scrum management is about delivering value. This typically involves making decisions on a project with the customer in mind, adhering to customer-centric requirements, and is ultimately self-managing.

Technical – In today’s fast-paced, competitive, digital world, technology is everywhere. In fact, it’s almost impossible to imagine managing a project today without some form of database, CRM, automation system or digital device.  In fact, these technical tools and resources are almost necessary for project management today.

For example, in the world of health care and IT project management, these project managers might use cognitive computing technology, such as IBM Watson – enter the world of project automation.

Do Scrum and Agile Actually Work?

All in all, as we explored with agile project management, the scrum methodology is similar to agile in many ways, but provides a little more support in the areas where agile falls short. However, both methodologies have a greater probability of failure, particularly because they involve a “working backwards” approach. For example, we see many projects that involve “working backwards” to develop a course, digital product or to solve another problem for customers.

This is one reason why the scrum and agile methodologies go against the grain for many project managers, which is why it’s important to approach these types of projects with an open mind, patience, and flexibility. It is up to the project manager to instill good project management practices and effective communication in order to make it work.

Project Management Drives Change (…Or Does It?)

The joke between project managers is that if you want to make sure something doesn’t get done, make it a project. Typically project management is meant to drive change, but today business and customer demands have forced project managers as people to change their and approach to projects.

Here are a few big examples of how project management has changed in recent years:

Doing More with Less. If you've been a project manager for some time, then you probably have noticed a difference in managing projects. Maybe a little bit more pressure? To do the impossible? If you’ve noticed this, you aren’t crazy. The truth is teams are now being forced to do more with less. By “less” we mean less available resources, less time, and even smaller budgets. Time, resources, and budgets are all the biggest project inputs…and ultimately the biggest risks.

The results?

Project managers need to be more strategic. This means that project managers need to spend more time brainstorming, solving problems creatively, and doing their research. Gone are the days when project management was about managing multiple areas and facets of a project; now it is about reaching solutions faster, and making decisions that make for a stronger business impact and meet customer demands faster. Oh, and don’t forget about smaller budgets, a smaller pool of resources, and lack of training.

As a result, project management is becoming more pivotal. Planning isn’t something the project manager does once; it is a continuous process that requires focus every day. Each project is like a live organism, constantly requiring consistent attention, flexibility, adjusting, change and—you guessed it—agility.

A Need for Design Thinkers. Organizations are constantly looking for innovative and creative ways to approach problem solving. We’ve already explored scrum, agile, and various technical approaches and methodologies, but design thinking encourages project managers and team members to “think outside the box” and come up with creative solutions that tap into other areas of the business world.

This is certainly a challenge for many project managers since many are so keenly focused on narrowing project scopes that leave little room for exploring challenges. However, more and more organizations are helping project managers and teams build strong knowledge bases around design thinking approaches that are balanced between both agility and traditional methods.

The Beauty of Project Management

If you ask a project manager today how he or she feels about his or her job, you will likely get a facial expression that screams frustrated, followed by an uncomfortable laugh. The cold, hard truth is that many project managers today are frustrated and stressed. Many feel that because so many projects are driven by customers and business demands, many feel like they have all the pressure and responsibilities but none of the authority, power or control.

The truth is that although being a project manager certainly comes with a great deal of pressure, stress, and responsibility – receiving demands from seemingly all angles – project managers still have the power to influence through the power of leadership, and empowering and motivating teams to perform their best.

All in all, as the workplace continues to change and shift, project managers are becoming more valuable in today’s industries, and the need for individuals who are creative and technical, agile but good planners, great problem-solvers and “knowledge workers” but also mindful to risks, and are all around great communicators provide the highest quality and value to a project, customer, and organization – and who are also the best project managers.

The beauty of project management, and perhaps one of my favorite things about being a project manager is that the methodologies, strategies, leadership and mindset can be applied to any kind of project and industry, from running a restaurant to managing a fundraiser or marketing campaign or even building and flying a plane. There’s just something truly awesome about that. As a good – and I mean really, really good – project manager, you can truly do anything.