2020: How Project Management Trends Have Changed

Alexandra Cote

Written by

Alexandra Cote

Read Time

10 minutes

Along with the general switch to a predominantly remote workplace comes every project manager’s worry on how tasks will get done in the future. Given the current situation, we find it impossible to exactly predict the future of our projects.

What’s affecting the people who drive the economy will also impact how we manage work on a day-to-day basis. We’ve never seen such a rapid extension of events in our lifetime, with millions of people losing their jobs, going from their daily office job to a work from home opportunity, and having to find new ways to literally survive and maintain business.

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One thing is certain though: companies are already preparing to face recession and a constantly changing workforce. Each in their own ways.

That’s why we’re going to analyze how the beginning of 2020 has changed the face of any predicted project management trends and how you can prepare your project teams for the upcoming recession.

Cutting costs is a top priority

It’s the end of overly extensive budgets and expenses you could have done without. The first path to lower costs was laying off workers for most companies. This also reduced the need for more space to work from and, with everyone now at home, it seems like the 54% of people who’d like to turn this into a long-term opportunity won’t have to be brought back to an office that was already too costly to manage.

Some things though will have to remain, like wages, utilities, and mandatory software you simply can’t do your work without. Faced with this scenario, business owners and project managers will have to learn to prioritize where their money goes.

A good bet is to just assume what your bare essentials are: the costs and tools you wouldn’t be able to deliver work without. Starting with this list, you can narrow down your costs even more by simply considering how much value every spending is bringing in:

Every month you should be reviewing your company expenses to understand whether the decisions you made are financially sound or not. The recurring expenses are the most important here, ask yourself ‘Am I getting the full value out of this product or expense?’ if not, reconsider this expense. – Eden Chai

Doing this as early as possible will help you get your costs down to the minimum by the time recession hits. Even if it means not paying for that app you’ve only used once last year anymore. Also, consider how much money you can save by simply having all of your client meetings online and not having to visit their office now that we’re stuck in the digital realm.

EVERYTHING is now digital

All bummers aside, the Internet offers an alternative to everything you could do outside. And projects are now an entirely digital affair. No room with walls to hang out post-its? No worries, use online Kanban boards.

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Kanban board example in Paymo

But technology is now more volatile than ever, although many project managers are already familiar with this. There’s a new video call tool coming out every month as if the tech world is relying solely on this. Not to mention every other tool is launching new “remote work” features and Zoom integrations.

You’re probably already familiar with the tools you’ve been using when working from an office setting. Specifically for administrative duties like the financial or operational aspects of your business.

Now that the balance in terms of where we log in work and how we communicate is broken, we’re all rushing to get a better project management software that’s suited for working remotely. You can pick your best tool from the list of project tools here.

The biggest mistake you can make when choosing one is to go with the flow and opt for one that’s well-known, not necessarily right for your team. But how do you tell if an app is good for your team when it’s just been downsized?

Imagine you’d have to do all the work with at least 5 more team members. Will the tool still scale? How easy will communication be? Would more data and tasks clutter the tool or create extra confusion?

When turning to a fully digital project management flow, the single most important question you should ask yourself before investing your resources is ‘How will this work if I had 3 times as many people on my team?’ When you ask yourself this question, you start to think about the big picture, and whether this tool can be a long term solution or not. Incorporating new digital tools into your company processes is a huge decision, and can make a significant impact on your revenue. Think about whether this tool is sustainable for a much bigger team, and if it’s not, look for a new one. – Eden Chai

Smaller teams in general won’t find it as difficult to get accustomed to a new tool, especially if you get everyone involved in choosing that new app. Once you’ve got a team of 50+ team members, you can bet someone won’t even open the app in the first month.

Beyond being a matter of reducing costs and making workflows more effective, choosing a new platform to work with on a company-wide level means you’ll have to really sit down and listen to your employee’s needs.

Do they want to switch? Is communication really difficult with the old tool? What problems do THEY want to solve? So you don’t end up with a communication tool that makes it super easy for them to talk in real-time but crashes every time you want to upload a larger file.

Tweaking your preferred project management methods

Even with most of the work online, project teams are still looking for better methods to manage their projects within scope and deadline. So organizations are expected to become stricter when it comes to choosing the right processes for managing work remotely.

Finding a method that works for the team, doesn’t create extra work and fits in with the company culture that is already there. Something that motivates the team. For us, it’s working in agile sprints. So the team can motivate each other while working on the same project rather than having a silo and working on a project exclusively. This improves the quality of the code and delivers the project faster to the client. The team can upskill and learn simultaneously. Best part is that when projects or sprints are delivered, there is a good sense of achievement. – Paula Glynn, General Manager @Pixelstor

There are roughly 21 ways in which teams can manage their projects and every single one of them comes with its challenges and benefits. But what works best remotely?

For one, the method you’ve already been using can most often be translated into its fully digital version. PRINCE2, the Critical Path Method, and Lean are just 3 of those that even have specific tools tailored to their demands.

Commonly though, most teams turn to Agile, Scrum, Kanban, and even the less popular Scrumban. These allow them to work in iterations and focus on adapting to changing client and market needs [vital during recession], while also delivering results on a regular basis without the common delays of non-iterative processes. In fact, more companies are expected to make the switch to Agile whether it’s for design, development, or marketing tasks as opposed to the more traditional waterfall approach that wouldn’t leave much room for changes.

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How the Agile methodology works in a series of sprints, each followed by team feedback and reviews

What having a set method of work does is ensure team-wide accountability. Within the uncertain environment that an economic downturn brings, this is more important than ever but you’ll have to learn to keep track of every individual’s responsibilities.

Many work management software solutions are affordable and can keep everyone on the same page even if you’re all in separate places. Apart from this, they allow managers to analyze all tasks, statuses, and performance levels, preparing you to predict and face fast and unexpected changes.

Even without a definite risk management feature, the role of any project or work management tool during an economically restricted period is to help project managers spot potential bottlenecks and prevent their projects from failing or losing the budget before delivery. In 2019 alone, 63% of companies were already including change management as part of their projects, a number which should only increase as we’re prioritizing any risk and change plans.

Re-building your team

With people laid off, many teams will have to start over. The upside is that the talent pool available now is more varied than ever, so recruiters have more leeway than ever. It’s the onboarding step and those first months when everybody is just doing their own thing because they haven’t figured out the new processes that will take longer to manage.

To prevent this from happening, Domantas Gudeliauskas, a Marketing Manager @Zyro, emphasizes the importance of holding on to your talent:

At this time, it’s incredibly important to maintain whatever employees you have at the moment. Essentially, the biggest capital you can have right now is a reliable team member. Personally, I’d opt for slowing down a project, if that means keeping employees in their positions. Building an efficient team is difficult, so going into the gig economy might be quite a struggle.

So what will project teams look like?

We’re faced with an unprecedented opportunity for us to bring different departments together. While this used to be a best practice for growth hacking and agile management, more organizations will turn to this as a solution to labor shortage.

This takes us too…

Preparing for the boom of the gig economy

As many people get to experience remote life and even freelancing in case they were laid off,  some of them will turn to work remote gigs as a full-time living.

Many organizations have already been working with gig workers prior to the recession, whether they wanted to reach out to the best talent pool out there or just cut down on costs. Even project managers were freelancing before, so companies who are looking to work with top experts have to be open to accommodating the needs of external collaborators too.

This shift does bring in a whole new set of challenges: How will you communicate? What are the legal aspects? How do you make them feel like they’re part of the team?

To face these, start by putting down the entire process from the moment you start working with an independent contractor, to any potential consequences of them ending your partnership.

When working with freelancers, we cover all the basics – starting with a non-disclosure agreement. Treat the freelancer like a short term employee. Prepare onboarding materials or guidelines for them. If you see the potential in them, keep working with them, and provide feedback.  It’s much more financially sound to have a great freelancer that you train to produce what you expect. Some patience is required from both parties, but this kind of long-term collaboration is, in my opinion, the best way to work with freelancers when you need support for your team. – Domantas Gudeliauskas

Facing manager worries

Time has been on everyone’s minds lately. Whether we’re asking ourselves “How much longer this situation will last?” or we’re just too caught up with work and trying to always motivate ourselves to work extra hours and hustle our ways out of the situation.

With most companies now remote, managers are finally face-to-face with their biggest concern: What are employees doing with their time?

Time tracking is one of these solutions you might have not necessarily seen as mandatory when in the office. In the entirely different present context, it can give managers that peace of mind they need and maintain employees [or freelancers] accountable.

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Time tracker in Paymo

Read more on how a time tracker will solve most of your worries whether they’re related to remote or office work.

In Paymo for instance, all time entries are automatically registered inside timesheets. From here, managers can put together detailed time reports to evaluate performance, make sure you stay on budget, and avoid burnout.

Stronger project planning

Incorporate historical data to make better time estimates for your future plans, even though they’re likely to change more often in the upcoming months.

As project managers, we learn early on that we do not have a crystal ball and there can certainly be issues that arise and which were not anticipated. Planning can help us control some of those unexpected changes. Planning helps us to determine what might happen and if it does, what will we need to do? Planning includes a series of discussions with the project team (including other stakeholders like vendors, consultants, funders, partners, etc.) that revolve around topics such as risk, quality, communication, and change. Also, by having these talks, we remain adaptable and flexible in how we respond to those unexpected changes. – Mary Beth Imbarrato, Founder and Owner @MBI Consulting, LLC

Consequently, planning ahead of time and being prepared for any potential risks and challenges is really the key to keeping worries at bay. Just like the agile methodology is highly focused on using data to backup all changes, analytics and reporting will hold a much larger role in the future. While schedules and resource availability remain the core of any project plan, companies will look for new tools that can offer innovative reporting at lower costs so they can ensure all KPIs are met with as few issues as possible.

Considering switching to a project planning tool? Read our full beginner’s guide to choosing one.

More emphasis on online security

With everything moving online, the issue of cybersecurity is also garnering more attention than ever before. Data breaches and even the personal info of your workers is now at a higher risk than ever since all collaboration is done via intermediary apps. Choose apps that offer two-factor authentication (2FA), don’t let users set passwords that can be guessed easily, and have fast-response support teams to troubleshoot anything in no time.

You’ll also want to instruct your team on the basics of keeping information secure. Here are a few things to advise your employees on:

  • Always keep your laptop in sight and lock it before you leave [make sure the password you’ve set is difficult so it can’t be decoded]
  • Change all passwords regularly and especially when you’ve received an email or notification from a website or platform you’re using related to a potential threat
  • Avoid the Wi-Fi in public places since they aren’t protected
  • Update your antivirus software whenever a change is available
  • Steer clear from unsafe and illegal software or file downloads
  • Take the time to update all software whenever a new version rolls out
  • Use VPN services like TunnelBear or NordVPN to encrypt traffic

Start preparing now to face challenges with no issues in the future

Every year we come across new project management trends that might become a reality or not. But in 2020, these trends are changing more rapidly than ever and we can fairly assume that any speculation will in many ways become a fact.

So if you’ve been leaving risk and change management out of your project plans, it’s time to start crafting a solid action scheme to prepare for future unexpected challenges.

Above all, we all learn to be a bit more empathic in our day-to-day work. Projects can only succeed when the people on your team are happy. If they’re enjoying working remotely, make sure to accommodate these needs. The projects of the future are a result of every individual’s skills and personal values impacting our work.

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