Project manager in 2020 – challenges and opportunities

| Jan Dolezal

Who is a project manager in 2020? What is he doing? What should he be able to do? How much has the profession or role shifted?

“Classic” project management consisted mainly in the creation of plans and procedures for achieving the project goal and the subsequent coordination of project team members within the given plans. Most project management standards, such as IPMA ICB or PMI PM BoK or even the PRINCE2 methodology, described the processes, methods and techniques of creating such plans and subsequent monitoring and controlling of the project. Respectively fulfillment of these plans. Certifications according to these standards were then full of questions and examples of relevant methods. Such as CPM (critical path method), EVM, WBS, risk analysis and others, especially the so-called hard methods and techniques working with numbers. Above all, IPMA was innovative in the inclusion of so-called behavioral competencies. Soft skills needed for the success of the manager (which then strongly appeared in 2015 in the PMI PM BoK, which until then had dealt with these aspects more between the lines).

However, in the latest versions of the given standards (as well as certification tests according to them) there is a relatively large earthquake reflecting the shift of the whole field. And also what a project manager is, or what skills he should have. Who or what is the role of a project manager in 2020?

In what environment was the “classic” project manager formed?

The first iterations of the standardization of the profession of project managers took place in the 1960s. IPMA – International project management association was first established, founded in 1965 under the name Internet (this name later came into a certain conflict and was changed in 1996). At that time, the subject of interest was mainly large construction-investment or engineering projects, in which companies from various countries gradually connecting in Europe cooperated. Sometimes more business, other times politics, but in more and more cases cooperating teams from different countries. And that required a certain level of standardization. IPMA began certifying project managers in 1998.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) has been established in 1969 in the United States. PMI focused on projects in the construction industry and also in the military industry (aerospace, defense and other areas). The PM BoK standard was first issued in 1996.


The PRINCE methodology (PROMPT II IN the CCTA Environment, later PRojects IN Controlled Environments) was developed as the UK Government’s standard for IT projects In 1989. Since 1996 as PRINCE2. So yes – engineers and builders were accompanied by IT crowd.


Common factors

Thus, all three main certification schemes of project managers were created in an environment in which large investments took place, project teams numbered many people and very often they worked with a state organization. This also logically implies a focus on clearly defined goals, a predetermined scope of implementation, schedule and budget – the three imperatives of the project. The task that the project manager had to undertake was to create sophisticated, detailed plans and then manage the team to implement them. With as few deviations as possible. The given form of approach to the project solution began to be referred to in the IT world as a waterfall (design – analysis – development – testing – deployment).

Given the “pace” of the time, it worked quite well. There were months and years of time to produce the plans themselves. As well as for implementation. And during this time, nothing fundamental has usually changed.

But such a time is (unfortunately / goddamn) gone.

And by the way, at least in the area of product development, a slightly different game began to emerge in the 1980s, which after 2000 expanded as SCRUM.

Project manager in 2020

As the CYNEFIN concept (which I wrote about here) mentions, the present is not different in all matters. If it is necessary to build a bridge from one side of the valley to the other, still works very well or best, the process developed since the 1960s. That is, first the construction is layed out, then someone designs and calculates it, then an implementation plan is created and then we get to the point – the construction itself. In such cases, it just still makes the most sense. The valley will probably not change dramatically from month to month, and it is also probably not a good idea to start building a bridge that I would not know what it should look like. Even a number of other activities and changes are simply linear, waterfall-like in nature.

For example, even a tour of a band around the world simply has its own schedule and any change or significant deviation would hurt a lot. I remember the documentary about the Rolling Stones, where the stage at the given place of the tour started to be built about 2 months before the concert and the logistics of everything was perfectly coordinated. It had to be, otherwise the lights would be missing at the concert for example. So the predictive way of planning still has its place and meaning in a certain context.

So why change anything?

Situations and environments where we have such a luxury that we know the form of the result and we can be confident that as long as we describe it and then implement it, our environment will not change significantly, has significantly decreased. The world has become from a completely predictable the VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). Significant and rapid changes are taking place, which are often caused by the exponential growth of technology. Development cycles are shortened to fractions of the original durations. A certain turning point occurred in this respect around 2015, with the significant advent of cloud services. Suddenly, you didn’t need your own expensive HW and operating staff to provide advanced applications. It was enough to buy the necessary capacity somewhere…

project manager in 2020 - Unicorn club

The idea that we will analyze an information system for a year to implement it for the next two to three years is becoming absurd. A completely different situation can be expected in four years after all, so our inital analysis would becam useless.

And it’s not just about IT technologies and SW, although it’s been clear there for a long time (the first formal version of the SCRUM process was published in 1995).

Uncertainty of results and variability of the environment is growing almost everywhere. In addition to IT, we can certainly talk about marketing projects, HR projects, organizational projects, transformations and changes, etc.

Challenges for project manager in 2020

The project manager in 2020 should therefore be able to address these challenges of dynamism and variability. He has to clean up a bit in an imaginary toolbox (unless he manages investment construction projects, etc.). It will probably be necessary to postpone robust, computationally complex predictive methods, because he will probably have nowhere to use them. Instead, it is necessary to pour into the toolbox techniques and skills for team facilitation, iterative and generally agile methods and tools and above all – a slightly different philosophy, approach.

We simply won’t meet a purely waterfall project without changes. If ever there was one. I have never personally encountered a project that would really go through all phases gradually without any significant changes. Such an idea was a little lying in your pocket even before. It is simply necessary to take as a fact that even in a predictively planned project there has been, is and will be a bite of change, the goals will often be “floating”, the scope unclear and that opinions will evolve over time. That’s just the way it is.

Project manager in 2020 – Don’t panic…

Of course, this does not mean that we should all throw everything away at once and start doing SCRUM or another purely agile path. In one context it makes sense, in another it doesn’t. However, it is certain that everyone in the position of project manager will have to absorb a certain amount of agility (universal agile principles can be an aid).

Just like a rare or unrealistic clean waterfall, it is difficult to find the optimal scrum environment – even in this case, you (or the product owner) the organization will want a vision, a business case of the product, a schedule of releases, etc. Not to mention that someone has to decide on the development of a product and set up a given scrum team… which simply does not solve scrum as such (it only solves the implementation, not how it is created or what to do with it then).

So we will probably move in environments with different degrees of agility (from weak to total) and it will be necessary to be able to deal with it.

Project manager in 2020 - Don't panic

What do the current versions of the standards say?

Leaving aside the purely agile Scrum Guide in the fifth revision of 2017, which does not include the role of project manager at all, the “classic” PM standards in 2020 are in a kind of transformation.


IPMA has had its IPMA Competence Baseline in version 4 since 2018. From version 3, in addition to a certain regrouping of competencies and the way they are verified, it differs mainly by the inclusion of competencies and tools regarding agile development. Suddenly, the Product Backlog appears next to the WBS, KANBAN appears next to the Gantt chart, etc. It’s about 90 classic / 10 agile, but it’s still a big leap.

For IPMA, the certification exam has also (not only) changed quite significantly in our country (CZE). Historically, it was a paper with many abcd questions, open-ended questions and numerous examples, such as calculating EVM, critical path, etc., which tested the knowledge and skills of creating predictive plans. The letter from the higher grades was followed by a report on the project and an interview.

Even in the new concept, the paper remained, but with a more practical focus. The question in the example is no longer how much is the reserve of activity H, etc., but what would you do in a situation where the project is in the XY state. And questions from the agile world have been added. Then the test itself is followed by a test simulation. Several candidates for live certification work together on assigned tasks (such as creating a project plan, etc.) and examiners have the opportunity to see and assess their competencies with their own eyes.

IPMA thus really goes against its concept that it does not test knowledge, but real competences, skills.

And then IPMA also has its own new reference “guide” for the agile world. And the Certified Agile Leader certification (in which the Czech Republic is one of the pilot countries) is also being created.


PMI changed the concept a lot already in the period of the fifth version of the standard from 2013. Not directly in the given version of the standard, but around 2015 the so-called PMI Talent Triangle began to be addressed and collecting development points (PDUs) from three areas appeared: Leadership, Strategy and Business Management. This showed a strong resemblance to how IPMA had for many years divided its competencies into technical, behavioral and contextual. And it only confirmed that it is right to want something more from PM than just calculating the planned duration of the project.

At the PMI Global Congress 2015, which I attended, there was a significant part of the contributions on agile. Not most, far from it, but the amount was surprising in the hitherto conservative PMI world.

A fundamental change

In 2017, there was a small earthquake, because with the new version of the standard, the so-called Agile practice guide was published straight away. Eventually, questions on EVM, etc. methods began to disappear from the certification tests, and questions with agile topics appeared instead. And the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) ® certification has been added.

PMI is certainly not over, as it has recently acquired “Disciplined Agile Delivery” (DAD), a methodological framework for agile in large companies (which originated at IBM) and is therefore stepping into the agile world very vigorously. Quite meaningfully, because PMI has always been primarily about corporations and large projects, and DAD comprehensively addresses agility in such an environment, while SCRUM is essentially more about a startup environment and a team of nine people… and scaling SCRUM or its implementation into a is a big enough nut that SCRUM as such doesn’t solve much. It is possible, but according to PMI, DAD can facilitate and speed up the adoption of agility in the corporation.

So we’ll see, it’s fresh and PM BoK version 7 is coming, which will certainly be strongly influenced by the above.


The PRINCE2 methodology, similar to the above, came in 2017 with a new version. And it already contained the manual and tests of the PRINCE2 Agile. In the concept of P2, it is about how to incorporate agile development into the processes of the classical P2 project. Respectively, where are the links and places where these two systems should “talk”. The given trend is therefore also present here.

So what should the project manager in 2020 do?

Develop and learn. That’s what all certification schemes want even now. Not only PM, but also Scrum has its SCRUM develupment units… at least in the Scrum Alliance certification scheme. For “classically” formed PM, I definitely recommend getting acquainted with the philosophy, procedures and tools of agile development. Otherwise, there is a real risk that the train will pass. And it is certain that some of it will come in handy. In fact, all projects already contain significant elements of uncertainty and many changes. So a degree of agility in their management is entirely appropriate. On the other hand, hand in heart, many agilists lack the ability to schedule work within a single sprint, so a certain PM hardskill is also in place.

Ambidextrous competences

The project manager in 2020 optimally combines knowledge and skills. “Classic technical”, agile, can communicate and work with the team and stakeholders and also has an overview of the business and its organization. And above all, the hardest thing, he must be able to think. Not to be a slave to one methodology or framework and try to rigidly stuff it everywhere. But think in the context of the situation and “pull out of the toolbox” what is best or interpolate and come up with new approaches. Then in some cases it can be more like a Product owner. Sometimes more like a Scrum master, sometimes more like a classic PM and sometimes even a team member. And he always realizes what is missing in the given case and context to the optimal state and somehow solves this shortcoming.

Somehow the role of PM has become more VUCA and it is all the more interesting, lively, but also challenging. We will probably talk about some fusion or hybrid project management in the future. And that’s great, because organizing the tenth annual WBS conference would be boring;).

About author

Jan Dolezal

Jan Dolezal

He currently deals with agility in organizations, Management 3.0 and the development of simulation games serving as project management training, including Agile.

He previously held the position of project office manager and managed large international projects (Europe, South America).

He has experience mainly with projects from IT, mechanical engineering or electrical engineering. He has been actively involved in project management since 2001. He is certified by PMI PMP, IPMA B and CSPO – Certified SCRUM Product Owner and CSP-SM – Certified SCRUM Professional – SCRUM Master from SCRUM Alliance. Read more details here.

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