Five Trends in Project Management

The current state of PM

Project Management Trendsxm-institute Oliver MackTen to fifteen years ago I was responsible for the implementation of two Project Management Offices for large international companies. A lot change since these days. Project Management became the new normal. Consultants still moan about the high failure rate of projects, but studies like the GPM Study (Vermessung des Projektmanagements, 2015) shows another picture:

Overall 74% think that projects are delivered successfully, across time, budget and scope/result. Only stakeholder satisfaction is lagging behind with some 51%. But this is not surprising to me, as the more complex the projects’ objectives are and the more heterogeneous the stakeholder groups are, the higher the risk that someone is unhappy with the results.

Also PMOs are highly accepted with more than 81% rating the acceptance very well/well/average, based on the GPM Study “Das PMO in der Praxis” 2013/14.

Project Management reached a high level of professionalism, having its own institutions, like PMI or IPMA as well as a differentiated toolset and clear processes.

Impact of the changing environment on Project Management

Project Management as a concept and manager’s toolset is under continuous development. While the business environment changes, also Project Management is changing. On the other side, project management as a concept is a supportive element to drive the change in the environment itself.

The key trends we are seeing today are not new, but it is good to bring them again to our focus:

  1. A true globalization of supply chains as well as buyer markets. On the one side, global companies use global supply chains to produce their goods. Building a standard laptop means to get and assemble components from all over the globe. On the other side, small companies in Silicon Valley are able to attract customers from all over the world and are able to become a global player over night.
  2. Robotics and VR are in a state now where we can expect a lot of automation over the next few years. Many jobs and activities will be done differently and leaders will be responsible for humans and machines equally alike.
  3. Artificial Intelligence will also have a significant impact in the years to come. A lot of activities and decisions can be done better and faster by algorithms then by humans already today.

The most important aspect of change today is that we are confronted with is the accelaration of change. Two important aspect could be mentioned here:

  1. Moore’s Law: This theory developed more than 30 years ago predicts that processor power, bandwith or storage will double capacity or half costs every 9-18 month, which means exponential development. Until today Moore’s law is still correct.
  2. Kurzweil’s Singularity: Ray Kurzweil, inventor, IT expert and visionary thinker developed the idea of “singularity” bnased on Moore’s law. The increasing speed of technological development will be in 2023 at a stage, when we can first simulate one human brain; in 2045 technology will be so powerful that it goes beyond the brainpower of the whole human population.

With the increasing speed of change we perceive the world more and more VUCA, an acronym describing the high volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the environment we are doing business today. (Mack/ Khare, 2015)

Five trend scenarios in project management

Based on these environmental changes I see five trends in project management based on what is happening in the market but also at my clients.

Project Management Trends xm-institute Oliver Mack

  1. Digitalization of Project Management: A no-brainer, but not less important. As all activities, also project management becomes more and more digital. In the project management tool sector, we see a shift from traditional project planning and control software towards more communication and interaction oriented systems for project teams. This dynamic I would call “Facebookization” or “Sharepointization” of project management software. No wonder if we consider that the 1st choice of communication channels of Generation Y is Internet/ Webchat and Social Media in comparison to the phone which is number one for the current generation of senior project managers. Another upcoming trend is the increased usage of big data, analytics and artificial intelligence in project management training, facilitation and support. In the future we might see software automatically analyzing all emails and activities of a project team in an organization, identifying communication and interaction patterns and content patterns. These patterns could help to identify project risks or weaknesses in project management early, sending eMails with tips and tricks to the project manager and team. Project management education will be less “on storage” but more instantly on the fly, when needed. If there is a weak risk management process in a project, the software might send an eMail with videos, white papers, templates and manuals about Project Risk Management to the project manager.
  2. Serious Projectitis: Working with a lot of larger international corporations I see project management still becoming stronger and more professionalized. This often leads to two developments. One the one side, with the growing importance of PMO’s and the need for projects as a flexible form to organize temporary complex endeavors within stable hierarchical structures, there is a trend to define more and more activities as projects. A lot of companies started with formalized large projects and in a second step defined simpler standards for smaller ones. Driving this to an extreme increasing project orientation could be the answer to the question how to make organizations more agile, replacing formal hierarchy with temporary and fluid project structures. On the other side, more and more larger companies take the move to use certification as their way to professionalization of project management. PMI, IPMA or PRICE2 as the leading standards are becoming more and more a big business like the ISO9000 or Six Sigma wave some years ago. The risk of this movement is that companies might confuse project delivery quality with the amount of certified project managers in a company.
  3. Holistic-differentiated project management: A third trend I currently see in the project management community is to deal with the “soft side” of project management and project leadership. While the focus in the past was mainly on the tool and process side of project management, the discussion goes more and more into a systemic understanding of project management. While individual personal skills and characteristics of project managers and team members are already in scope of the big PM standards and practice, todays discussion and development goes more into a direction of concept like the application of social network analysis or systemic constellations on project management. Understanding projects as social systems with all consequences is still in it’s infancy. Another direction, project management discussion is currently moving is the insight, that there is no one size fits all project management methodology. Different project types, like construction/ engineering projects, R&D/ software development projects and change projects need different PM approaches. Directly liked to this is the insight that in specific context of complexity certain PM approaches work, other don’t. In the near future we will se a much more integrated perspective instead of the bipolarity between traditional project management and agile project management.
  4. Simplified, joyful project management: Another counter-trend in project management is visible seeing agile methods as a current starting point. More and more project managers go back to very simple methods of visualization, control and cooperation. A good example is the Kanban board. A standard tool in most of the startups and software companies, this tool is a simple pice of paper at the wall with some columns and post its on it. It represents a bunch of tools that are analog instead of digital, that are simple instead of complex and that are flexible instead of rigid. Instead of focusing on more differentiated and complex methods and tools, project managers and teams seem to focus more on the success factors of project management which is communication and coordination of real team work. The agile manifesto brought this focus back in software development and I currently see a wave of application in many other disciplines and companies of any size. Some companies think about reducing the usage on complex project management software in favour of simple analog tools or even think about going completely away from icomplex software tools due to lack of acceptance by experience project managers. I think this trend will continue in the future. Looking at startups I also see a trend not just to more simple project management approaches, but also to more funny and enjoyable ones. At one startup I saw a nice example for that for a development funnel and project portfolio board. They used a bagnetic whiteboard with a harbor, the coastline, the open sea a harbour gate drawn on it. Projects were reflected as little ships, beginning with paper boats, then Playmobil rowboats up to larger magnetic ships, depending on the state of the project. The way through the harbor to the open sea was the stage gate process, where coming to the open sea was the go-life of the project. What a nice, but also very effective idea!
  5. Total dissolution of project management: Following the simplification idea taking this to an extreme, I see already some companies discussing, how to simplify the overall single project management processes and standards as well as their multiproject management and resource management. Some companies are questioning the need of project management at all in certain context. Driven by the idea of efficiency and multitasking, many companies staff experts on many project teams in parallel to avoid slack and idle time. But we know from neuroscience, that humans are not able to multitask, which means that performance is going down with too many projects and task at the table at the same time. A key success factor in Agile are teams that are stable over a longer period of time. Instead of team members working on several projects at the same time, multidisciplinary teams finish one project after the other in the same constellation over time. I know companies in automotive supplier industries that worked hard on multi-project management over the last several years, going away from a stable structure where a specific department with a mixed team is responsible for different project generations for the same client to a more fluid structure. As the new structure need different behavior and culture, which was very hard to change, and needed a much more complex resource management, the companies are thinking now to go back to a department structure, adapted by the learnings they made. The trend I see is what I call “mono project management”, where people work on only one project at a time in a very stable team environment. This saves a lot of problems and efforts, like no need for multi project management and no resource management. As the project manager in these situations become more and more a “new kind of” department manager, it could be the case, that project management could be the road to new organizational structures and new leadership in general.

This concludes the five PM trends I currently see at the horizon at the border between theory and practice. I would be very happy to hear your opinion on these trend and also your current experiences in that field.


  • Kühl, S. (2016): Projekte führen, Wiesbaden: Springer.
  • Mack, O. (o.J.), Projekt ist nicht gleich Projekt, xm:blog,, Zugriff am 16.06.2016.
  • Mack, O. (2016): Management of Change Programs, in: Lock, D., Wagner, R. (Eds.) Gower Handbook of Program Management, Routledge: London.
  • Mack, O., Khare, A., et al., (eds.) (2015): Managing in a VUCA World, Springer: New York.
  • Snowden, D. J., & Boone, M. E. (2007): A leader’s framework for decision making. harvard business review, 85(11), 68.

About the Author:

Oliver Mack
Dr. Oliver Mack ist Berater, Speaker, Entrepreneur und Forscher im Bereich moderner innovativer Managementmethoden und -konzepte. Er beschäftigt sich vorrangig mit Themen wie Projektorientiertes Unternehmen, Organisationsdesign, Change-Management und Komplexität. Er ist Dozent an verschiedenen internationalen Hochschulen und Autor zahlreicher Fachartikel und Gründer des xm:institutes.

Leave A Comment

Jetzt neu: das erste xm:labs Programm für 2017


Jetzt informieren!

NEU: xm:labs 2017
Newsletter abonnieren