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2017: Project Management Trends to Watch For

This is a guest article by Elizabeth Harrin, from

Project management isn’t known as a fast-changing discipline.  We haven’t truly revolutionised the way project work is managed since the Agile Manifesto (2001), and before that, Critical Path Method (late 1950’s).

What does seem to happen, a long-term trend if you like, is that the core discipline of project management becomes adopted more widely into different industry sectors, such as the legal services sector.

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin

While we aren’t known for flashy new solutions, we are seeing a subtle change in the soft skills, behaviours and competencies required for project managers to do their jobs.

That’s what I think the big trend is for (legal) project managers to watch out for in 2017.  It’s not a genius new way of managing tasks.  It’s not a unique tool for tracking time.  It’s just doing more of what we should always have been good at, but with the support and recognition of industry bodies, our peers and employers behind us.

Let’s break it down, as I highlight the individual strands that are bringing about the changing role of the project manager.

Change Management

Project management and change management used to be separate disciplines.  Not any longer. There is a huge overlap between (successful) project management and doing change.

Change management is the gap between having the ability to get something done and actually making a difference to business outcomes.  Change management helps everyone understand what is at stake and why it matters to them.  It ensures that what is delivered is actually useful and wanted.

Today, if project management is going to deliver real business value, then change management has to be a part of the project manager’s toolset.  Not that I want to do change managers out of a job – it’s simply that in many organisations ‘change manager’ isn’t a role.  Perhaps a department head takes it on, or perhaps someone has it as a line in their job description.  If you have a full time, dedicated person to do change management, by all means use them.  If you don’t have someone who can dedicate time to change management, project managers should step up.


Certifications Matter

I’m not one to champion particular certifications and I’m a firm believer in experience really mattering.  However, the APM is transitioning to a body with a Royal Charter this year in the UK and there’s only going to be more drive for ensuring professionalism – and qualifications are part of that.

A trend for Project Management Offices that Lindsay Scott has identified for the coming year is improving staff capability, and again, qualifications are part of that.  Having the capability in-house to do what is required to move your projects on could definitely include training.


Making Better Use of Tools

There are so many project management software tools out there right now, and every year I think we’ll see consolidation.  This is happening, but then new products are springing up!  It isn’t a bad thing – we’re seeing greater maturity in the products and a better fit for the emerging areas where project management is growing – like the legal profession.

Microsoft Excel and spreadsheets are still the way that many project managers run projects.  And why not?  They are perfectly serviceable for many small projects.  But if you want to see the whole picture for your organisation, or report in real time then Excel won’t cut it.

Whether you opt for a cloud-based task management solution or a full-on enterprise hosted suite of project management tools, upping your game when it comes to tech is definitely on the radar for many project teams this year.


Seeing the Big Picture

Whether you are an accidental project manager or working in a department of several (or many) project managers, business context is all.

Being able to pinpoint how what you do is helping move the company in the right direction is a great skill to have.  If you don’t have it, make it your objective to cultivate it this year.  If you don’t know where to start, this free checklist for improving your business acumen might help.

The big picture is what sets good project managers apart from great project managers.  It matters because it’s how you show that you add value to your organisation, beyond being able to tick tasks off on a list.  Don’t get me wrong – being able to deliver work in a reliable and organised fashion shouldn’t go unnoticed, but with a bit of business acumen you can be confident that you are doing the right tasks for the right reasons which ends up with a better end result.

Any project manager can blindly work through a Gantt chart and complete a project… a valuable project manager will question whether it’s the right way to be spending organisational resources.

The thing about trends is that they don’t come from nowhere.  All of these are ideas which have been brewing for a few years now.  They aren’t drive-by trends and they’ll probably still be on the radar next year too.

I’ve called out these ideas because I think they show that the role of the project manager is changing.  It’s evolving (slowly, glacially in some industries) from being the person who runs the Gantt chart to the person who gets work done, to the person who helps us deliver real business value and we wouldn’t know what we would do without them.

That’s where you want to be.

And that’s what I want for you.  Make 2017 the year that you capitalise what’s happening in project management worldwide, build your skills, and become that person your office can’t do without.

About the author

Elizabeth Harrin is the author of Collaboration Tools for Project Managers amongst other books, and the blogger behind Check out her collection of free templates for project managers.

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