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5 Online Project Management Trends for 2021

Here's what's ahead for managing projects and how you can start preparing now.

Published By Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell
online project management trends | Planview

Once the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, many collocated organizations were forced to make the jump to remote work and online project management. This had a profound impact on the labor market, with project managers and teams having a greater responsibility to collaborate and keep an open line of communication.  

Will companies return to their “normal” working environments once the pandemic is behind us? It’s not likely.  

When asked, roughly 73% of executives viewed their switch to virtual teams as a success. It’s safe to assume that virtual collaboration will continue to be an important element next year.  

Read on to learn about five trends for online project management in 2021 and how you can prepare for them. 

Virtual teams needing context to collaborate 

Whether you work with virtual teams now or will make the jump in 2021, it’s likely that you’ll encounter people from different backgrounds. Alongside staff, you may be collaborating with stakeholders and external contractors working in the gig economy. You must get them all on the same page. 

Creating a virtual environment that encourages collaboration with context isn’t difficult, but it does require being an effective leader. Do this by thinking of ways to empower your teams to work their best. This means giving them the resources and scope to independently solve problems. 

Why this trend matters: 

The success of your initiatives that use online project management depends heavily on whether you’ve created a culture that facilitates contextual collaboration.  

Contextual collaboration is when teams are given all the tools necessary to ensure their success. By empowering teams to do their best, you can minimize unnecessary setbacks that cause projects to go over time and budget.  

Actions you can take:  

  1. Deploy a centralized virtual workspace for everyone to collaborate on. That way, teams receive the context and support they need to collaborate in any type of setting. 
  1. Use this workspace for planning and assigning tasks, sharing relevant digital assets, and engaging in real-time communication with virtual teams. 

Hybrid approaches for different working styles 

Did you know that an estimated 70% of companies are using some form of Agile

That doesn’t mean that the traditional waterfall method is dead, nor does it mean that organizations are forcing departments to adopt the Agile approach. But it does show how companies are exploring alternative project management methods and adapting them to their business models.  

Why this trend matters:  

There’s never been a one-size-fits-all project management approach. A method that works well for one project may negatively impact another project. As such, more organizations are exploring hybrid project methodologies that incorporate elements from two or more approaches, until they find a method that’s best for their project. 


Actions you can take: 

Implement a framework for online project management that’s the most compatible with your project. 

  1. Waterfall: Effective for projects where there’s a clear understanding of the project timeline and there won’t be unexpected changes  
  1. Agile: Great for projects where client/customer input is needed, and for projects where teams are capable of self-organizing and working independently 
  1. Waterfall-Agile hybrid: Ideal for projects where you prefer incremental work and self-organizing teams, but still need high-level, long-term planning  

There are even different methods within the Agile methodology that you can deploy, based on your project and your desired outcomes.  

  • Scrum: Teams have specific roles and are more involved in planning the project. Work is completed over defined periods of time known as sprints  
  • Kanban: Work is completed continuously, on an as-needed basis. Great for measuring and improving delivery speed, as well as making workflows more efficient 
  • ScrumbanA hybrid approach that adopts a continuous workflow from Kanban alongside important Scrum elements like iteration planning, task prioritization, and meeting cadences 

Read our guide on Kanban and Scrum to learn about both frameworks and when to use them. 

Want to learn more about Scrumban? We’ve got a guide on that, too.  

The continued reach of AI and automation 

Organizations in all industries have turned to emerging technology like internet of things (IoT) devices, cloud services, and artificial intelligence to keep up with the speed of business––and project management is no different. Expect to see tech-driven disciplines like online project management embrace AI and machine learning and use them to improve efficiency. 

Why this trend matters: 

AI-driven project management applications offer a wide range of benefits, including: 

  • Reducing time spent on admin work by automating tasks like scheduling and project balancing 
  • Collecting, tracking, and reporting relevant project data 
  • Detecting risks and identifying setbacks and irregularities 

Embracing AI technology’s role in online project management can minimize human error and help teams and project managers achieve more in less time. 

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Actions you can take: 

  1. Become aware of new technology and how it could impact your company’s performance. 
  1. Develop training programs that introduce any newly acquired tech to teams within your organization. 

Emotional intelligence in leadership 

Along with improving their professional credentials, project managers should develop their soft skillset. Attributes like good listening and communication, conflict resolution, and persuasive speaking are all important skills. Not only are they signs of a good leader, they can also improve your emotional intelligence (commonly referred to as EI or EQ). 

Why this trend matters:  

Whether you’re new to online project management or you’ve got years of experience working with distributed teams, you should be working on your emotional intelligence.

Being able to empathize and connect with your team on an emotional level can: 

  • Improve motivation and boost morale 
  • Help you keep an open channel of communication with teams and stakeholders 
  • Prevent miscommunications that could lead to misaligned goals and expectations 

Actions you can take: 

  1. Start by learning more about good leadership and what traits make an effective leader. 
  1. Build skills like good communication and good listening by checking in with your team periodically to see how they’re doing. 
  1. Consider scheduling a five-minute meeting every day, where you can check in with your team and address any challenges or frustrations they have. 

Tighter connection between strategy and execution 

Without good execution, even the most flawless strategy can fall apart when put into motion. This can happen in any area of the business, but tightening the connection between strategy and execution can be especially difficult in online project management. 

Why this trend matters: 

Without regular face-to-face communication, it’s easy for confusion to arise between project managers and virtual teams. Information gets lost in the back and forth. As a result, virtual teams aren’t completely sure what their responsibilities are, and well-planned strategies turn into poorly executed attempts. 

Tightening the connection between your strategy and its execution will help reduce confusion and help your project run more smoothly from start to finish. 

Actions you can take: 

  1. First and foremost, project managers need to understand the challenges teams face when implementing ideas. 
  1. Teams need to understand the thought process behind the strategy before they can execute it effectively. As the project manager, you can clear up any confusion by explaining the context behind strategies. 
  1. Be clear when explaining your goals and expectations. 
  1. If you can’t adequately articulate how to make your strategy work, continue planning until you can. 

Also, understand that you’re just as responsible for delivering a strong execution as your teams. If you don’t bridge the gap between your strategy and their execution, you could be setting them up for failure. 

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Setting your teams up for success 

Online project management can be challenging, regardless of whether you have experience working with virtual teams or not. If you’re struggling to keep your projects on track, follow the actionable tips in this post. They will help you develop the skills needed to not only adapt, but thrive in an ever-changing professional landscape. 

Remote work isn’t going away, even when the COVID-19 pandemic is completely behind us. Continue improving your skills in online project management by reading our guide on Project Management Tips and Tools. That way, you can become the brilliant project manager you’re meant to be.

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Written by Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell Sr. Manager, Content Marketing

Liz leads the go-to-market content team at Planview. She worked at LeanKit prior to the company being acquired by Planview. With more than a decade of Lean-Agile marketing experience, Liz passionately believes in the transformative power that applying Lean-Agile principles can have on teams and organizations.