How to Apply Project Management Skills to Achieve Digital Transformation Success

Esther Shein

Part two of the PMI report

Survival of the fittest takes on new meaning in a digital world. Interestingly, while startup disruptors like Airbnb and Uber are dominating headlines, many established companies like Caterpillar, Deer & Co. and DuPont are using analytics and other tools to reinvent themselves.

Many of these “disruptors,” that is, organizations using game-changing technologies like AI, IoT, blockchain and 3D printing, to name a few, are finding success. Some 83% of respondents to the Project Management Institute’s recently released “Pulse of the Profession” report say implementing disruptive technologies has had significant results, enabling them to meet or exceed business objectives.

“When one hears the word ‘disruption,’ one automatically thinks about start-ups, but that’s not necessarily the case,’’ says Murat Bicak, senior vice president of strategy, Project Management Institute. “Long-standing companies have been quick to adapt to this new competitive environment and have already started adopting the technologies and practices that make start-ups successful.

This was the most surprising finding of the study, Bicak says. Yet, at the same time, he adds, one could argue that traditional companies “have an advantage over some start-ups since they have established project, program and portfolio delivery capabilities and know how to scale, which is one of the challenges for bringing technology to market.” Companies like DuPont, Caterpillar and IBM have the ability to scale very quickly once they believe a technology has merit, he says. 

Achieving Effective Project Management in Today’s Digital World

Meeting business stakeholder expectations for project delivery speed and responsiveness was a struggle long before digital transformation became a business mandate. But accelerated service delivery is now one of five essential digital capabilities that IT must apply to help businesses transform, according to The Hackett Group. Digital disruption creates an environment where sound project management practices are even more essential if a company is to thrive now and into the future.  

See Related: Project Management Takes On New Importance In A Digital Error

“Because technologies like artificial intelligence will automate more routine duties of the project management role, project managers will have more capacity to focus on areas of our work that no machine can yet replicate such as being a strategic advisor, innovator, communicator and big thinker,’’ says Bicak. Proven project management practices help companies manage through disruptive times.

The PMI’s research shows that companies with a mature digital transformation strategy that are risk tolerant, and have adopted and made disruptive technologies a priority, will have greater success than those that have been slower to embrace new technologies, he says.

Project Management Best Practices for IT Leaders 

IT leaders should not underestimate the role they play in project management success, says Bicak. “Firstly, leaders should encourage actively engaged executive sponsors to remove roadblocks for the project manager, which increases success. Secondly, it is important for IT leaders to advocate for the role of project management in their organization.” 

That might mean hiring talent with a combination of technical, strategic and business management expertise needed for the role or helping existing staff seek out ways to improve their project management skills, he says. Either way, “leaders play an essential role in ensuring that project managers have the visibility and resources they need to succeed.”    

Having a centralized system to track project requests brings transparency and organization to the project intake and identification stage, advises Rick Pastore, senior director & IT research advisor at The Hackett Group. Capturing and communicating project and portfolio status will elevate IT’s success for a time – but that will only take you so far.  

Top-performing companies “get better results from project review boards and rapid-application development methods,’’ Pastore says. Boards yield the strongest impact level for 33 percent of top performers, compared with 16 percent of peer-group respondents, according to The Hackett Group report “Taming Project Demand: Best Practices for IT Portfolio Management.” When project review boards are used effectively, they help ensure that the most strategic and high-value projects are funded and admitted into IT’s portfolio, the report found. They also provide the authority to pause or cancel projects that go off track.

Use of analytics tools to predict demand and track the performance of projects in the pipeline has had disappointing results so far for the 60% of respondents who use them, according to the report. But when applied effectively, they have the potential to dramatically improve IT’s ability to plan project capacity and resources, and identify bottlenecks in the pipeline, Pastore says.

Project portfolio management teams “urgently need to upgrade their analytics skills, particularly in discovery and prediction,’’ he recommends. “Enterprises with analytics centers of excellence should insist that the COE help IT learn to apply the tools more effectively.”