The past year has brought massive changes to the way people work. Before the pandemic, according to a recent study by Pew Research, about 20% of employed adults worked from home. Today, that number is 71% and 54% of them want to continue doing so. The pandemic has accelerated what is starting to look like a massive shift of knowledge workers from offices to distributed and remote work environments. Every knowledge worker — 1.25 billion worldwide — were affected by this.
This is a massive shift that has left project managers scrambling to find new strategies to keep projects on task and workers healthy and productive amid the stress and chaos of this massive change. And not just project managers. Everyone struggles to keep work on track. According to a study by Asanawe spend 60% of our time coordinating work, rather than the strategic and skilled tasks for which we were hired.
As we look forward to business expansion and economic recovery, what do we need to do to manage this new world order of workflows? What are the new rules of project management and what new skills do project managers need to thrive?
I spoke with project managers, creators of project management tools, and other experts to gain insight into the rapid evolution of project management.
1. Clarity is elusive – and expensive
One thing has become clear over the past year: collaborating without physical proximity means clarity is harder to achieve. from Asana Anatomy of work One study found that one in four deadlines are missed each week due to a lack of clarity.
“When we were sharing oxygen, it was easy to get everyone on the same page by going into someone’s cabin and having a chat,” says Alex Hood, chief product officer at Asana.
The rapid shift to working from home has moved everyone into isolated workspaces, connected only by the internet – a dangerous situation in which any team member could quickly become an information silo. At the start of the pandemic, Zoom meetings provided a remedy as a replacement for in-person meetings and quick cabin chats, but a year later it’s clear we need better tools to clarify who’s doing what, when and where. what the whole situation looks like.
Asana’s study found that informal office chats to get people up to speed quickly have been replaced by unnecessary video meetings at huge cost. Meetings interrupt focused work and take up time. They cost 157 hours of individual productivity over the past year and caused people to work, on average, two hours late each day. Project managers and CIOs are scrambling to implement new tools and methods that bring clarity without paying such a high price. And companies are ready to invest in it, according to an IDC report.
2. Your “source of truth” has never been more important
There is a wide range of project management methodologies, and while each offers its specific benefits, the key is to choose one and commit everyone to it.
“I spoke to a team in Dubai, a team in the UK, a team in Mississippi. They all said, in their own language, ‘We need a single source of truth,'” says Matt Burns , startup ecosystem leader at monday.com.
This source of truth may be a central project management tool that provides a framework for managing work, or it may be a project manager in a leadership role or work philosophy.
“The old rule could have been, ‘Do it no matter what,'” Burns says. “The new rule is, ‘Let’s agree on how we’re looking at this and put it in a framework.'”
Burns compares the situation for many companies to “a country where all the different city-states operate in completely different ways. People don’t know each other or what they’re doing,” he says. “Whether it’s a tool, a methodology or whatever, you’re never going to make everyone happy. Choose one and make it work. It’s like investing: pick a strategy, commit, and you’ll win a lot more often.
3. Synchronous communication is a scarce resource
One thing the last year has taught us – often the hard way, missed deadlines and lost productivity – is that in the new world order, synchronous communication is a precious commodity.
In the new world, you can’t rely on people to be at their desks at the same time. You can’t rely on them to be in the same time zone. Some may work late at night, others early in the morning. There may be childcare schedules or agricultural chores to consider.
This all adds up to a brutal fact about teamwork: getting everyone together for a meeting is expensive. It is bound to inconvenience someone, to add to what is already epidemic levels of burnoutand sucking time from already overloaded workdays.
“The cost of synchronous communication skyrocketed when everyone went to work from home,” says Asana’s Hood. “And it will continue to be elevated as we move into a hybrid work environment.”
Project managers should embrace asynchronous tools that not only help achieve clarity but also better facilitate asynchronous communication.
4. Your workbench needs to be debugged
Creating a complex artboard takes a lot of work. One mistake, among hundreds of planning lines, could easily derail all or part of a project and cost a fortune. What about the possibility of someone noticing this error before a time limit is exceeded or something goes completely off the rails? Infinitesimal.
Why? Because no one ever debugs the workbench.
“It is not mathematically possible for a human being to manage the complexity of a large-scale project without making critical errors,” said Mike Psenka, CEO of Moovila. “Our research shows that over 98% of project plans, developed by senior, experienced project managers, have critical flaws. This has always been true because project plans are never debugged. »
Once a plan is built – even if it’s complex, expensive, and involves a lot of moving parts, contributors, milestones, and deliverables – it’s followed assuming it’s flawless.
“Every software programmer in the world debugs their code,” says Psenka. “They would tell you, ‘If I didn’t, I would produce garbage.’ Yet large projects, with thousands of tasks, trust everyone to get it right the first time. »
5. Everyone is a project manager now
“There’s a tendency for non-project managers to take over project management and run the show,” says Kausikram Krishnasayee, director of project management at Kissflow. “They come from a variety of backgrounds and end up managing small, niche, or internal projects. They’re either oblivious to the old rules of project management or rebellious against them. They basically run the show based on touch and feel.
In the past, project managers used factors such as budget, resources, and rough estimates to determine the duration of a task. This new set of touch managers relies on experience, familiarity with the people doing the work, and knowledge of the mental impact of each task to determine durations and timelines. And it turns out that these measures could be better.
“Once you start to understand people and see them as humans rather than resources – and try to find ways around problems and uncertainty on a case-by-case basis – things work out better than ancient project management practices,” says Krishnasayee.
6. The project manager has become ‘The Negotiator’
As projects become more complex and companies become more focused on building sustainable growth in a new climate, it behooves the project manager to become not just a plan maker but a negotiator capable of bringing factions competitors, hybrid work teams, remote contributors, and invested stakeholders together to drive the plan forward.
“The role of the project manager is changing and negotiation skills have become increasingly important. You have to be the Swiss for the project, a champion of the job first and foremost,” says Jill Lyons, executive vice president of delivery at Hawkeye.
In the old work paradigm, the project manager made plans, encouraged people, checked that everyone was on track, and held meetings to keep everyone informed. But you can no longer rely on physical presence to create synergy, there are more moving parts and those parts don’t always talk to each other. “You have teams that are customer-facing, you have teams that are internal-facing, and you have project managers that are technical or aligned by channel or deliverable,” Lyons says. “Where is the intersection of all this?”
The project manager often becomes this intersection.
“Now it’s more of a targeted approach,” says Lyons. “I’m going to get these three people together and we’re going to rumble about this part of the project. So even when you don’t have that meeting of 20 people, the project manager makes sure those 20 people have a single source of truth.
7. Emotional intelligence is essential to project management
When people work in isolation, their family life interrupts them and they log long and unusual hours. For this reason, project managers increasingly need to step into uncharted territory to get projects back on track.
“I think a very important skill that project managers need today is emotional intelligence,” says Janetta Ekholm, head of working methods at Futurice. “When we understand ourselves as human beings and know where our emotions come from, we understand the same for others.”
Not all team members thrive in this new distributed workforce. Young workers and parents in particular find it difficult, according to Pew Research. And million women left the labor market because they could not reconcile work and children.
“The project manager must enable and constantly reinforce the psychological safety of the team,” explains Ekholm. “They need to create a safety net that gives people the opportunity to feel comfortable sharing different ideas and viewpoints without fear.”
This increasingly means that the project manager acts as a sort of therapist, identifying what looks like stress and reaching out and helping team members overcome it, set priorities, understand that this happening is agreeing with the team and helping to find resources or a suitable schedule so that they feel safe at work and can come to work.
“As we co-create more in the projects,” says Ekholm. “The leader can have a big impact by using these facilitation skills.”