The past year has brought about massive changes in the way people work. Before the pandemic, according to a recent Pew Research study, about 20% of employed adults worked from home. Today that number is 71%, and 54% of them want to continue doing so. The pandemic has accelerated what is starting to look like a massive transfer of knowledge workers from offices to distributed and remote work environments. Every knowledge worker – 1.25 billion worldwide – has been affected by this.
This is a massive change that has forced project managers to scramble to find new strategies to keep projects on the job and workers healthy and productive amid the stress and chaos of this huge change. . And not just the project managers. Everyone struggles to keep work on track. According to a study by Asana, we spend 60% of our time coordinating work, rather than the strategic and skilled tasks we were hired to do.
As we look forward to business expansion and economic recovery, what must we do to manage this new order of global workflow? What are the new rules of project management, and what new skills do project managers need to thrive?
I’ve spoken to project managers, project management tool makers, and other experts to gain insight into the rapidly evolving future of project management.
1. Clarity is elusive – and expensive
One thing has become evident over the past year: collaborating without physical proximity means clarity is harder to achieve. Asana’s Anatomy of Work study found that one in four deadlines are missed each week due to lack of clarity.
“When we were sharing oxygen, it was easy to get everyone on the same page by going into someone’s booth and having a chat,” says Alex Hood, Product Manager at Asana.
The rapid shift to working from home moved everyone to isolated workspaces, connected only through the internet – a dangerous situation in which any team member could quickly become an information silo. At the onset of the pandemic, Zoom meetings provided solutions to replace in-person meetings and quick cabin chats, but a year later it’s clear that we need better tools to clarify who does what, when and what the big picture looks like.
The Asana study found that informal discussions in the office to get people up to speed quickly were being replaced by unnecessary video meetings at enormous cost. Meetings interrupt focused work and take time. They have cost 157 hours of individual productivity over the past year and have led people to work an average of two hours late per day. Project managers and CIOs scramble to implement new tools and methods that bring clarity without paying such a high price. And companies are ready to invest in it, according to an IDC report.
2. Your “source of truth” has never been more important
There is a wide range of methodologies for project management, and while each has its specific advantages, the key is to choose one and engage everyone in it.
“I spoke to a team in Dubai, a team in UK, a team in Mississippi. They all said, in their own language, ‘We need a single source of truth,’ ”says Matt Burns, leader of the startup ecosystem at monday.com.
This source of truth can be a central project management tool that provides a framework for managing work, or it can be a project manager in a leadership role or a work philosophy.
“The old rule could have been, ‘Do it, whatever it takes,’” says Burns. “The new rule is, ‘Let’s agree on how we look at this and put it in a framework. “
Burns compares the situation in many companies to “a country where all the different city-states operate in completely different ways.” People don’t know each other or what they’re doing, ”he says. “Whether it’s a tool, a methodology or whatever, you will never make everyone happy. Pick one and make it work. It’s like investing: pick a strategy, commit, and you’ll win a lot more often.
3. Synchronous communication is a scarce resource
One thing we’ve learned from the past year – often the hard way, in terms of missed deadlines and lost productivity – is that in the New World Order, synchronous communication is a precious commodity.
In the new world, you can’t rely on people to be at their desks at the same time. You cannot rely on them in the same time zone. Some may work late at night, others early in the morning. There may be child care schedules or farm chores to consider.
It all adds up to a brutal fact about teamwork: Getting everyone together for a meeting is expensive. This is sure to upset someone, add to already epidemic levels of exhaustion, and save time after already busy working days.
“The cost of synchronous communication skyrocketed when everyone was working from home,” says Hood of Asana. “And it will continue to be high as we move to a hybrid work environment.”
Project managers need to embrace asynchronous tools that not only help with clarity, but also better facilitate asynchronous communication.
4. Your work plan needs to be debugged
Creating a complex work plan takes a lot of work. One mistake, in the midst of hundreds of planning lines, could easily derail all or part of a project and cost a fortune. What about the chance that someone notices this error before a deadline has passed or something goes off the rails altogether? Infinisimal.
Why? Because no one ever debugs the workbench.
“It is not mathematically possible for a human being to handle the complexity of a large-scale project without making critical mistakes,” says Mike Psenka, CEO of Moovila. “Our research shows that over 98% of project plans, made by experienced, high-level project managers, have critical flaws. This has always been true because project plans are never debugged.
Once a plan is developed, even though it is complex, expensive, and involves a large number of moving parts, contributors, milestones, and deliverables, it is followed with the assumption that it is flawless.
“Every software programmer in the world debugs their code,” says Psenka. “They would say to you, ‘I’d be producing trash if I didn’t.’ Yet large project plans, with thousands of tasks, are confident that everyone has done perfectly the first time.
5. Everyone is a project manager now
“There is a tendency for non-project managers to take ownership of the project management and run the show,” says Kausikram Krishnasayee, director of project management at Kissflow. “They come from diverse backgrounds and end up managing small, niche or internal projects. They are either oblivious to the old rules of project management or rebel against them. They basically run the show based on touch and feel. “
In the past, project managers used factors such as budget, resources, and rough estimates to determine the duration of a task. This new set of tactile managers builds on experience, familiarity with the people doing the work, and knowledge of the mental burden that each task takes to determine times and deadlines. And it turns out that these may be better measures.
“Once you start to understand people and see them as humans rather than resources – and you try to find ways to work around issues and uncertainties on a case-by-case basis – things work better than the old ways. project management, ”says Krishnasayee.
6. The project manager has become “the negotiator”
As projects become more complex and companies focus more on building sustainable growth in a new climate, the onus falls on the project manager to become not only a designer of plans, but a negotiator capable of bringing changes. competing factions, hybrid work teams, distant contributors. , and engaged stakeholders together to move the plan forward.
“The role of the project manager is evolving and negotiation skills have become increasingly important. You have to be Switzerland for the project, a champion of labor foremost, ”says Jill Lyons, executive vice president of delivery at Hawkeye.
In the old paradigm of work, the project manager made plans, encouraged people, checked everyone was on the right track, and held meetings to keep everyone informed. But you can no longer rely on the physical presence to create synergy, there are more moving parts and these parts do not always speak to each other. “You have teams that are customer oriented, you have teams that are internally oriented, and you have project managers who are technical or aligned by channel or deliverable,” Lyons explains. “Where is the intersection of all this? “
The project manager often becomes this intersection.
“It’s now a more focused approach,” Lyons says. “I’m going to bring these three people together and we’re going to bitch about this part of the project. So even when you don’t have that 20-person meeting, the project manager makes sure that those 20 people have one source of truth.
7. Emotional intelligence is essential in project management
When people work in isolation, their family life interrupts them and they log long and unusual hours. For this reason, project managers increasingly need to enter uncharted territory to get projects back on track.
“I think one of the most important skills project managers need now is emotional intelligence,” says Janetta Ekholm, Head of Work Methods at Futurice. “When we understand ourselves as human beings and know where our emotions come from, we understand the same for others. “
Not all team members thrive in this new distributed workforce. Young workers and parents, in particular, are struggling, according to Pew Research. And millions of women have left the labor market because they could not reconcile work and children.
“The project manager must constantly enable and strengthen the psychological safety of the team,” explains Ekholm. “They need to create a safety net that allows people to feel comfortable sharing different ideas and points of view without fear. “
More and more, this means that the project manager acts like a kind of therapist, identifying what looks like stress, reaching out and helping team members to overcome it, to set priorities, to understand that what is going on is good for the team and helping to find resources or a suitable schedule so that they feel safe at work and able to come to work.
“As we co-create in more and more projects,” says Ekholm. “The leader can have a big impact using these facilitation skills. “