The future of project management and leading organizations to become agile


This morning I gave the opening keynote at the Project Management Institute NZ Annual Conference on The Future of Project Management.

My keynote covered the fundamental trends shaping business, government, and projects, the changing nature of work and organizations, the new capabilities required by project leaders, and the nature of leadership for the future.

You can see the slides to my presentation here. Below is a summary of one of the core ideas I shared.

The shift to project leadership

The essence of the future of project management is the shift to true project leadership.

‘Management’ implies working in understood environments and achieving defined outcomes. While projects are at the center of all organizations, increasingly their outcomes cannot be clearly defined at the outset.

Leadership is required to find a path in uncertain and ambiguous situations, shifting to a higher level of discovery in a non-linear world rather than simply implementing linear plans.

Illustrating this shift, the PRINCE acronym on which the PRINCE2 project management certification is based stands for PRoject management IN Controlled Envrionments.

We well understand now that today almost no project managers work in controlled environments. And as a result project management has evolved substantially since that acronym was created in 1989.

Project managers leading organizations to agile

The Agile approach to project management was first formally described in 2001, well before the birth of the lean startup movement and widespread adoption of agile methodologies. The concepts were already well established in parts of the project management community.

The ideas of agile have disseminated well beyond project management since then, with large organizations now consistently aspiring to be ‘agile’.

Yet while project managers are adopting agile approaches, the organizations in which they are embedded are rarely keeping pace.

Recently in Harvard Business Review an article titled When Waterfall Principles Sneak Back Into Agile Workflows by lean startup apostle Steve Blank described some of the challenges of running agile projects under more traditional leadership and how to respond.

In fact project leaders can be the catalysts for organizations’ journey to become agile, demonstrating how to lead in ambiguous, undefined environments, and mentoring directors and top executives from their experience.

Project leadership is not just about leading projects to create the future in an uncertain world. It is also about leading organizations to becoming responsive, agile, and successful in a rapidly shifting business environment.