What will the Project Management of tomorrow look like?

This webinar with Ex-chairman of the PMI, Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez gives us a glimpse towards future trends.

Project Management has always been a shifting and changing discipline. Take a look at our series on the trends of the last decade to understand just some of the changes that have shaped and transformed the profession over the course of the 2010’s.

But what about looking ahead to the future decade? Planisware spoke with Ex-chairman of the Project Management Institute (PMI), Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, to get the lowdown on his view of project management trends for the coming years.


According to research, the number of individuals working in project-based roles will increase from 66 million (in 2017) to 88 million (forecast 2027).

-A. Nieto-Rodriguez

In our short joint webinar titled The Project Revolution, he details his predictions about the changing world of work, as well as giving some powerful insights about project-based roles. These predictions, (similarly stated by professional services company Accenture¹), lead on to talking about the perception of project management as a discipline.


My prediction is that by 2025, regardless of the industry or sector, senior leaders and managers will spend at least 60% of their time selecting, prioritizing and driving the execution of projects. We will all become project leaders.

-A. Nieto-Rodriguez

View the full 20-minute webinar to understand the best way for any organisation or project management professional to adapt and thrive.


WEBINAR TRANSCRIPT – Redacted and edited for readability

First, starting with a little research. I wanted to know which topics matter most for senior leaders. The research I used was based on Google Analytics.

In this chart, you can see that these are the keywords most often used in businesses. What you see is 'innovation', 'agile', 'project management', 'strategy', 'finance', 'sales' and 'IT' and 'operations'.

The first one is 'strategy' - which makes sense; strategy is a very important topic for every organization. The second and the third are 'operations' and 'sales'. Then you see 'finance'. Towards the end, we have one of the shocking realizations that 'project management' is at the bottom, and not only that, there's a big gap between that, and strategy, operations and sales. Actually, by going a bit further into the research, there was one word that business' leaders used more than 'strategy', 'sales' and 'operations'. That word is 'projects'.

Everybody talks about projects, even if they're not project managers. You can see a steady increase in the amount of projects that organizations are carrying out. And that's what I call the gap. The gap is actually where we do have project management being done, but it's not highly regarded. I have some further explanation on that gap but I'm not going to cover that now, but one of the challenges of project management tends to be that it is complex to apply the tools and techniques. So there's a big gap now, but it is closing and it's going to close faster than we think.

Imagine an organization, one that has been there for many years. There's two types of working functions [within it]. One is about running the business, operations, and day-to-day activities; that's the blue part. And then you have the other part, the change part. This is about projects, initiatives, innovation and important changes to the business. If you go 100 years back, there were not many projects - most of the resources in an organization were solely focused on daily operations, running, working in the plant, producing, selling, financing, and so on. So very few people were working in projects.

But there has been a trend these past 100 years where management experts have been coming with ideas to optimize the blue side. The blue side is all about how we can work faster, cheaper, with less resources, more automation. Every year there's more resources and more people working in projects because we're getting so efficient and so lean in operations that the workforce shifts the type of work they do. You can probably relate to this: you come across many people who are in the blue side; they have a job in marketing or finance and operations but they're also busy with projects at the same time.

This is a trend which creates quite some conflict and tensions because the way you're organized to run the business is shown here with this hierarchical structure: by departments, business units and functions. Resources, budgets, and decision-making are allocated to these boxes. If you want to run your business efficiently, this a great model, nothing against that. But it is conflicting when you look at change initiatives where you need to work much more transversally.

So there's nothing new about that but it does create a lot of tension between short term and long term goals. And where do we put the resources? Where do we focus the attention? Is it in the short term, or the long term? This pulls the organization apart. 

The implications of this revolution are that there's an increase in the silo mentality: people try to protect themselves much more than in the past, and there are cases where the focus is not in the big picture of the company, but often in short term departmental goals and targets.

So why do we have so many change projects at the moment and where do we want to go? People are questioning this. Huge companies try to develop too many ideas and projects, and so you spread too thin. I often come across organizations and companies which have more projects than employees. Imagine - a company with 600 employees, they have 800 projects, how is that possible? How can you manage that? You still need to do you day-to-day activities but how can you control that?

Resource planning has become very complex. It was easy when we were just covering the business part - the blue side. Or you could just focus on change, like consulting firms. But the challenge on resource planning is when you're trying to cover both. Very, very, difficult topic here.
Another issue is lack of engagement; when there's too much change, and people see that there's tension between priorities and departments, it creates not a very healthy environment and people tend to [get] fed up. They call it 'change fatigue'.

Once artificial intelligence and robots become mainstream in companies, over the years this will also accelerate. Robots and artificial intelligence will play a big role in taking over the blue part. Not just that, they would also be impacting the red part –change - but the primary focus of this is efficiencies and cost reduction in the blue part. This trend is coming very fast; there's going to be an even stronger shift between the day-to-day type of work, and the project-based work. For me this is the future, the future of work is project-based.

And this is not just me saying this; recently Accenture did a study about the future of work and 79% of the executives agreed that the workforce of the future will be structured more by projects than by job functions. To the point that some organizations are considering cancelling all the job functions and job descriptions.

Just imagine the disruption that this means for an organization which has been using job descriptions for the past 50-60 years. People will be working on a project, and after the project is over, in nine months, they will have another role in another project. This is creating a lot of anxiety, especially on the more mature employees. For the younger generations, or project-based consultants, this is nothing new but for a large majority of employees this is a huge shock.

The other interesting point I wanted to highlight is the disruption of artificial intelligence and robots that will affect project management too. We tend to think, "no, project management will continue [the same way] and we're going to be even more important". Because of these trends and changes, yes, we're going to be more important, but the way we do project management will have to change as well.

According to Gartner, about 80% of today's project management tasks will eliminated by 2030. I strongly believe that this will happen. I think we need to wake up as well. There was a big evolution when agile came into the picture at beginning of 2000. I think agile and project management are perfectly compatible, but looking at projects today [it] has to be done in a different way which means different frameworks and different tools and skills.

I always urge project managers to think about how to evolve. The project life cycle that we've seen will change. We need to simplify project management tools and techniques, agile has done that, I think projects have to do that too. The way we measure projects tends to be very inward focused. If you're not familiar with projects, we talk about the triple constraint: time, cost and budget. People want to hear more about the benefits and the value that we create, and we're not used to talking about that. So there will be a shift to more externally focused measures, value, benefits, impact, sustainability, purpose, for engaging people as well. I think business cases will evolve with a strong focus on the purpose of the projects. What engages people to work and dedicate time and effort to a project is a strong purpose. We talk a lot about silos in an organization's departments. We do have a silo in project management too, the PMOs, the PMs, they do make a silo by itself - we need to break that too and work more transversally.

The last thing - this is the traditional project life cycle, where the focus of project management starts: just after ideation with the initiation timing and planning. We play on that white space. We don't care so much about what happens after the project and we don't really pay too much attention to the benefits - we believe this is somebody else's task or problem, so we just focus on delivering. I think that this will change, and is changing. If you look at the work of a project manager, this heavily works on reporting. Some statistics says about 30% of the time of project manager is on reporting, imagine! And maybe 10-20% on chasing and getting information.

I think that white part, the traditional project life cycle, will shrink and will be heavily done by artificial intelligence, so we need to expand those project managers to play stronger role in the ideation project and project management.
A great example [of ideation] is the iPhone. The first iPhone idea was presented to Jobs and the executives in 2001. At that time Steve Jobs said, "No this is not the right time for a new project, we're busy with iTunes, we're busy with the iPod so we are not launching a project on the phone now. " It wasn’t until November 2004 that they set up the project. So [there was] about four years on the ideation stage and the smartphone was built in two years and a half. They spent more time on ideation than the project itself.

The other side is the benefit. I think we need to look at benefits much easier, quicker and right from the beginning of the project. I came across a [building project] - a statement on the works of the hospital. They were saying construction is starting 2016, completion of the hospital 2020, so four years, but with inauguration of the hospital, end of 2018, two years before the hospital is completed. They were starting to use part of the hospital, to operate and deliver babies, while the other part was still in progress. You'll see that more and more in projects. Of course, concepts that you see in agile but I think, for projects, it will play a role on a bigger scale.

Finally, what are the consequences for project managers? You can see this already in China. This is not something really new, but I think this is how it's going to work in Western world. And examples like Alibaba, Huawei, Haier, they're using this. A project manager, traditionally, (back to the project life cycle), will take the project on board to run the initiation and then finish in the hand over. What happens in Alibaba and these companies is that the project manager wouldn't be part of the idea, often will come with the idea. The project manager will receive a budget and a fully dedicated team to work on the project, develop an app, for example, a new business around an application. And the same project manager will be in charge of running the app and making sure there's benefit and it's solid and there's a profit and loss account.

So what you see is the extreme end-to-end expansion of this life cycle that will be also required by project managers. I think the project manager of the future who will succeed in the project economy needs to develop competencies around ideation, design thinking, lean start up, but also running which is about profit, loss, benefits, running an organization. It’s a challenge because it means that we need to do things differently, but there's an opportunity for all of us because there is going to be more projects and more need for end-to-end project managers.



¹ Humanizing work through digital by Colin Sloman and Robert J. Thomas