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Author: Andrea Brockmeier

Top Business Trends to Watch for in 2023

This past year has been a bit of a respite from the chaos of the last couple of years as many people have settled into working from home, in the office, or some combination. We seem to have arrived at a new normal, at least as it relates to where we’re physically working.

Fortunately, much of what we’re working on and observing from our business training is as dynamic as ever. As members of the Educate 360 family have been doing for the last 30 years, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of what we see happening that suggests trends in various areas of our business world. This year, we are organizing our trends a little differently to better reflect the interplay between the areas we are watching, such as traditional disciplines like project management and business analysis. Further, as our Educate 360 family of specialized training brands continues to grow, we can include more topics to accommodate our broadening range of knowledge and expertise that more comprehensively reflect what’s happening in the business world.


With that in mind, our 2023 Trends Watchlist includes trends in:

Project Work and Product Delivery

  • PM Skills and PM Processes
  • Use Cases are Back!
  • Business Relationship Management is a Hot Certification for Everyone
  • Wither “Transformation”?
  • From “Projects” to “Products” Continues
  • Refocusing on Value
  • PMO – “Pretty Much Over”?


Data Science

  • Text-to-Anything Models


Cloud and Information Security

  • Serverless Architecture
  • The Security Risks of Digital Nomads
  • Shifting the Surface Area of Attacks in a Remote World


Power Skills and Leadership

  • Staying Disciplined to Priorities – Adding Less to Do More.
  • The 45-minute Meeting
  • Attracting & Retaining Talent…Continued


We’d love to hear your thoughts about our observations and prognostications. Join our webinar on January 5, 2023 to hear our contributors talk about these trends, get your thoughts, and answer questions. (Date has passed.)


Project Work and Product Delivery


PM Skills and PM Processes

In the world of project management, we are noticing more awareness of separating project management skills and project management processes. Organizational leaders know when projects are not producing the results expected; the challenge is understanding whether that is a consequence of the knowledge and competencies of the people working on projects, how projects are managed in the organization, or both. Of course, good processes can contribute to better skills and good skills can help develop good processes, but they are two different things. In our discussions with clients, they are paying more attention to whether they need to work on developing the skills of their practitioners or improve their project management processes. As with any good problem-solving, understanding the cause of the problem makes for a more strategic and ultimately successful investment of resources to fix it.


Use Cases are Back!

Use cases became widely adopted in the 1990s as a core model in Rational Unified Process (RUP). They are technology independent so there are no constraints as to how they can be used. Use cases were to be written from a business perspective, in business terminology for the end users to tell a story about their expectations of the system, that is, “If I do this, this is how I expect the solution to respond.” Unfortunately, over time, use cases were co-opted by technical designers who added technical design elements to them, so they ceased to be understood by the business. Eventually, they fell out of favor except by technologists.

However, there has been a resurgence of use cases being used in agile environments and using them as they were meant to be. For example, use case diagrams are again being used to diagram conversations about which “actors” (people or other systems) will interact with the system. They are also being used to provide contextual detail to make sure everyone is on the same page about what the system will or will not do and provide a conversation holder about how the user will interact with the solution. They ensure all questions about possible alternative or exception paths are answered at the outset before these questions bog down work or slow down an agile team’s progress. They also feed nicely into test cases. All of these benefits are again being recognized – in a new type of environment.


Business Relationship Management is a hot certification for everyone.

Organizations are built on relationships. Thus, every organization needs a business relationship management (BRM) capability. Many certified project managers and business analysts are recognizing the value of expanding their capability in this power skill and even pursuing certification. It does not take away from other roles or drive the individual in a different direction, but rather empowers them to thrive with a mission to evolve culture, build partnerships, drive value, and satisfy purpose. As a project manager, BRM capabilities can optimize the value of ideation, and value management. They help link projects to organizational strategy and purpose across functions. As a business analyst, BRM capabilities focus on building partnerships and recognizing, measuring, and communicating value through effective relationship management. As an organizational change manager, BRM capabilities help build strong partnerships with people to help them move from the current state to the future state. Even executives can use this certification to support and communicate organizational factors and value to support strategy and satisfy organizational purpose.


Wither “Transformation”?

While the word, “transformation” continues to be popular both within the Agile community and within organizations pursuing a more adaptive way of working, an emerging trend within both is a growing realization that the word actually underplays the fundamental change needed to realize the desired result. Becoming agile (note the lowercase reference to adaptability versus the uppercase reference to the Agile movement) is starting to be viewed, not as an event that can be defined, planned, executed, and closed; but instead as an evolution, a fundamental shift toward becoming an organization that values learning, along with continuous small improvements, above all else in delivery of customer value. This development will come as no surprise to the founders of the movement, but it represents a significant shift for those organizations who are just beginning to understand what being “agile” truly means.


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From “Projects” to “Products” Continues

While this trend began a few years back, the shift from “project-based” thinking to “product-based” thinking will continue and accelerate in the new year. The implications associated with this trend are profound. Organizations will continue to define their “products” (this is often not as easy as it sounds) and be challenged to alter how these products are staffed, funded, developed, deployed and evaluated. One specific aspect of this shift will be the continued emphasis on outcomes – the impact that a product delivery effort has on its intended users and/ or customers. This emphasis will specifically challenge organizations to truly understand who these users and customers are and identify ways to measure the value that they provide from their perspective instead of focusing on legacy measures of success such as “on-time, on-budget”.


Refocusing on Value

With economic tightening underway worldwide there will be increased pressure to define and deliver true value in 2023. “Value” is a word that remains misused and abused in many organizations. Who among us hasn’t been told, “that’s not value-add!” with no definition of the word accompanying that exclamation? With funding plentiful due to governmental subsidies during the pandemic and organizations dealing with the multitude of changes forced on them by COVID, it was easy to relax the definition of what was truly valuable. As the economic cycle trends downward and funding becomes more scarce, organizational discipline around defining and delivering “value” will only increase.


PMO – “Pretty Much Over”?

This title is a re-run of a joke that has circulated for a number of years in the Project Management and Information Technology communities. While 2023 will not see Project Management Offices (PMOs) go away, it will see a shift in both their purpose and structure.  Organizations will continue to realize that a centrally controlled office responsible for policing how individual projects are executed is not adaptive enough to accommodate the change that is ever present in today’s workplace. Instead, PMOs will shift to being smaller organizational units dedicated to laying out and fulfilling the minimum structure necessary for reporting results while, at the same time, becoming a resource that individual efforts can call upon for training and instruction in methods that speed the delivery of value (e.g., removing organizational impediments).


Data Science


Text-to-Anything Models

Recent advances in Machine Learning and GPU Cloud Computing have allowed for the creation of models that can take in text input and generate output in a completely different modality. Consumers may already be familiar with services like DALLE-2, which allows for the generation of images from a text description (text-to-image), but that is only one use case for text input generation. Recent publications have shown work in text-to-video, text-to-3dmodel, and text-to-audio. Text-to-video models allow for the generation of videos (several minutes in length) from just a text description, for example “Video of biking during a sunset” and then viewing an .mp4 output displaying the video. Text-to-3DModel has allowed for the quick creation of 3D digital assets from a simple text description and text-to-audio can generate background MP3 audio files from a simple text description, such as “audio of car alarm in background noise”. We expect to see more use of these technologies in an increasingly wider variety of applications into and beyond 2023.


Cloud and Information Security


Serverless Architecture

Most organizations that have migrated to the cloud did so by simply building out their applications in the cloud the same way they always did on-premises starting with creating virtual machines. As the cloud deployments have matured, we are seeing a shift to the serverless architecture. Instead of worrying about the size and quantity of virtual machines needed to run a given application stack, serverless allows companies to concentrate on the application itself. No longer needing to worry about the underlying instances their applications are running on (operating system and runtime updates and security patches as well as scale) developers can now focus solely on the application and its code. Services such as AWS Fargate, Azure Functions and Google Cloud Run are all examples of this serverless architecture. The move to serverless is being driven in part by cost savings. But serverless is also increasing agility and time to market of solutions.


The Security Risks of Digital Nomads 

The pandemic caught many companies off guard when employees needed to start working from home. It was a challenge for those organizations that must comply with regulatory requirements to make sure their staff was able to access personally identifiable information (PII), protected healthcare information (PHI), and financial information in a secure manner. Many have succeeded in creating a secure environment for those that gain access to sensitive information from home by implementing Administrative, Physical, and Technical controls. As companies continue to allow employees to work from home, a new trend will emerge to compromise the assets that support the critical business processes.


Shifting the Surface Area of Attacks in a Remote World

Hackers will no longer focus on directly attacking a company’s network; a new emphasis will be placed on compromising the end user’s personal accounts and applications used on the same computers gaining access to corporate data. Security professionals will need to focus their attention on the increase in social engineering attacks and phishing emails designed to gather information from the computers being used for remote access. The cached information in memory, temporary files and on the local hard drives on a compromised machine will be a treasure trove for hackers.




Staying Disciplined to Priorities – Adding Less to Do More

As 2023 brings in another year of unprecedented access to data, leaders continue to be inundated with inputs to inform decision-making and prioritization. This access to information is generally positive for leadership but it elevates the need for more disciplined prioritization. Prioritization allows individuals, teams, and organizations to ensure that they are spending time, money, and other resources on the most important initiatives. Priorities can be defined by helpful frameworks to assess the nearly unlimited options a leader has to steer a team forward.

While it may be tempting to take immediate action with the new information presented and regularly add priorities to pursue new opportunities, the best leaders will remain disciplined to ensure that new information enhances ongoing priorities and that new initiatives are not considered for addition until progress is beyond a certain point. When a leader declares something a priority, it should have a strong and clear rationale for pursuit but also have clear checkpoints of progress along the way. This allows the team to stay focused on the end vision of that priority, while also allowing for pivots and tactical changes as necessary with the infusion of new data and information. Too many priorities with too little progress can have a detrimental impact on team productivity and morale.

Priorities can also serve as a fantastic filter for a team’s time allocation – does what I’m about to work on relate to our organization’s priorities? If not, I’m going to limit my time dedicated to it so I can get back to the things that will drive the progress against our organization’s priorities! The pressure will continue to increase for leaders to help their organizations stay disciplined in their priorities, despite temptations to chase after new opportunities with continuous cycles of new data and information in order to accomplish more against their stated priorities and keep their team members engaged and energized.


The 45-Minute Meeting

A tactical leadership trend starting to emerge and likely to increase in popularity in the coming year is the notion of the 45-minute meeting (…or the 25-minute meeting). Three years into the remote / hybrid work environment because of the global pandemic and let’s face it: it is not uncommon to have long stretches of your day in back-to-back virtual meeting environments barely leaving room for a bio-break or scrap of food. We’re all tired!

A simple way to improve productivity and employees’ mental health in the current virtual communication environment is to reduce the duration of meetings. Just because calendar invite preferences default to 30-minute increments, does not mean that they cannot be adjusted. And as meeting durations get customized, people are being more intentional about the time spent virtually collaborating – like sending agendas in advance to help cut down on the awkward silences and gaps to figure out where to take the discussion next or sending relevant materials before the call to provide additional time for digestion and contextualization. The lack of complaints from the recipients of invitations to shorter meetings is also likely to continue. It turns out that the vast majority of people appreciate a few minutes to refill their coffee!


Attracting & Retaining Talent…Continued

This will sound repetitive from last year, but the key leadership issue we are still hearing about is attracting and retaining talent. While the underlying drivers are slightly different, this theme is still the same. A year ago, there was a lot of talk about returning to the office and a hot labor market making people more prone to leaving. While these issues are still there, as a return to office has happened in all sorts of grey ways, and some rumblings of the labor market getting just slightly less hot, these have become just two of multiple factors and not so much THE factors driving the attracting and retaining talent challenge.

What has become the driver is broadly making the workplace one that people want to join and at which they want to remain. This is clearly stating the obvious. However, it seems like the obvious has too many factors to consider: pay, benefits, work-life balance, mission, advancement, fulfillment, feeling welcome, and enjoyment, just to name a few. (As you can see, last year’s prominent topics of COVID-related items and hot labor market are subfactors in this list).

Balancing all of these items seems impossible considering that they are of unique and varying degrees of importance and priority to every individual. It is becoming clear that the simplest answer to hitting the mark on those factors might be the only answer and that is to focus one level up: Is this a place at which people want to work? That simpler question is easier than constantly thinking the next level down to the tens if not hundreds of levers and dials that one tries to get right. Are people happy with what they are doing, do they feel welcome, do they feel they are well-compensated at work?

We can’t get every dial perfectly right and by no means are we saying we can get things right for everyone, but in aggregate, using common sense and basic human empathy can really be the only formula – all the dial-turning is more art than science if you use your common sense and empathy as a leader. Unlike last year when leaders tried to get the exact right formula for inspiring people to return to the office, now with no one item being the most important to everyone, leaders just need to look, listen, and act wholistically to make their company a place at which people want to work.




Educate 360 Professional Training Partners upskills individuals with the Management & Leadership, Data Science, and IT skills needed by technology-led and innovation-driven organizations. Educate 360 is comprised of specialized training brands with footprint throughout the U.S. and Europe including Pierian Training, Project Management Academy, Six Sigma Online, United Training, Velopi, and Watermark Learning.

Jason Cassidy, PMP, is CEO of Educate 360.

Andrea Brockmeier, PMP, is Director of Project Management at Watermark Learning.

Ken Crawshaw is Senior Principal Technical Instructor for United Training.

Amy Farber is Chief Strategy & Commercial Officer, driving growth initiatives across Educate 360.

Dr. Susan Heidorn, PMP, CBAP, BRMP, is Director of Business Solutions at Watermark Learning.

Norman Kennedy, MCT, AAI, is a Cloud and Security focused Senior Technical Trainer at United Training.

Jose Marcel Portilla is Head of Data Science at Pierian Training.

Mike Stuedemann, PMP, CST, is a Scrum-Focused, Agile Agnostic Coach and Trainer at AgilityIRL and partners with Educate 360 for Scrum Alliance courses.

Top 10 Business Trends To Watch For In 2022

By Andrea Brockmeier, Jason Cassidy, Susan Heidorn, Jose Marcial Portilla, and Mike Stuedemann

While 2021 has been better in many ways than 2020, it doesn’t feel much more predictable. Yet, at Educate 360 we have identified some the biggest trends we are seeing and expect organizations to continue experiencing in Project Management, Business Analysis, Agile, Data Science, and Leadership in the year ahead.

Overall, the theme of working remotely comes through loud and clear and we expect it to impact almost every area that we covered.

Here are our Top 10 trends to watch for in 2022. We’d love to hear your thoughts about our observations and prognostications.

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Project Management

Project Managers as Project Leaders

The recognition that project managers are both leaders and managers is not new, but the need for the leadership aspect of the role has intensified in the last couple of years and will continue to do so in 2022. In fact, we are hearing more organizations using the title project leader as opposed to project manager.

To be sure, the technical aspects of the job such as scheduling, budgeting, and tracking haven’t been eliminated, but the need for skills like influencing, facilitating, communicating and other “soft” skills associated with the PM as leader has become paramount. Project managers as leaders are going to continue to be challenged in 2022 with distributed teams and all the distractions of ever-changing global and work environments. Leading the team and engaging stakeholders to sustain buy-in is going to continue to be job one for effective PMs in 2022.

More Organizations Using Project Management Tools

In 2022, expect to see a continued increase in the use of project management tools beyond the standard Microsoft Office suite. We used to see only the occasional client using a PM application of any kind and it was almost always Microsoft Project. Whether because people are working remotely, tools have become more cost effective, or tools have become more accessible and easier to use, we see more organizations using PM-specific tools and we’re seeing a wider variety of tools, as well.

At first this may seem contradictory to the previous trend of project leadership getting emphasized over project management; tools are not generally used for the leadership aspects of the PM role. Perhaps these trends are mutually reinforcing in that tools like Asana, Wrike, Easy Project, Smartsheet and others help with project management which allows the PM to tend to the demands of project leadership. Whatever the reason, we look ahead to 2022 as a robust year for PM tool implementation.

Business Analysis

Strong Facilitation and Communication Skills for Remote Business Analysts

We have all have heard about the Great Resignation – employees leaving their jobs in record numbers in search of better pay and career opportunities, a healthier work-life balance, a less toxic working environment, and desire to continue to work remotely. As a result, many companies are reducing their carbon footprint as well as costs, so they either have smaller offices, holding a space for meetings or providing “hoteling” spaces when employees need or want to go into the office to work. Organizations are also realizing that they can hire talent around the globe.

So, what does this mean for business analysts? It means we must get better at communicating and facilitating in a virtual environment. We must learn how to build trust when we can’t directly “see” stakeholders daily. We must be able to facilitate virtually to ensure we elicit inclusive requirements and not just those from a few vocal stakeholders. We need to learn to creatively collaborate with our team members, colleagues, and key stakeholders to ensure we have their buy-in.

BAs need to think about communicating and facilitating with more intention. This calls for mindful facilitation as opposed to simply the ability to use Microsoft Teams, Slack, or other communication platforms. We are already starting to see – and we continue to see in 2022 – more BAs focus on learning how to create safe, trust-laden, and collaborative environments within which stakeholders readily share information in a world that has been changed forever.

Digital Transformation Strategy Supported by Business Analysis

Digital transformation has been a trend for some years, and it is still going full steam ahead. Yet, most of these efforts fail. There are many reasons cited for this failure; among the most common include:

  • NOT understanding the business problem, but instead just throwing solutions or technology at the wall to see what sticks.
  • NOT determining success criteria so organizations have no way of knowing if the initiative has been successful because there was not a shared understanding of what success looked like.
  • NOT realizing that digital transformation introduces cultural changes in the organization (which is also one of the reasons many organizations had difficulty adopting agile).

Because of these failures, organizations moving toward digital transformation will rely more on business analysis capabilities to effectively address root causes of the problems above. BAs will be used on digital transformation initiatives to ensure the business problem or opportunity has been fully analyzed and understood, to verify that the organization is ready to adopt the new culture, and to identify overall success measures as well as identifying smaller, incremental success measures that can be measured throughout the project.

These efforts will also require a business analyst’s in-depth knowledge of agile business analysis approaches, tools, and techniques that will be critical as organizations strive to become more agile in their ability to respond to customers and competitors. Look for lots of opportunities in 2022 for BAs to plug in as key strategic resources on digital transformations.


Teams Continue to be Distributed – By Choice, Not Necessity

It can be argued that the COVID 19 pandemic did more to transform the world of work than any document, framework, certification approach or technology. One of the lasting impacts of the pandemic is that distributed teams are here to stay. Product development team members and their leaders will need to permanently adjust to working in a distributed fashion.

While many still share the perception that all Agile frameworks require co-located teams (see principle 6 associated with the Agile Manifesto), technology has advanced to the point where a team adopting a framework doesn’t need to all be in the same location. Continued discipline, particularly in the area of communication and team working together agreements, will be required as teams shift from distributed work by necessity to distributed work by choice.

Scaling – Addition by Addition or Addition by Subtraction?

The marketplace continues to see the emergence and growth of a number of Agile scaling frameworks. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), Scrum at Scale (S@S) and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) are just a few of the prominent entries in this space. Next year will see organizations continue to adopt these frameworks as they seek to realize the benefits of being more responsive to change at a global level.

Current thoughts are mixed regarding how to achieve this goal. While many of the current frameworks (e.g., SAFe) advocate adding structure and layers, some like LeSS believe that true organizational agility can only be achieved by removing items from the organization that don’t directly contribute to the delivery of customer value. This debate is even more nuanced when the idea that some additional structure might be necessary on a temporary basis while the organization is being transformed. In 2022, we expect to see continued debate as to what steps are actually necessary to achieve agility on a global scale.

Agile Outside of Software

The Agile movement was born in the software development space. After all, it is called the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”. In recent years, other domains have adopted a number of the values and principles that define the Agile movement in attempt to accrue its benefits. For example, there is currently an Agile Marketing Manifesto as well as efforts to bring an Agile mindset and some of its practices into education.

This trend will accelerate in 2022 as events such as the pandemic, natural disaster, and political and economic shifts remind organizations that the only constant is change.

Data Science

Increasing Application of Artificial Intelligence and Reinforcement Learning

We often hear that Artificial Intelligence is one of the trends that will change the world. This past year certainly validates that sentiment, and 2022 will continue to see evidence of this powerful trend.

But what is actually meant by the term “Artificial Intelligence”? Technically speaking, AI systems typically incorporate a special type of machine learning known as “Reinforcement Learning.” These specialized programs allow a computer to learn the same way a human does, through experience with trial and error.

In 2016, DeepMind (an Alphabet company) made headlines when its computer program AlphaGo beat the world’s best Go player, a feat many previously thought was impossible. The AlphaGo program worked through Reinforcement Learning methods, where the computer played thousands of games against itself, learning the best tactics to win the game of Go.

Fortunately, Reinforcement Learning has applications beyond just board games. In 2021, DeepMind released AlphaFold 2, a computer AI program that can accurately predict protein folding structures, opening up new possibilities in drug discovery and medicine.

The application of AI and reinforcement learning will definitely be a trend to keep an eye on, as the progress has increased exponentially.

Huge Strides to Continue with Natural Language Processing

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is the use of machine learning models to interpret raw text data, such as Wikipedia articles or even code written by humans. Traditionally, NLP technology has been used for classifying text articles into categories or sentiment analysis of reviews. By simply training NLP models on existing text data sets, the models can learn the topic of a new article, or whether a movie review is positive or negative.

Huge strides have recently been made in the capabilities of upcoming NLP technology. In 2020, OpenAI released “Generative Pre-trained Transformed 3,” commonly known as GPT-3, which has the ability to generate text that is nearly indistinguishable from that written by a human. GPT-3 was trained on hundreds of billions of words that were scraped from the internet and is even capable of coding in CSS, JSX, Python, among others.

In 2021, OpenAI further expanded on the idea of an NLP model that can code, by releasing Codex and Github Copilot. These futuristic state-of-the-art models can not only automatically complete large portions of code, but they can also accept a description of what the code should do and produce the corresponding code. Check out this Codex demo launch video.

The future is already here! We are definitely looking for exciting new applications of NLP continue to make headlines in 2022.


Attracting & Retaining Talent – But Different Than Before

Attracting and retaining talent is the most prominent topic of conversation we’ve observed in media related to leadership, specifically attracting and retaining talent in a COVID-changed environment. It’s not clear anyone has permanently figured out the solution as the situation is still in flux, so we have listed key points that we hear leaders weighing in with in their decisions related to remote work and its implications for finding quality team members.

Let’s start by making a broad assumption (that certainly can still be refuted) that some jobs cannot be done remotely (e.g., printing and shipping) and some jobs potentially can be done remotely. Below are the key topics of debate that will continue to shape this discussion in 2022:

  • Job Equity: Is it fair to the people whose roles cannot be done remotely and who have to come into the workplace that others can work at home? As this question is discussed topics related to safety, expenses, commute time, flexibility, teamwork, fairness all come into play.
  • Productivity: Even if jobs can be done remotely, what is the level of productivity of remote work versus work in the office? As this question is discussed one hears that people work longer hours at home because they are not commuting, that people are more productive at home because they can focus and not be disturbed. On the other hand, you hear others say that people are less productive at home because they are distracted by non-work items and that people are less productive at home because they are not being watched. You also hear discussion of managers’ ability to manage in-person versus remote team members.
  • Cultural Impact: Even if a job can be done at home, is it better for the organizational culture? As this question is discussed topics related to collaboration, mentoring, camaraderie, organic problem solving and innovation, and work-life balance come into play.

These debates and questions will dominate leadership conversations in the coming year as leaders continue the challenge of finding and hanging on to top talent.

Jason Cassidy, PMP, is CEO of Educate 360, the parent company of Project Management Academy, Watermark Learning, and Pierian Data. – training partners of choice helping organizations improve organizational efficiency and effectiveness, increase cross-functional alignment, and drive results to help meet and exceed business performance goals.

Andrea Brockmeier, PMP, is Director of Project Management at Watermark Learning, an Educate 360 partner company. Dr. Susan Heidorn, PMP, CBAP, BRMP is Director of Business Solutions at Watermark LearningJose Marcel Portilla is Head of Data Science at Pierian Data Inc., an Educate 360 partner. Mike Stuedemann, PMP, CST, is a Scrum-Focused, Agile Agnostic Coach and Trainer at AgilityIRL and partners with Watermark Learning for Scrum courses.

Join our webinar on December 10 to hear our contributors talk about these trends and answer questions.

Hey Project Managers: Got BA?

The tempo of change and level of uncertainty on many levels keeps organizations constantly having to strategize to sustain their customers’ interest and remain competitive.

Similarly, project professionals have to strategize to keep their organizations’ interest in keeping them on board. It’s an effort that constantly requires learning new tools and developing new skills to remain competitive in the workforce.

For project managers these days, this can be a little angsty as it often seems that interest in projects, per se, is yielding to a focus on products and product delivery. Indeed, PMs today can feel a bit adrift trying to find their place in a product-driven world.

Obviously, agile is a key driver to how organizations orient themselves and their team members to achieving organizational goals. If my students are any indication, nearly all organizations are on some kind of agile journey in at least some parts of the organization. At the very least, an agile mindset is resonating with people at all levels of the business, inspiring them to rethink how they respond to change and uncertainty, and informing the decisions about how to apply resources to achieve business goals.

So what is the best investment of time and money for a project manager, particularly one who may have grown up professionally in traditional, project-driven, plan-driven environments? Projects and the skills and tools employed to manage them aren’t going away. Certainly PM training and certification are always good options. And it goes without saying that any training or skills development related to agile is time well spent.

The other discipline that savvy project managers are wise to invest in today is business analysis. Rather than trying to figure out how to be a project manager in an agile, product-oriented environment, PMs serve themselves and their organizations well by evolving their skills and knowledge to include business analysis.

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Business analysis, the activities done to support solution delivery, alignment to business goals, and continuous value delivery, has long been a domain distinct and yet inextricably integrated with project management. The BA role that does those activities typically works closely with the PM, but they are separate efforts; the PM is the custodian of the project and the BA is the custodian of the product. Typically, much BA work is done in the context of projects or programs, so it can get messy as to where the boundaries are, as many hybrid PM-BA practitioners can attest.

A key incentive for PMs to develop BA skills is that those skills and tools are heavily used in agile environments. The various agile frameworks used to handle uncertainty and solve complex problems are customer and product-centered, as opposed to project-centered. PMs struggling to figure out how they fit into agile environments often frustrate themselves and others because they are looking through a different, project-oriented lens. The more organizations mature in their agile practice, the more frustrating this can become.

Business analysis, on the other hand, is used ubiquitously in agile environments and is more fundamentally agile than is project management. BA skills and tools are largely about discovery, facilitating conversations, establishing alignment, and getting to consensus. Project management tools and techniques are, of course, employed in agile environments, but the translation of the role is not as simple and clean. BAs don’t have to figure out how they fit in agile environments like PMs do. The work of business analysis is needed everywhere.

Further, and for a variety of reasons, business case development and pre-project activities, as well as solution evaluation and post-project activities, are often done superficially. PMs who can actively engage in these extra-project activities elevate their value proposition for their organizations.

PMs who are paying attention recognize that a top core competency for just about anyone working in organizations today is business analysis. If you are a PM and don’t know much about business analysis, or if you have not had an opportunity to do BA work in your environment, do yourself a favor and explore how you can develop those skills and get experience doing more BA work. The more you learn, the more likely you will be to see where your PM work has included BA activities. Bonus: Refining your understanding of business analysis will make the distinction between the BA and PM roles clearer and make you better at both!

PMs trying to keep their bearings on how they fit into an increasingly agile world must be looking to develop their skills and knowledge in business analysis. If your organization isn’t specifically on an agile journey yet, they are certainly being affected by it. As agile approaches become normalized and less of something everyone is trying to figure out, so too will the need for business analysis skills.

Risk – Early Conversations Make For Better Projects

Every project and every project stakeholder deserves some risk management, no matter how small or simple the project.

That is a sentiment I often share with my project management students, inspired by an experience I had managing a small project years ago.

I was assigned to a project that had to be delivered in a short period of time. Fortunately, the product was very familiar to me and the team, and we had done similar types of projects in the past. Further, team members already knew each other and the SMEs in the organization who would be providing support.

Even though I had worked with the team members previously, I had concerns about one of them, Jon, because we hadn’t used him in this particular role. I did not think that what he was providing on the project played to his strengths. But since no one else seemed concerned and we were in a rush, I decided to move ahead without any discussion around project risks. I didn’t want to be a nay-sayer. We had done this before and these team members were familiar with the product, the organization, and each other. What could possibly go wrong? I figured we would just cross that bridge if, and when, we got to it.

Well, many weeks into the project, we got to that bridge. Jon produced his deliverable – and it was a mess. Way worse than I could have imagined. Total show stopper. What was even messier, however, was having to tell my sponsor about the problem. As much as anything, I was frustrated with having to present what appeared to be a “surprise” to my sponsor. I wasn’t looking to say, “I told you so,” but the burden of the mad scramble to respond felt heavier than it no doubt would have if the sponsor and others had been aware.

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Many late-night phone calls and floor pacing ensued along with considerable stress just trying to figure out how to communicate what had happened. Actually, developing a response to the issue felt entirely secondary to the challenge of communicating that it had occurred. I couldn’t see clear to a solution because I was so concerned about my sponsor’s reaction.

For many, the reaction to something like this on projects is often emotional and poorly scaled. Further, the inclination is to spend time figuring out how a problem could have happened, what could have prevented it, what should have been done differently, etc. While the intention of those reactions isn’t always to place blame, they often leave people feeling like they did something wrong and it can create negative energy on the project. That was certainly the case with this project.

Looking back, a conversation with my sponsor about my concern would have better served the interests of the project and the organization, as opposed to ignoring it in order to move faster to meet an aggressive deadline. In fact, I am certain that we would have accepted the risk and not done anything proactive about it. Talking about it early on, however, would have changed the tone of the conversation once it did happen.

Early discussions about potential threats serve to get concerns in the open so that if they do occur, the reaction from the project manager, sponsor, and others can be more constructive and get to problem-solving faster.

It’s the conversation that matters, and having it early about potential problems is a lot easier than having to initiate a conversation mid-project after an issue has already created problems. They help create a project culture of openness and trust. Most importantly, better project decisions get made, resources are used more wisely, and project tempo is sustained when the risks do occur.

I learned a lot from that experience. No matter how small, how familiar, or how “been here done this” I feel about a project, I make sure we take some time early on to talk about what could go wrong. That makes risks a safe topic, and one that’s likely to be revisited throughout the project – in a tone of partnership.

How about you? What has your risk management experience been on small projects?

What the New PMBOK® Guide Means for PMP Certification and How to Digest It – Part 2

This is the second of a two-part article pertaining to the new PMBOK® Guide. In the first part, I highlighted the changes.

In this second part, I suggest an approach to digesting the new version and share some thoughts about the exam changes.

Thoughts About the PMP® Certification Exam Change 

The big day is Monday, March 26, 2018. That is the first day the revised version of the exam will be administered to reflect the latest version of the PMBOK®. Below are a couple of things to keep in mind regarding this, or any PMI exam update:

Except for the CAPM, PMI exams are not specifically based on the PMBOK® or any PMI standard. They are based on analysis of what people do in a particular role as outlined in the Role Delineation Study (RDS) and the Exam Content Outline (ECO) that is created from that study. The PMBOK® and other standards ensure language and terminology consistency and they help ensure that questions are rooted in the profession’s common, best practices. In fact, the biggest changes to a PMI exam are initiated by a change to the RDS and resulting ECO. Theoretically, then, there is no reason to expect huge changes to the exam in March.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the PMBOK® may be over 750 pages, but the PMP exam is still 200 questions. The PMP exam has always been a little bit about a lot of things, and that isn’t changing. To the extent that the PMBOK® is a key source for PMP certification exam prep, the revised exam will now be a little bit about even more…which makes it even shallower and wider.

While I don’t think there’s reason to expect a significantly more difficult exam in March, I would recommend waiting until a couple of months after March and paying attention to informal feedback about the exam on LinkedIn and other social media. People will share their perceptions of the exam in social media groups which can be helpful as one prepares for the test.

How In The World Can I Absorb All These Changes?

First, note that there are three parts to the new PMBOK® Guide.

Part 1 includes the Introduction, Environment, Role of the Project Manager, and the Knowledge Areas. This is the vast majority of the book and goes into detail on the processes, inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs.If you are already familiar with the PMBOK®, you can probably keep track of where you are at while reading this section.

Part 2 If you are new to the PMBOK®, however, you might want to start with Part 2, The Standard for Project Management. This covers many of the same concepts in Part 1 but at a higher level. More importantly, this section goes through the processes by Process Group (PG) rather than by Knowledge Area (KA), which is helpful to understand what project managers really do (PGs), as opposed to what they know (KAs). The PMP exam is organized by PG rather than KA, so this is also a good resource for certification exam prep. Plus, the descriptions of the processes in Part 2 are described along with identification of the inputs and outputs only – without tools and definitions and descriptions of the inputs and outputs, making it less confusing for those not familiar with it.

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Part 3 also contains helpful information that might be worth looking at before going into the weeds in Part 1. Previous editions of the PMBOK® included Appendix X1 with the new edition changes. However, in past editions, I was slow to get to the appendices because I wanted to get into the details. With this edition, assessing the enormity of the task quickly led me to these less “popular” sections of the PMBOK. Simply breaking it down will make it less overwhelming, easier to absorb, and will make and your training easier.

The appendices are extremely helpful. Here is a summary:

  • Appendix X1. If you want to know what the changes are from the Fifth Edition, they are handily captured in Part 3’s Appendix X1. Not only are the changes identified, but the rules around construction of the PMBOK® are listed here which is helpful. For example, “Outputs from one process should become an input into another process unless the output is a terminal output or embedded within another input such as project documents.” (page 640). That’s handy to know! This is discussed in Part 1, but it is easier to catch in Part 3.
  • Appendix X3, X4, and X5 are very helpful in their summary presentation of information that is included at the beginning of each KA chapter. Specifically, X3 goes into how the project life cycle (adaptive, iterative, hybrid, etc.) impacts the processes described in Part 1, but it does so by Process Group. Again, this is helpful from the standpoint of understanding how project management really works.
  • Appendix X4 and X5. These include all the Key Concepts that are presented at the beginning of each KA in Part 1. And Appendix X5 includes all the Tailoring Considerations needed for adaptive, iterative, and other life cycles that were identified at the beginning of each KA in Part 1. It is very helpful to have these sections consolidated in one place to review together, as opposed to reading the Key Concepts and Tailoring Considerations specific to each KA one chapter at a time.
  • Appendix X6 presents a matrix summarizing which process utilizes each tool. It includes a reference guide for all the Tools and Techniques described in Part 1. Throughout Part 1, the tools are defined and described in detail the first time they are mentioned, then subsequent inclusions of the tool reference the original section where it was defined. Getting a sense of where and how the tools are used can be challenging. Appendix X6 shows where to find the detailed description of each tool. This makes it easy to look up where the tool is defined and where it is used.

Overall, even for those of us who have been steeped in PMBOK-ese for many years, this new edition is a lot to digest. Taking a little time to assess how it’s organized yields a better approach to understanding it.

I’d love to hear what your plans are for certification and your exam experience. Good luck!