Project leadership has remained fairly stable and static in its demands over the years. The core needs of the project, team and customer from the project manager aren't really all that different now than they were around 1990.
Sure, the dynamics and personalities may have changed somewhat, and now there are some new challenges that we will discuss here, but the key demands are still much the same. Project managers still make tough decisions, still lead the charge throughout the project…often for few accolades...are still responsible for the project success and status reporting and project schedule and budget and resource planning as always. But a few things have changed, let's look at those:
- Risks. Risks have always been there. However, the types of risks have increased and changed – often due to technology changes. We had data crashes and data loss concerns 10-20 years ago, but more due to natural disasters and physical theft. Now we have to worry about hackers, cyber security and cybercrime. And everything can be hacked eventually so that must always be a big risk concern and consideration on any technical project.
- Technology. The technology we are using in, on and for our projects, teams and customers has changed and evolved over time. We are not saying that every project manager needs to have bleeding edge technology knowledge, but it certainly is getting harder and harder, if not impossible, for a non-technical project manager to lead a technical project. Not just in terms of decision-making and credibility with the project team and customer – though those are important considerations – but also in terms of making quick and at least somewhat reliable estimates for task durations, costs, and change orders. The non-technical project manager will get eaten alive in those areas on a technical project.
- Available tools. The tools available to the project manager, the project office and for collaboration with the project team have changed dramatically over the years as well. What used to be two or three different offerings are now literally hundreds – many performing about the same functions with more or less detail (and learning curve and price). Everything you could possibly need or want for your project is available in some form or another – from project scheduling, to risk analysis, to document management, to extreme collaboration, mind mapping, business intelligence, and time tracking and more. If you haven't found what you need yet, keep searching because it is out there or coming out next month in beta form.
- Demographics. Finally, our project demographics have changed. The norm now seems to be virtual teams, remote project management and international customers looking for the best delivery organization available, not just the best one in their city. This makes your customer base endless and your talent pool anything you want it to be (and can afford). Be open to virtual teams and remote workers and your project delivery costs will be lower while still getting the best talent you can find...thus giving you a better project profit margin if you price your engagements accordingly.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Is that old adage true for project management? Yes and no. Best practices are still best practices. But how we get to those and incorporate those through technology and tools has changed. And the project risks are higher and probably scarier. We still mistakenly overlook risk management at times or give it too little consideration, but the potential for paying a high price for that oversight later in the project is higher.