The Future of Project Management

What's The Future of Project Management?

It all started in 2021. I was suffering from burnout and to get back on track, I needed to understand my role properly and what is it that gives value to my work, the team, and the people I work with. This changed the way I see the Project Manager’s role and in this article I'm going to share with you my observations and what I think the future holds for its responsibilities. 

Project Management at Monterail 

In 2021 there was a shift in responsibilities for the PMs in our company and Project Managers became more involved in the team. Besides management, they were also leaders, scrum masters, and more engaged in the product’s development. 

Clients and leads also showed lower interest in PMs for their products. In their minds, this role only consisted of forwarding emails and being a wall between theirs and our team’s collaboration. Since I certainly don’t agree with this approach, it got me thinking about how we can shift the clients’ perception of a PM.

Not a fan of reading long content?

Watch the video presentation that I gave during the MonteTalks event.

The Project Manager’s Role

My journey of understanding this role started with Wikipedia’s definition of an IT Project Manager:

According to Wikipedia: A project manager is a professional in the field of project management. Project managers have the responsibility of the planning, procurement and execution of a project, in any undertaking that has a defined scope, defined start and a defined finish; regardless of industry.

The highlighted intrigued me the most. If there’s a Project Manager reading this, then you know that in the IT industry, having a “defined scope, defined start and defined finish” is rarely the case. The scope changes, requirements shift, focus and business value can pivot, same as the project overall. In real life, the project doesn’t look that simple. - it evolves, switch to different stages Going further into Wikipedia’s information page, in the PM’s scope of responsibilities there is a lot of managing tasks listed:

  • Managing the project stakeholders
  • Managing communication
  • Managing the project team
  • Managing the project risks
  • Managing the project schedule
  • Managing the project budget
  • Managing the project conflicts
  • Managing the project delivery

To establish what Project Managers actually do, I started listing what I (and other PMs of the company) do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis; and I listed over 45 different tasks. Within this list, you can have a rather large task, like establishing and confirming the project’s initial budget, communicating with the client and Monterail’s operations team. Or, cooperate with our operations managers, to decide development team size, timeline, or FTEs.

There are also smaller things that aren’t part of the “job description”, but it’s still a big part of what we do, such as:

  • take meeting notes - what was discussed, what was established, etc.
  • backlog management assistance - mark the priorities, outline next steps, delegate research, engage the client in scope management work, educate the client about the meaning of backlog, etc.

There are also team-perspective tasks:

  • team integrations
  • team retrospectives
  • monitoring the team’s well-being
  • estimate new parts of the software - reach out to BAs and the team

The development cycle of a project:

 

pm-dev cycle

The Tasks and Workload of a Project Manager

The 45+ tasks I’ve listed are continuously run and can pop out at any time during the cycle of the project.

pm triangle

This is what being a PM looks like right now. The biggest - or “classical” part of our role is project management:

  • Maintaining budget
  • Looking at the timeline
  • Meetings
  • Reporting progress
  • Planning sessions, etc.

As PMs, we also perform tasks from the product ownership part:

  • Backlog updates
  • Helping the clients to understand the priorities
  • Working with the BA

And lastly, being a PM is also about leadership or being a scrum master:

  • All the tasks that help us perform as a team

At Monterail, the average number of projects per PM is 4. Knowing the 3 main focus areas of our work, and knowing the average number of projects, the first word that comes to mind is Multitasking, or I should rather say “Context switching”. Which is the ultimate killer of efficiency and focus. 

Does it mean that PMs aren’t efficient? Not at all. It means that if you want to be a Project Manager, you have to be a specialist in jumping between tasks and remaining focused (which is very hard). By taking on all of this pressure, PMs allow the rest of the team to focus on product development.

On that note. I highly recommend the book “Deep Work”, by Cal Newport.

Do you want some proof? I’ve seen up to 14 meetings a day in a PM’s calendar.

PM calendar
ps. the calendar has been blurred out for privacy

This shows how much of the team, project, and meetings PMs are taking on themselves in order to allow the rest of the team to focus on their efficient work.

What is a Project Manager?

If I can summarize what Project Managers in Monterail do, I’d say they are people who specialize in:

  • making sure everyone understands the scope and priorities
  • removing obstacles to ensure deep focus time for the team
  • establishing and maintaining a healthy partnership with our clients through communication and delivery
  • leading the team and the project in the right direction

What Does the Future Hold for PMs?

According to Gergely Orosz in his article How Big Tech runs tech projects and the curious absence of scrum” - where he asked the biggest tech companies, who typically lead engineering projects, they assign a tech lead or an engineer as a project lead. They don’t have project managers.

who leads projects

Of course, these companies are mostly product companies, not software development companies. This might be the reason why they don’t need PMs. However, their argument is that “there are no dedicated project managers for team-level projects”. Most of these companies have Technical Program Managers (TPMs) who connect large projects involving multiple teams, or run across organizations.”

The main difference with Big Tech is that they do have Product Managers, but not Project Managers.

Product Managers ensure that the team keeps working on the right thing. This means working with the business, with data science, and with design to build a roadmap, create plans, prioritize work and escalate where needed.

At large companies, this itself is a full-time job.

simple projects

complex projects

Will The Project Manager Role Soon be Redundant in IT?

Will the rest of the tech world follow the big tech companies and make the Project Manager role soon be redundant in IT? I don’t think so.

Orosz’ article talks about scrum, but I would go further than that. There are two situations that require a Project Manager:

  1. “Kitchen sink” teams, especially in software development companies. A kitchen sink is the place where we put our dirty dishes. In our type of companies, this expression is used as a joke, but it’s a good metaphor. Teams often have no idea what will come next. Some requirements might change, new features appear, or some bugs will come up.
  2. “Forming” and “storming” stages of new teams - in Monterail don’t have permanent teams, that stick together for new projects, but with each new project, we have a new team forming.

In these situations, we need a Project Manager to step in.

A “kitchen sink” needs strong product ownership. Someone that makes the decisions and says “no, we can’t do this right now, it’s not a priority and it brings no business value”. It needs the verification of priorities and the tasks that can wait, what is the user-driven requirements and what needs to be implemented, or what it’s simply an idea that just popped out. 

In the “Forming and storming stages”, leadership skills come in handy. You need somebody in the team to orchestrate the formations, the planning, the action points and distributions; someone that decides what to do in the next sprint or in a crisis situation.

Going back to the triangle of tasks and workload of a Project Manager I talked about earlier. In my opinion, Project Management will continue to be an important and needed role. Their tasks, however, will shift more towards product ownership and leadership, consequently making project management a smaller part of their responsibilities.

workload of pm

Going back, however to the Project Cycle graph, I believe the will be a need for a Project Management and a Project Lead/Tech Lead working together, and gradually, the PM will step down slowly, letting the Project Lead and the team to self-organize.

pm vs project lead

Summing Up… What Will a PM be?

Project Management will be less about their typical responsibilities and more about asking the team “How can I help you?”, at the beginning of the project and then regularly through… The PM will listen to the teams' needs and allow them to slowly take on more responsibilities on themselves and be responsible for the outcome. That’s the Agile way, and the way I see the future PM role should look like.

Hungry for more content? Read about project management on our blog:

1. 18 Tips on Running a Successful Software Development Project

2. How to Decode What Developers Say? A Guide for Non-tech Project Managers to Mitigate Risks

3. How To Deal With Cultural Differences in Project Management

4. Project Management Triangle: Scope vs. Timing vs. Cost—Can You Have It All? 

How to Take Your Project to The Next Level? Tips from Ruby on Rails Developer
vuevsreact Vue vs React in 2022 - Which Framework to Choose and When?
What It’s Like To Be a Python Developer in Monterail