The 6 Project Portfolio Management Trends That Went Mainstream in the 2010’s: Part Two
The second of our two-part series of PPM trends that still shape project management today: Trends 4 to 6!

In this series, we're taking a look back at six PPM trends that emerged in the 2010’s, that have since become adopted as de facto project management best practices. Take look back at trends 1 to 3 here.

Pushing forwards, here are the final three...

4. Productization

While the 90’s may have been the decade where projects had their time in the spotlight, it wasn’t until the 2010’s that products finally got their time to shine. In fact, during this time, many organizations shifted away from project visions (defined by clear scopes, resource needs, and predetermined beginning and end points for reaching a desired outcome) to product visions (creating objects or services that seek to solve specific consumer problems over time).

This shift towards a product focus makes immediate sense for the creation of physical goods, like cars, computers, and commercial airplanes, but may seem a bit more abstract when it comes to services, like software and SaaS platforms, even though both apply product vision thinking as a way to create consistent and standardized solutions that solve business problems. This applies where the products being created are targeted for external or internal audiences as, for example, solutions developed by an organization’s IT team can be deployed to serve the needs of employees (in other words, their customers).

That being said, project management shouldn’t be confused with product management. Although there are similarities between the two, product management differs in these ways:

● Product management approaches business needs holistically, while projects identify specific solutions for addressing business needs;

● Product management embraces a longer-term view of the ever-evolving trajectory of customer needs; and

● Product management exists solely to solve a customer problem at all costs, whereas projects are limited by the constraints set at a project’s onset.

Coincidentally, the tools used in both product and project management are quite similar—roadmaps, P&L’s, and kanban boards, for example—but how those tools are used and how information is captured along the way can differ significantly. In many ways, leaning on a product vision—or productization—has given rise to a paradigm shift for many organizations, one that can entirely change how you perceive your business and its operations at the macro-level, regardless of the tools you use to create products or complete projects.

5. Distributed and remote teams

It’s no secret that remote work has become a growing trend over the last few years. (The current situation around the world has underscored this even further.)

However, in the early 2010’s, when there were shortages around specialized skills within the tech industry specifically, businesses had no choice but to consider a new reality: that teams would not necessarily all co-exist in the same location, thereby making the concept of distributed or remote teams a new norm for many organizations. This inspired companies to start thinking about what other job functions could operate remotely as well, which, in turn, created a domino effect whereby distributed or remote work quickly became a “new normal.”

In From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams Collaborate to Deliver, authors Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby define distributed teams in this way:

“The optimal distance for communication frequency is less than eight meters. Once team members are separated by 30 meters—and this includes separation by stairs or elevators—their chance of off-the-cuff communication declines dramatically.”

It goes without saying that working in teams is not always easy. Communication between team members can oftentimes become quite complicated and charged. Adding distance to the equation, whether team members sit in different office locations or whether they live in different time zones, can render those team dynamics even more complex. And even though technology has come a long way to ensure that people can stay connected via email, telephone, video conference, and chat throughout the day, these limit teams from recognizing nuances in body language and tone, therefore leading to all kinds of misunderstandings. (Not to mention, let’s forget about those serendipitous friendly encounters around the “water cooler.”)

Not to throw salt on the wound, but this becomes even more difficult in Agile team structures as close collaboration and interaction is at the very heart of the creation process. However, even in these structures, thanks to the advent of advanced communications technologies that have proven to fuel collaboration, the notion of remote work has quickly become a commonplace way in which the world now works.

6. SaaS platforms

Up until the early 2010’s, PPM tools and solutions were “on-premise” only: in other words, an organization would buy software which it would then host on its own IT infrastructure.

SaaS platforms have changed this entirely, creating a new “buy and host” model where organizations purchase software licences hosted remotely by tech companies This is what we all know today as the “cloud.” There are many benefits to this approach:

  • Budget management: Many SaaS-based platforms operate on subscription models, which means organizations do not have to pay a full software license upfront but rather based on usage. If people aren’t using the tools provided, it’s as easy as revoking a license to cut unnecessary costs.
  • Low infrastructure costs: Because these tools are hosted by the vendor, organizations no longer have to invest in high infrastructure cost - overhead, implementation, and maintenance - to get them in the hands of employees. SaaS platforms, by definition, are “all in,” meaning they have few hidden costs and are not a burden on resources.
  • Non-stop innovation: As opposed to single software installations that slowly become obsolete over time, SaaS-based tools are constantly updated over time - no additional installation necessary. This means that teams will always have access to the latest versions of purchased products and services, as part of the subscription fee.

Because these solutions tend to veer towards out-of-the-box implementation, with potentially very little customization required—which also avoids “breaks” during product upgrades as well as the need for costly re-developments—a greater focus on user experience and functionality has become the priority. After all, who wants to use a product with a poor user experience?
Tech companies know this and are acutely aware that revenue growth is directly tied to long-term adoption of their SaaS-based products. This, in turn, provides tremendous value to organizations because better products will be used much more than other products, SaaS-based or otherwise, that employees loathe.

In many ways, this has also shifted IT project management offices (PMO) away from managing software and towards managing an ecosystem of suppliers. 

So, there you have it: six PPM trends that emerged in the 2010’s and have continued to shape and evolve the very nature of how organizations approach project portfolio management today. Ask yourself: do you use any of these techniques within your organization? If so, how have they worked and how could they improve?