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Tech must underpin project management

Talent and technology are the main contributors to the success of project management, according to a new report by the Project Management Institute.

A new report by Project Management Institute (PMI), the leading professional association for project management, places the spotlight on talent and technology as the main contributors to the success of the project management office (PMO).  A PMO is an organisational business unit assigned responsibilities related to the centralised and coordinated management of projects under its purview.

The findings in the new report, “PMO Success in Sub-Saharan Africa” which focuses exclusively on the region, demonstrate that The Project Economy can be reengineered with a people-focused and digitally-enabled approach to project management to suit the region’s unique challenges and opportunities.   

In 2021, PMI teamed up with professional services firm, PwC, to address the current state of PMO maturity by creating a bespoke PMO maturity index. The survey polled 4,069 people involved in leading or facilitating the delivery of projects, programs, and portfolios.

While the global maturity index score shows there is still a long way to go for PMOs on their maturity journey, it identified a cohort of 230 PMOs called the “Top 10 Percent”, leaders across all parameters of the index – governance, integration and alignment, processes, technology and data, and people. The Top 10 Percent serve as a benchmark for what organisations in SSA can do to join them.

Companies with advanced PMO maturity performed much better than the previous year in common performance indicators such as revenue, customer loyalty and acquisition, and environment, social, and governance (ESG). This was highlighted in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, where the Top 10 Percent supported the sharp pivot their organisations took by accelerating new ways of working and de-risking their environment.

Ashwini Bakshi, MD Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, PMI, says, “The Top 10 Percent show how talent and technology can be fundamental game-changers for PMOs. They place people at the centre, empowering them with technology-enabled solutions for full control over project outcomes. The findings are a treasure trove for PMOs in the region to uncover opportunities for improvement.”

“Demographic dividend is one of the region’s greatest assets. Between now and 2050, the United Nations predicts that more than half of global population growth will occur in Africa, and it will be home to some of the world’s fastest-growing cities. Organisations must invest in project talent as a strategic priority to take full advantage.”

One of the essential lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is that there is no universal answer to disruption. Amid the crisis, organisations turned to project professionals who were able to leverage talent and technology in re-imagining solutions.

Bakshi says: “The PMO has a vital role as the world transitions to a post-pandemic era. PMOs will be more agile and move beyond the tactical execution of projects and perform a wider range of activities that drive strategic value. These evolved PMOs will embrace new technology, focus on team culture and help develop project managers into ambassadors for value creation. They will also have a greater presence in the boardroom by working with the C-suite to align projects effectively with organisational strategy.

“Most organisations have been integrating digital technologies into their way of working long before Covid-19. However, when the world was forced online, efforts only accelerated, with talent management taking a backseat. As businesses re-emerge, now more digitally transformed than ever, they will need to embark on a “talent transformation” journey to progress their vision. Without the right talent in place, projects and programs are likely to fail, or the vision compromised to fit with the organisation’s capabilities.”

The PMI 2021 Talent Gap Report predicts that demand for project management-oriented employment (PMOE) in SSA will grow by 40% by 2030. The global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030, meaning that 2.3 million people will need to enter PMOE every year to keep up with the demand. 

Bakshi says: “The scarcity of project management skills is highlighted in the Critical Skills List recently made public by the South African Department of Home Affairs where programme or project managers are amongst the top five scarce skills.

“Organisations in the region need to commit to developing project management talent to reverse brain drain, burnout, and bridging inequality. But many in the region do not have a mature talent strategy in place, including training and mentoring in the capabilities and skills of the modern project manager. Lastly, the importance of “power skills” cannot be overstated. Project managers who embody strategic thinking, adaptability, and strong communication can quickly align organisational goals to outcomes in the face of disruption.”

According to Bakshi, the potential in sub-Saharan Africa resides in its people. By developing talent strategies that suit the unique needs of the region and promoting a digitally enabled workforce, organisations can harness this potential and propel their own growth.

In summary, the actions to consider would be, 

  • Recognise the strategic impact of the project manager and enhance this by investing in their business acumen, communication and collaborative leadership skills and giving them a seat in the boardroom.
  • Develop a talent strategy for project management staff that is linked with the organisation’s goals to maximise the value it creates.
  • Design the PMO with a focus on informing and delivering strategic outcomes for the organisation.
  • Embrace the shift towards a digital culture at the PMO and C-suite level, and support this with widespread digital upskilling.

Nigeria and South Africa led the response profile with 24% and 23% respectively followed by Kenya (11%) and Ghana (10%) in the multi-sector research involving construction, financial services, IT, telecommunications, government, and others.

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