Emerging Trends for Project Management in Post COVID-19 Era in 2021 - PM 360 Consulting
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Emerging Trends for Project Management in Post COVID-19 Era in 2021

Emerging Trends for Project Management in Post COVID-19 Era in 2021

The Great Disruptor – the year that 2020 is!

While 2020 was the most volatile year in this 21st century by all aspects, it would be a mistake to think that it’s going to be buttery smooth this year. In fact, the rate of disruption will potentially accelerate as the implications from 2020 play out for the next several years as we move into 2021 and beyond. While the world is still recovering from massive shutdowns experienced in most of 2020, project management landscape has forever changed during that time.

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, ‘Change is the only constant.’ is especially true for Project Management as projects are unique in nature by definition. Constant changes are a norm rather than an exception in project environment. Projects are susceptible to many internal and external factors which induce change. These factors are specific to any particular project or group of projects and can be considered localized in nature at most times. However, year 2020 had been so unusual due to extended global lockdowns in most of the world, that it massively triggered many changes globally in how projects were managed in most of the organizations. Many of these changes are going to stay in 2021 and beyond, as organizations have realized the benefits of these changes imposed due to necessity. Some of these major trends are listed herewith for the benefit of all even remotely touched by project environment.

1. Virtual Teams

One of the most visible changes in Project Management in 2020 is the rise of Virtual Teams, necessitated by lockdowns the world over. While the prevalence of remote work was already on the climb earlier, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced an unprecedented shift due to restrictions imposed by lockdown. It forced many collocated organizations to make the jump to remote working and online project management. Since then, most companies have seen an overall increase in productivity and decrease in office overhead due to this approach.

A Project Manager can take some initiatives to smoothen the path of virtual teams.

Use a centralized virtual workspace or online project management tool for collaboration and communication.

Use this workspace for planning and assigning tasks, sharing relevant digital assets, and engaging in real-time communication with virtual teams.

2. Hybrid Approaches for Project Management

In the not-so-distant past, Project Managers—and even entire organizations—typically pursued all projects according to a single project management methodology. While the specific methodology embraced may have varied among Project Managers or organizations, a reliance on a single framework was generally the norm.

However, it can be agreed that not all projects are made equal and not all teams can stick to one specific methodology. In recent years, Project Managers, and the organizations they work for have become increasingly adaptable in their approaches. It’s certainly something I’ve used as well which is, ongoing iterations for engineering and technical development with significant customer involvement in the deliverables at all stages, but managed within a waterfall governance structure and life cycle.

With renewed push for most efficient and reliable project management methodology to complete projects in post-COVID era, organizations nowadays are experimenting more boldly with combining two or more approaches i.e hybrid approaches that incorporate various elements from different approaches to find a unique approach which is best suited for their specific projects or industries. The increased adoption of alternative project management methodologies such as Kanban, Agile, Scrum, and Lean have contributed to this shift, along with changing corporate values that allow for increased flexibility.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Automation

For Project Managers today, it is common to be juggling multiple teams as well as multiple projects. Hence, it is important to manage time and efforts very prudently in order to do justice to all responsibilities. Technology that can help in this endeavor is important to save a Project Manager from being overwhelmed.

Project Managers spend a large amount of their time completing administrative tasks such as resource allocation, project balancing, and schedule and budget updates among others which are time-consuming but often trivial. However, any constantly repeatable, administrative task can be subjected to automation. Artificial intelligence is capable of easily handling such tasks and offers following advantages to Project Managers.

  • It gives more time to Project Managers to focus on the project at hand, to get down to more intensive and complicated issues.
  • It lets Project Managers to have more time to properly oversee and communicate with team which in turn allows for more efficient work and problem-solving.
  • It allows concentrating more on team members giving them a feeling of being supported and having a more comfortable work environment. As in 2020, more Project Managers are prioritizing the wellbeing of their team members.
  • It allows Project Managers to focus their efforts and energy on completing tasks that greatly benefit their organization, allowing them to effect greater change and increase the likelihood of achieving the strategic goals of each project.


4. Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Emotional Intelligence (otherwise known as Emotional Quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence is about self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, and various social skills.

5. Tighter Connection between Strategy and Execution

Strategy is an action plan for competing successfully and operating profitably. Traditionally, project management is an organizational tool used to work toward and achieve discrete goals, which might include launching of a single product or service or the pursuit of a particular outcome. In recent years, however, the role of project management in many organizations has begun to expand.Project management is now more than just a tool for carrying out discrete goals; the framework is also being applied to broader strategy and initiatives. It is through these projects and programs that any strategy becomes actionable. One of the big trends that we’re seeing right now is a focus on program and portfolio management, and how that is a mechanism for executing and managing the strategy in an organization. Hence, it is essential to understand the relationship between project, program, and portfolio management. Doing so will let us to see how individual projects relate to each other and to central strategic goals which can help us make smarter decisions for the organization moving forward.

Without good execution, even the most flawless strategy can fall apart when put into motion. This becomes especially true for online project management as it’s easy for confusion to arise between project manager and virtual teams without regular face-to-face communications. Tightening the connection between strategy and its execution will help reduce confusion and projects to run more smoothly from start to finish.

6. Flexible Work Hours

Traditionally ‘normal’ work hours are defined as from 9 to 6, 8 to 5 or in similar range. Many organizations follow it strictly, while many others offer a bit of flexibility for employees to arrive a bit late with a condition that, they still need to complete mandatory 9 hours a day. However, with the new dynamic of remote or virtual teams this concept of 9 to 6 is going away.

Instead of needing to be in office or online during predetermined hours, employees are required to focus on the assigned tasks and their due date.  As a Project Manager, one will need to remain flexible and adjust work hours to assist team members who are working during non-traditional times. Global teams were already moving in this direction, but current circumstances will only increase the flexibility needed in our schedules.

7. Rise of Cloud Storage & Cloud Applications

With the advent of ultra-highspeed internet compared to just few years ago, there is a significant rise in cloud storage and cloud-based applications. It seems there is a race to put almost everything in clouds nowadays! However, it is not necessarily a bad thing either. With cloud storage and cloud applications, companies do not need to worry about legacy systems that need patching, maintenance and about technology life cycle. No more worries about upgrading systems and costs associated with it as well. Cloud applications get updated ‘on the air’ by service provider without significant downtime. Hence, more and more companies are looking at moving to cloud applications.

Once a decision is made to move to the cloud, companies will need to make sure there are solid requirements for what is needed and what is nice to have. There is an ever-growing number of software applications on the market, so they need to pick the one that’s right for their business.

8. Diminishing Role of PMO

The role of PMO, at least in the traditional sense is getting diminished by the day during this rapidly changing environment of last few years. As per a study referenced in PMI, 50% of PMO’s fail within the first two years. They fail for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Policing of processes rigidly
  • No or diminishing executive buy-in
  • No flexibility or inability to adapt

As can be seen over the past years, businesses need to move fast and must be agile. They need to pivot at a moment’s notice when changes happen (such as changed circumstances due to COVID-19). PMO in traditional sense hinders this agility.

Instead, PMOs can support businesses by being close to the strategy makers, understanding what the strategic goals are, and helping create a prioritized portfolio that can be quickly executed on. Leadership should be made aware of the progress the PMO has made through tactical marketing by the PMO leader. he group can also adapt to changing conditions, both internal and external to the company more readily to stay relevant in current situation and in future.

9. More Focus on Data Analytics & Numbers

The smart and wise ones leverage the technological advancements to stay relevant in any business. Data analytics, if used in the right way has the power to produce a lot of business value. For Project Management, it is also significantly relevant as more data lends more accuracy to decision making. In the words of management guru Mr. Peter Drucket, “What gets measured, gets managed”!

Project management activities generate a lot of data if project is appropriately monitored and controlled. Project Managers are increasingly leveraging data insights to make informed decisions to handle projects in a better way, to make their projects a success and increase business growth. Whether it’s project planning, quality management, work measurement or risk estimation, use of big data analysis has already started reshaping the project management environment. Collected data is useful to learn how to form teams, size of the team,how to include and position team members, skill sets needed to manage projects better etc.

10. Increasing Role of Project Management in Change Management

Each year, an organization can go through hundreds of organizational changes. These can range from small adjustments to internal processes to total overhauls of a company’s products, services, supply chain, strategy, or structure.While this has always been true, restrictions imposed by COVID-19 has forced many organizations to embrace substantial change initiatives while also completing previously existing projects.

The role of the project manager has long been shifting away from someone who can tick off tasks as complete on a Gantt chart and towards a strategic leadership position for effecting change in an organization. Project Managers are now frequently trusted with not only their own projects, but the organization’s change initiatives as well. This trend is going to increase in upcoming years, as Project Managers are now being seen as harbingers of change in an organization willing to take tough measures for change.

If a Project Manager is caught up in a substantial organizational change being implemented by others, he or she can take steps that helps in better management of projects such as developing a change management plan as a part of overall project plan which outlines steps and protocols team can follow. Project Manager needs to become more flexible in their approach to project management as well, perhaps by adopting a hybrid project management methodology as discussed earlier.


2020 has been a monumental, a hell of a year for all of us. But now is the time to take stock of the situation and look ahead to the future. Trends we have seen will only accelerate in this new year and beyond. Paying attention to these trends is what’s going to help Project Managers lead with success.

We can do it! We are doing it! And the best Project Managers are improving how they do it every day!

Article written by Bhushan Shah 31st January 2021


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