IT Project Management: What’s Coming in 2013 and Beyond

What got you here won’t get you there. It’s a simple, catchy line that over the past several years has become part of our business lexicon. The phrase was popularized by Marshall Goldsmith’s best-selling book of the same title in 2007 and it essentially means the skills and behaviors that you possess today may prevent you from being more successful tomorrow.

Nowadays you hear the phrase used often in many contexts:  sports, business, politics, and international affairs.  And for project managers, especially IT project managers, Goldsmith’s axiom is especially true.  It wasn’t so long ago that a PMI certification and expertise in waterfall project management made you a hot commodity in the job market.

But the times are changing.  And considering several of the current trends in IT project management, what got you here in 2012 may not get you far in 2013 and beyond.

Agile Evolution

Since its introduction in 2001, the Agile development framework has seen incredible growth in popularity.  Agile’s flexible, iterative approach has gained steady approval in the marketplace as a more collaborative, real-time methodology than the more traditional waterfall model (for more on software development methodologies read our recent series on the topic).

What many industry insiders are now seeing, however, is that as Agile’s use becomes more widespread, some organizations are favoring a hybrid approach that encompasses aspects of Agile as well as their own traditional methodologies.  This may be a more practical approach for IT departments who may not be ready to make a big leap into Agile.

In a recent article, Jon Arnold of Centresource Interactive Agency explains his company’s blend of traditional waterfall and Agile methodologies.  The standard waterfall approach’s main drawback, Arnold writes, is that “…you’re never truly done with each phase. Despite the best laid plans, reality always sets in: a design decision needs to be amended to fit within a development environment; a forgotten interior page element suddenly becomes a necessity; or a developer needs a consult with a designer to work out an animation or visual transition.”

Arnold says his teams love the iterative approach of Agile for development-intensive projects, but some clients can be a bit intimidated by what can be viewed as a frenetic, stressful schedule (though I suspect Agile purists might refer to this as cost-effective delivery).  By combining some of the traditional planning and communication aspects of traditional waterfall with an Agile approach to development, Arnold has found a hybrid approach that works for many clients, and some industry watchers believe this best-of-breed approach may become more common in the future.

Show Me the Money (And Not Just the Cost Savings)

As more organizations take a portfolio management approach to their projects, the pressure to rationalize project investments via quantifiable business results will continue to increase.  In today’s tough economic climate, PMO heads face higherscrutiny than ever from organizational stakeholders, and more and more PMO heads are seen as portfolio managers, ensuring that projects meet or exceed a broad range of business metrics.

Cost savings, increased employee productivity, and higher application availability are just a few of the ways that PMOs have traditionally measured IT projects’ success (or lack thereof).  For the most part these metrics are reflect a cost-based criteria for project justification (by lowering existing costs or avoiding costly failures and inefficiencies).  And in a larger sense, the cost argument underwrites the organizational justification for the PMO itself.  In other words, PMOs exist first and foremost to help an organization run more efficiently, not necessarily contribute directly to the bottom line.

There’s a growing point of view, however, that PMOs should make the leap from ‘cost center’ to ‘profit center.’  Simply said, a PMO must justify its existence and its collective project portfolio by directly contributing the organization’s bottom line.  While this may not sound revolutionary on the surface, it represents a fundamental shift from a passive PMO that prioritizes and implements projects as directed from organizational leaders to an active PMO that identifies and ‘sells’ projects to internal stakeholders, emphasizing projectsthat materially impact business results.  The PMO becomes, in effect, an internal, self-funded consulting organization.  And within this new PMO paradigm the impact on project metrics is clear—the days of measuring project success based solely on a cost-based approach may be over.

PMP Certification, Not What It Used To Be (But Still Worth Having)

Over 470,000 people have earned the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, and it remains easily the most well-known and valuable credential in the project management profession.  But in a recent article discussing major industry trends, UK-based project management training firm ESI claims, “Internal certifications in corporations and federal agencies will eclipse the PMP.”  This is quite a bold prediction.

And this may prompt some to ask if a PMP certification is worth having.The answer is (even if ESI turns out to be 100% correct) almost certainly yes.  Even while many Fortune 500 companies and government agencies may have their own internal, proprietary credentials that are undoubtedly important inside the organization, those credentials lose much if not all their relevancy (and market value) once an individual leaves the company.  Will the IT department at Ford care if you’re a certified Bank of America project manager?  It’s hard to say, but there’s little doubt the folks at Ford would fail to recognize the value of someone with a PMP credential.

The significance of ESI’s prediction isn’t necessarily what it says about the relative value of a PMP credential.  What we should take away from the statement is that the skills and certifications organizations value can and will change over time.  And for project managers, this underscores the importance of keeping current with their organization’s and, in a larger sense, the marketplace’s requirements.

The Future Is Change

For IT project managers the adage ‘what got you here won’t get you there’ seems especially apt.  The profession continues to evolve, not only in terms of the skills needed to be successful, but also in light of a market place with an ever-increasing bottom line emphasis.

So what other factors or trends do you think will shape the future of project management?  I’d love to hear from you.