The project management trends we’re watching in 2020 are all about the relationship between tech and humans.

This is the year of the robot assistant.

Advances like artificial intelligence are more accessible than ever. You can automate tasks and free up time to explore new ideas.

But it’s not all about the tools. It’s about the people.

Let’s talk about the most important project management trends for 2020:

  1. Focusing on wellbeing leads to productivity
  2. Micromanagement is out, trust is in
  3. Communication happens over time and distance
  4. Project management tools are popular despite some pushback
  5. Automation and AI support human effort
  6. Learning new skills is part of the job description
  7. Failure is an option
  8. Data informs every decision
  9. Modifying approaches for an Agile and traditional hybrid

1. Focusing on wellbeing leads to productivity

In 2020, more project managers are prioritizing the mental health of their team members. The better the team’s mental health, the better the productivity.

Think about it this way:

As a project manager, you assign tasks to each member of your team. Factors like skill level and current workload help decide who gets what. You don’t assign more work to someone who doesn’t have the time or the skill to get the job done.

But what about stress level?

Wellbeing and productivity

Whether your team is in the office with you or all in different time zones, prioritizing mental health is about communication.

Task-oriented people may have to work a little harder at this. If the people-focused stuff doesn’t come naturally to you, try thinking of mental health as a resource that you need to manage.

Pro tips for promoting wellness:

  • Get to know your people on a more personal level.
  • When someone stops communicating, reach out.
  • Encourage openness. Be careful about penalizing people when they share a challenge. Focus on being supportive and helpful.

2. Micromanagement is out, trust is in

Micromanagement has never been an effective strategy. In 2020, project management is going in the exact opposite direction.

The difference is trust.

Managers who constantly check up on employees think that people won’t work if they’re not watched. They worry about whether or not employees are “goofing off” or using company resources for personal stuff. Especially when paid by the hour, there’s a heavy focus on fitting more work into less time.

Good project managers tend to focus more on value and less on the details of how it gets done. A high-quality, completed project is worth what it’s worth.

That doesn’t mean that time tracking isn’t a thing. It means that time tracking is used to help identify potential challenges and ensure delivery of projects.


A lot of teams are doing away with the traditional 9am to 5pm day. Instead, they work around deadlines. People are empowered to work whenever and however they need to. One example comes from Alexandra Marin, co-founder of Code Crew.

“You work when you can, and you work when you’re productive…That’s why we ask nothing from our team but to deliver projects on time, and I’m happy to report that we never missed a deadline in the last 2 years.”

Trust your team to get things done. Your job is to make sure they have the right tools and resources, and their job is to crush it.

Pro tips regarding trust and management:

  • A flatter organizational structure makes it easier for your team to take full responsibility.
  • Set clear expectations and goals, then trust your team to meet them.
  • Encourage your team to talk about roadblocks early so you can fix them quickly.

3. Communication happens over time and distance

There’s no need to interrupt everyone’s workflow for unnecessary meetings. Online collaboration tools like Hubstaff Tasks, Confluence, and Asana allow people to work together without needing to work at the same time.

This communication style is closely related to the trust-based leadership we just talked about.

You don’t have to be available on-demand to make the project work. Instead, invest time at the beginning of the project to set up your tools and process.

Team members interact through those channels when they need to, and everyone works more efficiently.

Pro tips for communicating well:

  • Allow your team to answer you on their own schedule, not just on yours.
  • Keep important information somewhere that everyone can find it easily, like Airtable or Hubstaff Tasks.
  • When you do have stand-ups or other project meetings, make sure they’re valuable and streamlined.

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According to PWC, 77% of high performing projects are actively using project management software. Project management tools are especially important for remote teams, since they use multiple systems and apps to manage their projects.

Resistance to PM tools

The takeaway is this:

Project teams are using software, but they’re skeptical. This is driving positive change from software developers who are out to prove their tool’s worth.

Project management tools have come a long way, and they’re continuing to evolve with the industry. There’s more focus on ease of use, effectiveness, and the ability to integrate with the other tools you’re already using.

The learning curve to figure out a new tool is a lot shorter than it used to be.

With the depth and variety of project management tools available, you can build your tech toolbox around your individual needs.

Pro tips for using PM software:

  • Look for inefficiencies or bottlenecks that can be fixed with a good PM tool.
  • Don’t skimp on the setup. Invest the time up front so you can enjoy maximum efficiency later. Demos are a good idea.
  • Do your homework to find tools that do what you need them to. Wasting time trying to make the wrong tool do the right thing defeats the purpose of having a tool.

5. Automation and AI support human effort

If a human doesn’t have to do it, let a machine do it. The rise of artificial intelligence in project management is all about freeing up humans to do human things.

Routine tasks like reviewing timesheets, reporting, and managing schedules can all be easily automated.

Gartner AI prediction

It can be hard to trust a computer program to do your job. Automation will probably never replace the human touch, but if you use it wisely, it allows you to focus more on tasks that need your full attention.

Anh Tring from Geek With Laptop has found this to be true.

“I was skeptical at first that software could handle assignments, but I was wrong. I use the project management software Asana. It allows me to automatically assign work to my employees and I’ve barely lifted a finger to assign repeatable work.”

Project managers are more open to testing the AI features available in their toolkit. Basically, you’re able to partner with a machine to amplify your own capabilities.

Pro tips for automating work:

  • Read up on your existing tools, because they probably have some automations built-in.
  • Make identifying roadblocks a daily check-in by using the Stand-ups feature of your PM tool.
  • Artificial intelligence is only as good as the data you give it. Make sure your data is accurate and complete.

6. Learning new skills is part of the job description

Automation is freeing up more time. Project managers are trusting their team to deliver without strict daily schedules, and everyone is focusing more on mental health. That’s a recipe for personal growth.

As project management becomes more flexible, more managers are encouraging their team to invest time learning and developing new skills.

That might be time spent learning a new tool, or it could be an online course on leadership skills. More working hours are being dedicated to learning, and that’s really cool.

Encouraging your team to work on their skills pays off. They get a resource to fight burnout and set them up for career success. You get a team of competent, well-rounded professionals working on your projects.

Some companies even offer to pay for courses, certifications, and time off to attend workshops. This has been standard practice for a long time at a lot of major corporations, though smaller businesses rarely had the time or budget. As smaller teams adopt more flexible strategies, the increased efficiency is helping pay for learning and growth programs.

Pro tips for continual learning:

  • Encourage your team to learn new skills by recommending specific online courses on Lynda, Udemy, or Skillshare.
  • Create a Slack channel where everyone can share what they’re learning, from new tools to Toastmasters tips.
  • Set the example. Talk about what you’re learning outside of the current project.

7. Failure is an option

You often learn more from a failed project than you do from a successful one. The thing is, it’s hard to cut your losses when you’re under pressure to deliver.

Failing is expensive, especially when it happens late in a project. And the longer you work on something, the harder it is to admit it’s not going to work. It’s hard to walk away from the time, money, and energy you’ve already invested.

That’s why failing fast is important.

The culture around failure is changing for the better. Business leaders are recognizing that no amount of perfect leadership practice is going to eradicate failure completely.

Failure in top performing companies

That doesn’t even count the projects completed late or over budget.

Instead of bulldozing through until things fall apart, project managers are much more willing to speak up about projects that just aren’t working.

By addressing the things that aren’t working with honesty and frankness, it’s possible to learn and adjust before things go too wrong to fix. Identifying problems early might lead to cancelling a project before the budget gets out of control, or it might just mean you need to go back to your project plan and make some tweaks.

Pro tips on failure:

  • If your project keeps getting off track, go back to the project plan. The most common reason for project failure is a lack of clear goals.
  • Alert leadership as soon as you think failure is possible. Tell them what action you’re taking to correct it.
  • Don’t be afraid to recommend canceling a project that won’t meet its goals. Present a better solution and refocus.

8. Data informs every decision

Collecting, analyzing, and acting on data is central to project management in 2020.

Effective use of data reduces business risks. Data should inform your project plan, your team size, and the individual tasks you assign.

Even creative tasks like graphic design are becoming more data-driven. As the project manager, it’s up to you to collect the relevant details and present them to your team. This is one of those areas where AI comes in handy.

Team performance gets measured and analyzed, too. Data about your team’s activities can tell you a lot about productivity and help you quickly identify any weak points.

You might not be a numbers person, but those numbers represent real people and real challenges. Data analysis is like having millions of one-on-one conversations with the people you’re trying to reach, all at the same time.

Pro tips for becoming data-driven:

  • Get in the habit of using data visualizations to help you make informed decisions.
  • For more complex projects, consider adding a data analyst to the team.
  • Encourage everyone on your team to learn your data tool of choice and support their ideas with data.
agile project management trends

9. Modifying approaches for an Agile and traditional hybrid

Agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban are excellent. They do a good job breaking complex projects into manageable, flexible pieces.

But they’re not a perfect fit for every project. Agile comes from the software development world. It’s not always well suited for projects that are heavy on creative work or ongoing tasks.

Project managers are adapting by combining Agile and traditional approaches. Hybrid methodologies work great because they’re custom made for your team.

Hybrid approaches work well for teams with a lot of different viewpoints. You get input from people who might not normally work together. Communication is much easier, and your perspective as a project manager is more complete.

This works particularly well for projects that mix business areas like development and marketing. The traditional approach helps the marketers stay organized, and the developers work in Agile sprints. Each knows what the other is doing and can adjust accordingly.

Pro tips for creating your PM hybrid:

  • Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. If your approach isn’t working for everyone on your team, consider a hybrid.
  • Use Agile methodologies for the most complex parts of your project.
  • Use the right tools to manage your workflow and keep everyone connected in the same place.

Project Management in 2020: The Big Picture

Modern project management is all about using technology to support people. Project managers want to empower their teams to do great work.

Hubstaff Tasks was designed to do just that. Schedule a free trial today and let us know what you think.

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Category: Project Management