How Project Management's Ongoing Evolution Can Improve Your Business
Have you ever seen the rankings of careers based on various characteristics? Which profession is most ethical, most well-respected, highest-paying, etc. But what do you think of when you hear the term “Project Manager?”
In my experience, the response depends almost entirely upon Project Managers with whom you’ve worked in the past. And while the individual Project Manager certainly impacts your experience, their training and processes also play a prominent role. So whether you’ve had good or bad experiences with Project Managers, your future forays into project management should take on some new characteristics to positively impact your business.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because the Project Management Institute recently released the seventh edition of “The Standard for Project Management” and “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (aka the “PMBOK”).
Both resources include several significant changes from the sixth edition (released four years ago). And just in case you haven’t read all 370 pages yet, I’m going to summarize the key changes and how I think they might change what you think when you hear “Project Manager”—for the better!
These two documents provide the foundational concepts for the project management profession. Whether you manage projects yourself, lead others who manage projects, or work on project teams, the sections below will walk you through the most impactful changes and demonstrate how you can capture additional value for your organization with emerging project management practices. Each section includes a “How to Apply” subsection to help you take action today, plus links to our free resources to accelerate your value delivery further.
Prescriptive to Tailored
This is a case where the seventh edition took a concept from the sixth edition and really expanded upon it. In the sixth edition, each Knowledge Area (Scope, Risk, Integration, etc.) had a brief section on tailoring considerations (adapting to the unique organizational and project environment)—but still within the context of a fairly predictive approach. However, in the seventh edition tailoring is called out as one of the 12 principles of project management, plus it devotes an entire chapter to it.
Why? I think it’s a realization that many organizations are attempting to apply the project management principles but not necessarily following a prescriptive process. Product development cycles are becoming shorter due to technology and market forces; startups are taking on larger businesses with a fraction of the resources; teams are becoming less and less centralized—all of these factors lead to a less formal approach to project management.
And this is why I love what I do. The tailoring section in the seventh edition provides valuable guidance but also identifies dozens of variables that impact how best to tailor project management for a particular organization, project, team, performance domain, etc.
Now more than ever, the definition of a project rings true: “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” Every new client and project is an opportunity to uncover new ways of getting the most out of a project team and its team members.
How to Apply It
Project Managers are becoming more flexible and adaptable so they can effectively address the specific needs of your organization. Don’t expect them to come in with a single way to handle every project—instead, they should have a broad range of tools and skills tailored to each project to maximize the value delivery stream.
Process to Principles
The preface to the new PMBOK states, “With project management evolving more rapidly than ever before, the process-based orientation of past editions cannot be maintained in a manner conducive to reflecting the full value delivery landscape.” My translation: “Everything in this world is changing so fast right now!”
The sixth edition provides pretty clear direction on how to run a project—five process groups, 10 knowledge areas, and some handy charts to show how they all interact. Paired with PMI’s “Agile Practice Guide,” even a novice can get up to speed on both predictive and adaptive approaches relatively quickly. While the seventh edition is clear that it doesn’t negate the value of the sixth edition, it recognizes that the prescriptive approach isn’t always appropriate.
Instead, the seventh edition shifts focus to a set of principles and performance domains. The principles guide the behaviors of the project manager (and other team members), while the performance domains focus on the activities resulting in not just successful project deliverables, but outcomes—adding value to the organization.
How to Apply It
Begin using streamlined, less formal project plans focused less on the traditional “iron triangle” (scope, schedule, budget) and more on quickly delivering value to the organization.
Use our free Product Charter Template and Project Planning Template to expedite your projects and focus on what really matters.
Deliverables to Outcomes
It may seem like a subtle wording change, but there are multiple instances when the seventh edition emphasizes the term “outcome”. A clear attempt is made to prioritize outcomes that deliver value over deliverables to satisfy a process step.
For example, the sixth edition cites a risk register as a vital project deliverable maintained throughout the project lifecycle. In the seventh edition, the focus shifts to an outcome of project delivery with minimal impact from unforeseen events. A Project Manager may very well use a risk register to help achieve that outcome, but the seventh edition prioritizes that value to the organization over the outputs that get you there.
The seventh edition calls out Project Managers to step up and understand their organization’s short- and long-term goals and initiatives, translate them into project goals, communicate those goals effectively to the team, and notify leadership if the project starts to lose alignment. Blindly sticking to a plan is not an option when organizational objectives are changing faster than ever—usually more expeditiously than a project’s duration.
How to Apply It
Project Managers are focused on the value delivered to your organization. Project deliverables may be a way to obtain that value, but deliverables are not created just for the sake of completing a process step and checking a box.
Less experienced Project Managers may struggle with this, as it takes more of their focus to step through the process and handle tactical needs instead of looking at the project strategically. That’s okay, just a natural progression they’ll need to work through.
Use our Process Development Template to get to minimum viable process faster.
PMPs to Anyone
If you are an Automotive Service Excellence certified mechanic, are you better off hoarding your knowledge and discouraging anyone but other certified mechanics from touching a car? Or would it be better to encourage people to learn about their cars, treat them well, and know when to call a professional?
The former situation would result in people doing terrible things to their cars and a lot of over-worked mechanics. In the latter scenario, mechanics would enjoy a reasonable workload repairing vehicles in better condition. I believe the same concept applies to Project Managers.
It’s no secret that there are many people who act as Project Managers regardless of their official title—it may be a majority of their role or something they dabble in as-needed. As a Project Management Professional (PMP), this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I welcome it.
The more people embrace project management principles, the easier my job is. I believe the seventh edition, whether it’s intentional or not, espouses this, too. Both The Standard for Project Management and the PMBOK are more digestible to newcomers.
Having said all that, there is no doubt that the PMP certification continues to provide value. PMPs:
Have years of experience leading projects
Are bound to a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to guide their behaviors and actions
Commit to continuing project management education so they're continually learning and growing
Have access to a global network of peers to help them address new challenges
How to Apply It
If you’re one of those folks who enjoy project management activities and can fit them into your current role, keep up the good work and consider checking out the seventh edition to increase your knowledge and skills.
If you’re doing project management work but wish you weren’t, or enjoy the work but don’t have the bandwidth, we would be happy to help (either with our own resources, or by connecting you with someone in our network of Project Managers). Let us know what challenges you’re facing.
Download our free project management resources to start your journey.
Manager to Leader
While the sixth edition mentions leadership skills throughout, the seventh edition elevates the importance by calling out “Demonstrate Leadership Behaviors” as one of the 12 principles of project management. Project Managers are being asked not just to build and execute a project plan, but to lead the stakeholders and project team through the value delivery stream.
Project team members rarely report directly to the Project Manager (from an organizational chart perspective), so they must be skilled at influencing the team with limited authority over them. There are many ways to do this, and it varies by the Project Manager’s own leadership style, but may include:
Communicating the “why” behind a project
Modeling desired behaviors
Treating the project team as a collection of individuals, each with their own motivations and perspectives
Knowing when to direct versus collaborate
Making the work enjoyable
How to Apply It
Consider your Project Managers as part of your organization’s leadership team (whether formal or informal). Or if you feel like they are not ready for that role, coach them up on it—the time you spend here will pay itself back in a more fulfilled and loyal employee, plus improved project performance.
Individual to Team
Project Managers are often solely accountable for project performance (once the project charter has been approved). Sometimes we expect them to deliver results under any circumstances. But Project Managers have a dirty little secret: the project team members have a way more important role in determining project success (or failure).
If I were an executive, I would choose a high-performing project team with an inexperienced Project Manager over a great Project Manager paired with an average team every day of the week (assuming resources are fixed). That statement may surprise you, but the reason is pretty simple. A strong project team can more easily compensate for project management weaknesses.
Technical leadership, experience working together, an engaged leadership team—these can all help to fill a project management gap. On the flip side, if a software project has all junior developers who lack the skills to deliver, then it makes no difference how great the Project Manager is. That project is going to fail (unless your Project Manager also happens to be an outstanding coder who requires only two hours of sleep per night). And it’s not just hard skills—one malcontent, no matter how technically skilled, can derail a project.
This is why I was so happy to see the “Team Performance Domain” in the seventh edition. Of course, this section isn’t just about the technical abilities of the project team members relative to the project objectives. It also highlights the role of the Project Manager in building a high-performing team culture that gets the most out of those Engineers, Developers, Marketers, Manufacturers, etc.
How to Apply It
Don’t get me wrong—you want to hire skilled Project Managers. But also take care to build a team with the right skills (both hard and soft skills) to deliver on your project objectives.
Linking Project to Product
One of my favorite aspects of project management is guiding a product concept all the way through to production. The seventh edition of the Standard for Project Management recognizes the critical link between product and project management: “While portfolio, program, and product management are beyond the scope of this standard, understanding each discipline and the relationships between them provides a useful context for projects whose deliverables are products.”
Product Managers and Project Managers certainly have different responsibilities and skill sets, but there is also some overlap, and each role requires an understanding of the other. Check out the Product Development and Management Association for more details, but there is no doubt that Product Managers and Project Managers will be working together more closely and learning from each other in the future.
How to Apply It
When hiring or contracting Product or Project Managers, make sure that each appreciates and understands the other’s functions in the organization. If you’re looking for a single person to possess the skills of both roles, expect to have a smaller pool of candidates and value them appropriately.
Download our free Product Development Plan Template to synch up your project and product development.
The seventh edition of “The Standard for Project Management and “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” represents a significant shift in some key areas of project management. Take advantage of those shifts today to stay ahead of your competitors and deliver effective projects not just for the sake of project metrics, but for the sake of your organization’s bottom line.