Communication Playground

The future of project management

I have just finished reading an interesting book called “The end of project management” which was written by Ronald Hanisch. The author’s core message is that project management as we have known it roughly for the last 50 years is dead. The digital revolution has had a big impact not only on technology and work but on our whole lives’. Ronald Hanisch focuses in his book on the Generation Y and their expectations for their work, their employers and their managers.

  • The Generation Y is much more flexible then the generations before when it comes to loyalty to their employer. Top priority is no longer loyalty to one employer to keep the job for a long time, but the fulfilment of their individual values and goals. The generation Y aim to have goals they can identify with. If the current employer doesn’t fulfill the needs they’ll change.
  • Members of the Generation Y no longer want to be just recipients of orders. They want to have the right to co-determinate their workplace and build an environment of trust, friendship and openness. Leaders need to have professional and personal authority to be accepted from the Generation Y. Furthermore, this young people expect to be lead via goals and honest feedback.
  • Information is no longer a source of power, but voluntary shared to improve collaboration with their colleagues. Despite their willingness to share information, loss of knowledge is a big issue because people are changing their workplace more often. And even though there are a lot of new tools in place to manage and document information you can never capture the complete knowledge of a person.
  • Teams working together might not necessary be in one place and can be distributed and virtual. Nevertheless, the teams try to reduce interfaces which might increase complexity in the work by working closely together. Where the team members’ work varies – it might be the office, but also the coffee shop or their own apartments.
  • Teams have dedicated roles to clarify responsibilities but the separation between the roles has been softened. Responsibilities may be overlapping and are not just linked to roles but also to the requirement of the situation. The ultimate goal is to get things done as a team.

Amongst others for all those reasons listed above project management as we have known it is “dead”. The title of the book is in my opinion a bit polarizing, but the core message is true. It is no longer possible to manage successful projects with the traditional bureaucratic and linear approaches and concepts. We live in a fast-paced environment with tons of information to grasp and nearly endless communication channels delivering information in real time. Changes are happening much quicker and more often. Sticking to traditional project management approaches without taking into account the new requirements will not lead to successful projects. But throwing everything over board won’t help either. Managing projects by chaos doesn’t work; they need to have a structure.

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I personally like to think that project management is setting the framework to work within. The framework defines the core rules for the team, sets the parameters which are important for the project and determines the boundaries. Considering the popularity of agile frameworks to software development as Scrum or Kanban supports my approach.

The project plan as classic tool is a good example to explain it. In the traditional project management approaches it seems at least to me more important to have the right plans, than to plan in the right way. The approaches tell you to have several plans like a project structure plan, a Gantt chart or a milestone plan. But not how to handle changes.

Establishing a first plan is important to define the path for the start of the project. The plan will then serve as guideline to navigate through the project and acts as reference point so you won’t get lost. But you need to reflect on a regular basis if it’s still suitable. Holding on to the plan without changing won’t work in todays’ dynamic environment. You are planning to replan. Parameters change very often. Moreover, you acquire more information on every single day during the project. This information enables you to revise your decision which were based in the beginning just on high-level assumptions.

Another good example are roles. Responsibilities need to be defined in order to set the basic structure for your team and get things done. But you should also be flexible enough to adjust the roles to the capabilities of your team members. Especially when you are working with the Generation Y. How can you otherwise address their personal goals and support their identification with the project?

Beside shifting the thinking on how project management should look like nowadays we need to change the terminology project leadership. In my understanding management focus on processes and organization, while leadership puts the people first. And that’s exactly what you need to do when you work with the Generation Y. Focus on the people, their needs and goals and make them priority number one. You need to be a leader to your team and support them with the right project management framework. And not manage your team by forcing them to work in predefined project management processes.

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