There isn’t much good that can be said about COVID-19, but it appears that many organizations, project leaders and teams rose to the challenges it posed to their work.
All of us are doing things differently than we did 16 or 17 months ago before offices closed and travel ceased. Our organizations are planning, managing and delivering projects differently, too. And in measurable, demonstrative ways, that’s actually turned out to be a good thing—or at least the start of something good.
Forced to pivot suddenly in March 2020, many organizations and teams became more focused on outcomes than processes. It was the only way to keep critical initiatives up and running, to meet strategic goals, to stay in the game. In doing so, a new kind of organization is emerging—something Project Management Institute’s new report, Pulse of the Profession 2021: Beyond Agility, calls a “gymnastic enterprise.”
These gymnastic organizations are empowering their people to become "changemakers" who, regardless of their role, are inspired and equipped to turn ideas into reality. This happens when people continuously get better at what they do, by building a holistic portfolio of skills. And it happens when they're supported by a strong organizational culture, strong leaders, and a strong talent management function.
Here are some key findings from the report, released last month:
>> Despite the pandemic, organizations and their people found new ways of working and delivering value, with digital transformation leading the charge. And although many planned projects were put on hold, of those that did forge ahead, more met original goals and business intent, more were completed within budget and on time, and wasted investment due to poor project performance declined compared to last year's survey.
>> Gymnastic enterprises were more likely to have high levels of organizational agility (48 percent versus 27 percent) and to use standardized risk management practices. They were able to adapt faster to the pandemic, being far more likely to have undergone business change in 2020. And they were much more likely to have seen increased productivity (71 percent versus 53 percent) and better project outcomes in 2020—in turn, resulting in less wasted investment, according to the report.
Gymnastic enterprises are empowering their people to work smarter in three key ways:
1. Mastering different ways of working—whether that’s agile, predictive, or hybrid approaches, or a range of tech-enhanced tools
2. Elevating people skills—what the report calls power skills—to ensure effective leadership and communication
3. Building business acumen to create well-rounded employees who have deep expertise and can see the bigger picture.
The report explores these new ways of working:
>> Gymnastic enterprises are more likely than traditional enterprises to use agile and hybrid approaches, and less likely to use waterfall. Yet it isn’t as simple as moving away from waterfall, but rather taking a more balanced and customized approach for the project at hand.
>> Gymnastic enterprises are outpacing traditional enterprises in the use of cloud solutions, the Internet of Things, AI and 5G mobile internet to manage projects. But more importantly, they're using technology to augment human skills and help their people continuously improve, prioritizing the enterprise-wide adoption of complex problem-solving techniques; AI-driven tools; on-demand, microlearning apps; and career assessment tools.
Ultimately, it comes down to a people first approach. With their focus on augmenting human skills, and on creative collaboration, gymnastic enterprises put the highest priority on collaborative leadership. They also prize adaptability, an innovative mindset and empathy.
But building an environment where changemakers thrive doesn’t just magically happen. The role of organizational culture cannot be understated. Gymnastic enterprises are far more likely than traditional enterprises to prioritize delivering customer value, aligning with organizational values, and embracing digital solutions, according to the report.
Where gymnastic enterprises aren't doing better than their traditional counterparts, however, is diversity at the top. For example, just 44 percent have at least one female leader in the C-Suite. But they're working to plug the gap: 63 percent are putting a high priority on fostering a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, versus 51 percent of traditional enterprises.
So there’s still very important work to be done. There always is. But many organizations, with changemakers at the forefront, are moving in the right direction.
You can download the full report here.