Project Portfolio Management Pulse Survey 2021

Our Project Portfolio Management survey in conjunction with the Ireland Chapter of PMI explores the challenges and opportunities resulting from COVID-19 in the context of project management.

  • Digital transformation continues to be a top priority for investment followed by initiatives to realise cost-efficiencies and upskilling
  • Remote working has improved work-life balance, yet 55% of project management professionals feel less connected and 37% have noticed an increase in their stress levels
  • PMs are concerned about adjusting to new ways of working following the reopening of the economy but are confident about revenue and headcount growth

As we begin to emerge from COVID-19 and move towards recovery, challenges are arising for organisations and project management professionals. Our Pulse Survey confirms that businesses are rapidly progressing their digital transformation efforts. However, we have seen how increased digitisation results in organisations being exposed to new vulnerabilities.

It is more important than ever to make time for ourselves and our teams. Looking after our mental health and managing stress are critical skills in adjusting to the disruption to established ways of working.

At the same time, the project management community is resilient and optimistic. They have a strong belief in revenue and headcount growth and are well positioned to help the economy back to recovery. Based on the experience of the past 12 months, our respondents predict that the role of the project manager will be more important or significantly more important over the next two years.

We received 100 responses from the project management community. These came from multiple industries including Healthcare, Technology, Financial Services, Banking, and Utilities. There were 65 responses from the private sector and the remainder came from the public and not-for-profit sector.

Remote Working

The opportunities and challenges of COVID-19

The benefits of remote working are evident, yet 55% of project management professionals feel less connected and 37% have noticed an increase in their stress levels.

When asked what opportunities were exploited as a result of COVID-19, respondents reported greater organisational agility and decision making (32%), greater operational efficiencies (32%) and advanced digital transformation (36%) (Chart 1.1). This aligns with the results from our recent CEO Survey 2021 where 61% of Irish CEOs said they are planning operational efficiencies to drive growth and 41% of Irish leaders intend to invest double digit figures in digital transformation.

Chart 1.1: As a result of COVID-19, which of the following opportunities have you or your organisation exploited?

While half of the respondents noted an improvement in their work life balance, 55% have admitted to feeling less connected since working from home and 37% have noticed an increase in their stress levels. In addition, 29% reported a decrease in well-being (Chart 1.2). This is interesting in the context of a question that we asked on the incentives introduced over the last 12 months to increase motivation, in which the majority of respondents selected flexible working hours (71%) and wellness programmes (63%). Perhaps more needs to be done in this regard (Chart 1.3).

Chart 1.2: On a scale of 1-3, how has COVID-19 impacted the following for you personally?

Chart 1.3: Which of the following incentives has your organisation introduced over the last 12 months to increase motivation within your team?

Communication barriers and siloed teams scored the highest (48%) in the challenges project management professionals faced during COVID-19. This did not appear to negatively impact motivation, as a majority of survey respondents noticed no change in their motivation since working remotely (55%). However, when asked about their team's motivation, 34% of respondents said they had noticed a decrease in team motivation.

From a project delivery perspective, almost 60% report some type of delay (Chart 1.4) with government restrictions and team engagement being the key drivers impacting programmes. However, 14% reported that a number of programmes were accelerated. Unsurprisingly the data indicates that this acceleration is skewed to the public sector and healthcare.

Chart 1.4: How has COVID-19 impacted the overall execution of programmes and projects in your organisation?

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation and cost-efficiencies are top priorities 

New technologies or digital transformation (selected by 85% of respondents), initiatives to realise cost-efficiencies (70%) and upskilling (51%) were identified as the top areas for long term investment (Chart 2.1). It is clear that there is an understanding of the importance of digital innovation and new technologies. In our CEO Survey 2021, a third of respondents said that they were prioritising the skills and adaptability of their people, while 37% said that they were seeking to boost their organisation's competitiveness through digital investments in the workforce. 

Digital vulnerabilities such as ransomware and phishing have increased throughout the pandemic. In addition, the rapid acceleration of Digital Transformation Programmes has led to the adoption of new processes, skill-sets, technologies and channels which all bring new types of cyberattacks which are increasing in complexity. There is clearly a need for more investment in cybersecurity.

Sustainability and climate change initiatives were selected by 50% of the respondents as another top area for investment. Not surprising, since we are seeing sustainability issues having an increasingly dramatic impact on businesses, investors, consumers, the workforce and governments. Whilst COVID-19 has caused widespread disruption, it has also provided momentum and opportunity to rethink and reconfigure for resilience.

Chart 2.1: What are your organisation's top 3 areas for long term investment over the next three years?

Significantly, with organisations focusing on new technology or digital and cost-efficiencies, the role of the project manager is predicted to be more important or significantly more important by 73% of respondents (Chart 2.2). However, from previous pulse surveys we know that developing the necessary skills to exploit efficiencies and opportunities arising from digital tools is certainly a challenge.

Chart 2.2: Based on your experience in the last 12 months, how do you foresee the role of 'Project Manager' evolving in the next 12-24 months?

Post-COVID-19 Outlook

Confidence in profit and expansion

Project management professionals are concerned about adjusting to new ways of working following the reopening of the economy, but are confident about revenue and headcount growth.

72% of respondents identified adjusting to new ways of working following the reopening of the economy as their top concern, while 64% identified health and well-being of the workforce (Chart 3.1). Skill gaps or concerns is a common theme from the survey with almost two-thirds confirming concerns in this area.

Chart 3.1: As project manager, what are your top 3 concerns for the year ahead?

Almost all of the respondents are confident or somewhat confident in their organisation's prospects for revenue growth in the year ahead. This optimism is aligned with our most recent CEO Survey 2021 where 82% of Irish business leaders feel their organisations' revenue growth will increase in the next 12 months, up from 67% last year. In line with this expected growth, 65% project managers predict a moderate or greater increase in their organisations' headcount in the year ahead.

The key actions to take now

Work with business leaders on digital strategy

CEOs need to address the strategic challenges posed by the digital revolution. Project managers can support this by:

  • Working with business leaders to be clear on digital strategy. A clear digital vision sets the platform to build effective and sustainable capability. It needs to encompass more than just tools and training. It should set the standard for culture, behaviours and engagement, as well as addressing cyber-risks

  • Developing a clear digital transformation road map with defined activities

  • Planning for citizen and employee led innovation and business-led direction

Adapt for the future

To build on emerging technological capabilities, organisations should act now. Project management professionals need to work with business leaders in laying the cultural foundation, delivering modern upskilling programmes, and building a learning and development function to deliver a vastly better return on upskilling investment.As offices reopen, as a project manager, evaluate what workforce mix makes the most sense for your organisation and project: on-site, remote, or hybrid; and work with business leaders in developing policies to clarify expectations. Engage your teams by asking for their input and be prepared to adjust policies as needed.

Make time for your people and yourself

As we begin to emerge from COVID-19 and move towards recovery, challenges are arising for organisations and project management professionals in how they respond to mental health, well-being and stress. Practical steps project managers can take include encouraging rest and recovery within their teams, making small changes, monitoring attrition, managing return to work, clear communications and understanding what works and what doesn't for the team. Project managers should lead their teams by example, maintaining engagement with employees, going offline past work hours and ensuring regular communication.

We are here to help you

Organisations and project management professionals are faced with an array of choices when looking at the future. This requires an understanding of the possibilities and planning accordingly. We can help you as you and your business project your growth ahead. Contact us today.

Contact us

Féilim Harvey

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Darren D'Arcy

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

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