The End of Project Management as We Know It

“How many project managers would it take to build a Pyramid? – None: we are all going Agile now.”

Did you hear this one before? Neither did I, as I just made it up.

And that’s not a joke. Today everybody is talking Agile, Scrum, or Lean at the very least, and quite a few business “leaders” are happy to emphasize that there’s no project management role in the modern fast-paced environment. Come to think of it, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built well before the first PMP was certified – but this Wonder of the World is still there.

True, the humankind managed to survive for quite some time before the Project Management as we know it came into being about half a century ago. To a great extent the new methodology owed its rapid adoption to the explosive growth of the space program and IT industry; then the formation of PMI (Project Management Institute) turned this methodology into a lucrative business.

Over the years, the number of certified PM professionals has grown exponentially, reaching 700,000 PMI-certified and well over 1 million PRINCE2-certified practitioners globally; but by now, arguably, we have passed the highpoint. Today, the PMBOK in its 5th reincarnation is expanding its footprint in overseas markets, giving questionable facelifts to the original PMI methodology (new certification titles, new processes and knowledge areas) – and is still selling, like Ford Taurus with a new trim.  One of the telltale signs that this product is moving into the “cash cow” stage is the lack of clear statistics since 2012, as most probably the growth started slowing down.

The onslaught of Agile has nothing to do with it. On the contrary, the rise of Agile methodologies was brought about by changes in business environment: (a) growing number of IT and software development projects that are being implemented by small co-located teams, and (b) higher educational level of the workforce (especially in the IT industry).

Those changes call for an adjustment in the project manager’s role. Instead of the old “command and control” functions, the PM now will have 3 main responsibilities: coordinate, support and motivate the team. The team will figure out and do the rest.

While some Agile champions will insist that these are Scrum Master’s responsibilities, and that is a totally different role, I am convinced that this is what is expected from Project Manager 2.0: a combination of project management and coaching. This will be a challenge for larger teams as it requires a considerable cultural shift.

Already there are companies well positioned to make this shift – or to implement the change in their client organizations. Working with clients who were really keen on their performance, I often had two job titles used interchangeably – project manager and performance coach. This is not a coincidence: coaching is the heart of successful performance improvement methodology, and our Project Excellence model includes one-on-one and team coaching sessions.

Still, this is only the beginning of the journey. In order to get going, we need to make yet another qualitative step towards PM 2.0. While front-loaded planning remains critical to the project success, the nature of the “load” will change: instead of the detailed planning and preparation, the PM focus will shift further to the left – to the team building and project communication network development. I.e. the primary responsibility of the PM will be bringing together a true team of individuals, based on their inherent cultural fit, or values congruence.

This new requirement may come as a surprise; likewise in the early days of project management, expecting the PM to be computer savvy would sound challenging; but not any longer. Commoditization of skills that just a few years ago were considered “advanced” is inevitable and welcome. Project management as we know it will fade out as a separate entity, while coaching and team cohesion will come to the forefront as critical success factors for any business venture.