I was catching up on my reading over the holidays and came across an intriguing article in my December issue of PM Network magazine. It began like this:

"As their role changes, project managers must acquire new skills – or risk being left behind. It's a whole new world out there for project managers…"

Hallelujah, I shouted! Having recently published research on the skills and capabilities of the next-generation project manager, I couldn't agree more. Changes to software delivery necessitate a reinvention of the project manager role. In the world of app dev, we're seeing that:

  • Organizations are changing the way that they define project success. It's not just about on-time and on-budget performance; it's about delivering business value, satisfying the customer, and improving the bottom line. Project managers need to strive for new goals.
  • Your business partners need solutions delivered faster and cheaper. They don't need reams of documentation, formal sign-offs, and lots of meetings. They want fast results. And they are more tech-savvy than they used to be: They know what can be done, and they know that they can find someone else to do it if you can't deliver. Project managers have to help their teams deliver effectively and efficiently.
  • Project teams are evolving. They are globally distributed and multi-cultural. They follow many different methodologies, both traditional and Agile. And they are less tolerant of command-and-control approaches to project management. Project managers have to "manage" differently.

These changes are staring us project managers in the face and double-dog-daring us to fundamentally alter the way that we manage projects and interact with our teams. We don't have to dispose of the good practices that we've learned over the years – like schedule, cost, scope, and risk management. But we have to apply them differently and with a new attitude focused on flexibility and team-enablement.

So, here we are at the start of a new year. What better time to resolve to change the way that you manage projects? From one very traditional and somewhat rigorous project manager to another, I challenge you this year to:


  1. Open your mind to change. This is a critical first step in our revolution. For decades, we've applied best practices and processes with an iron fist, believing that there was only one way to do things. Not true. There are many paths to success, and today, flexibility is critical for the kind of success your organizations seek.
  2. Find out more about Agile methodologies. Agile is here to stay, and more than likely, you will be managing an Agile project at some point in the very near future. Even if you don't, studying Agile methods can teach you techniques to use in any project environment. Why not try daily standup meetings? Or try using story cards to demonstrate requirements? You can also learn from Agile's principles, which emphasize collaboration, working software, and responsiveness to change.
  3. Study Lean principles and apply them to your endeavors. Lean approaches are centered around creating more value with less work. Sounds good, right? Its principles are being applied to software development and delivery as Lean organizations eliminate excess documentation, minimize formal hand-offs, and focus on activities only where they create value to the business. Once you've studied Lean, apply it in your environment. Get rid of excess documentation. Do away with unnecessary meetings.
  4. Shift from taskmaster to partner. There is no "I" in team, and increasingly, project managers recognize that it's more effective to be servant-leaders, not "managers." Create an effective environment for success, establish clear goals and transparent measures, and allow the team to do what they do best: develop software. Obviously, accountability plays a role, but when you empower the team, you'll find that the team members hold each other accountable, so that you don't have to. Instead you can focus on removing obstacles and managing risks to ensure project success.
  5. Embrace flexibility without fear. The times have changed, and you need to be adaptable to flourish and help your organization thrive. Is it scary? Sometimes. But it's not optional these days. So let go of the dogma, and seek innovation in your project management approaches.

My family and good friends have a new year's eve tradition that we call the "ceremonial bowl burning." We light a fire outside in the firepit, we write down things we want to let go of on tiny strips of paper, and we throw them in. It's a new year and a new world for project managers. If you were on my patio letting go of old project management practices, what would you throw in? Let us know!

Carpe diem,