The pandemic has brought a tremendous amount of change to all of our lives. Adjustments to home life, work life, and the new remote-based Way of Working (WoW) have influenced some new modifications and trends in how we have had to adjust our roles and responsibilities. When it comes to project management, a sea change is affecting how the modern-day project manager will have to acclimate — and this change is not temporary.  

The five major areas of impact and opportunity that have gained new traction for modern-day project managers are collaboration, hybrid project delivery, digital transformation, AI, and risk management.

1. Collaboration

For the modern-day project manager, the most ubiquitous and immediate area impacted by the pandemic was brought about by the necessity to work remotely. Switching to a remote work model overnight bred a new dependency on myriad modes and ways of communicating. Meaning, project managers suddenly had to become selective when searching for the best collaborative work management platforms and messaging solutions to accommodate an asynchronous layer to their communications with teams and clients. The eventual ask with this new directive became: Are we collaborating to the right efficacy with our peers and not just focusing on the frequency? An increased qualitative level of collaboration helps improve organizational agility and accelerates digital transformation, so quality definitely trumps quantity in this respect. And, while business and technical skills are key to organizational agility and digital transformation, it is imperative that project managers also encourage a culture of Collaborative Intelligence, a term re-coined and re-defined by author David Coleman in 2011 as having the soft skills to be open about exactly what, how, and when to share with others.

2. Hybrid project delivery

According to a recent survey conducted by PMI, Hybrid, as the project delivery framework, is having a “moment” among modern-day project managers. As it is the most risk averse, a hybrid project delivery framework allows organizations to incorporate and cherry-pick aspects of Agile, waterfall, Kanban, and/or other frameworks at their culture’s comfort level. As we all know, a boil-the-ocean adoption path to a single framework can sometimes be too much of a business disruptor, regardless of the size of the organization. Andrew Filev, founder of Wrike, recently observed that Agile is not the magic bullet for everyone. Certain teams, Filev observed, can successfully implement Agile, while it is challenging for others and collaboration across those teams can put a burden on organizational agility.

In another article by Filev, “Wrike Research Uncovers the Technology That Will Power Hybrid Work,” a survey reported therein lists that the top three collaborative work features that IT leaders want to improve are executing companywide objectives, enabling Agile planning and execution, and streamlining internal requests and approvals. As champions of change and servant leaders, project managers need to focus on these areas, as well as shoring up certifications (such as those offered by the PMI), to stay current on the array of frameworks, as well as those that are continually getting added to the mix.

3. Digital transformation

As a project success metric, digital transformation has been faltering, rather than ascending, according to a recent PMI study. The PMI survey states that although 80% of companies have undergone some form of digital transformation, only 25% of those projects were able to meet their original goals successfully. This issue stems from not being able to connect strategy with execution, another area of opportunity for project managers to take the lead, especially with the aid of the right solution. As transformation also connotes innovation (i.e., trying new strategies) if the strategy is wrong from the outset, the end result will be costly and possibly disastrous to companies.

Rob Llewellyn, an industry leader in the transformational space, observed in 2019 that companies with a high level of maturity reflect those with very bold cultures — the exception being companies that have been around for many years and have more cultural paths to resistance. As digital transformation requires a new WoW for companies, this is another opportunity for modern-day project managers to take the strategic reins and lead the charge with a mix of leadership, business, and technical skills in their organizations.

4. AI

Another area of impact to the modern-day project manager is artificial intelligence. As AI and its reach are a very “now” topic, it is also a key determinant in the future of the project management field. An article from PricewaterhouseCoopers, titled “A Virtual Partnership? How Artificial Intelligence will disrupt Project Management and Change the Role of Project Managers,” features some eye-opening statistics. Among them, by 2030, 80% of the work performed by today's project managers will be done by AI assuming traditional project management functions, such as data collection, tracking, reporting, and other administrative work. In response, the call is, once again, for project managers to step up their soft skills and leadership abilities.

5. Risk management

And what about adjusting to volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)? A recent statistic published by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) states that an astounding $9.6B worth of infrastructure projects were delayed or canceled during the pandemic. As the pandemic was an unforeseen and unknown risk, it, of course, was exempt from inclusion in the risk registers of project managers in 2019, but unforeseen risks are part and parcel of this VUCA world. This new VUCA climate is one we are still figuring out how to navigate, and all eyes will be on modern-day project managers as they re-map their future risk-planning scenarios and reflect on lessons learned.  

The ability of today’s project manager to pivot to the role of leader and strategic partner cannot be underscored enough. In fact, organizations that undervalue project managers as a strategic competency for driving change report an average of 67% more of their projects failing, according to PMI (2020). Ahead of the Curve: Forging a Future-Focused Culture. Pulse of the Profession. The demand is now, so it is time for modern-day project managers to figure out the “how.”