The ability to anticipate change, react to developments and remove hurdles quickly can determine whether an organisation’s business outcomes are characterised by success or failure.

A study commissioned by the Project Management Institute (PMI) for its latest Pulse of the Profession report surveyed 1,469 individuals in predictive and agile roles and found that organisations with high agility reported that a greater number of their projects met their goals. In addition, 75 per cent of organisations with high agility reported year-on-year revenue growth of at least 5 per cent last year, compared to only 29 per cent of organisations with low agility.

The positive impact of adopting agile approaches is echoed in the Middle East. According to a study PMI conducted in collaboration with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, more than 90 per cent of participants from the region confirmed that being more agile has helped them to contribute more effectively towards their organisation’s strategic objectives. Additionally, 54 per cent reported improved control over major projects and 51 per cent reported reduced costs.

Organisational agility is particularly vital in an age of rapidly advancing disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, the internet of things and robotics. The evolving technology landscape presents innovative companies with various opportunities to enhance crucial processes and cut costs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the economic impact of poor project performance is undeniable. According to the PMI Pulse of the Profession report, organisations in the Middle East waste an average of AED82m ($22.3m) for every AED1bn spent on projects and programmes due to poor project performance, compared to the global average of AED97m for every AED1bn spent.

Another recent study conducted by PMI revealed that 92 per cent of executives agree agility is critical to business success; however, only 27 per cent considered themselves highly agile.

Common traits

PMI’s research identifies several attributes distinguishing organisations with high agility. These organisations develop their people by building agile skill sets and employing project professionals and leaders who have the skills to utilise a variety of project management approaches. They also use data to regularly modify product roadmaps and incorporate multiple approaches within projects.

Regionally, the most differentiating attributes of agile companies are flexibility and innovation. In fact, 70 per cent of high agility Middle Eastern participants in PMI’s survey confirmed that they can easily add or change product or service offerings; 67 per cent said they are innovative and can make decisions quickly; and 64 per cent confirmed that they can easily introduce new business models.

Another prominent characteristic of highly agile organisations is the flexible approach they embed throughout all operations and management processes, which enables them to switch priorities quickly without losing momentum.

Research shows that organisations with high agility use predictive, agile and hybrid project management approaches, with 27 per cent of organisations most commonly using predictive, 36 per cent using agile, and 37 per cent using a hybrid. PMI’s analysis shows that when selecting a project approach, 57 per cent of organisations focus on the requirements associated with specific characteristics of the project, the requirements associated with project funding or budgeting, and the specific needs of the firm.

In the Middle East, most companies that have adopted a hybrid approach reported better abilities to innovate, understand stakeholder needs and adapt to external factors. For instance, 70 per cent of hybrid adopters confirmed better ability to introduce new business models, compared to 58 per cent of those that adopted an agile model and 55 per cent of traditional firms.

Trickle-down effect

An agile approach must start with leaders and cascade to all employees through a flexible organisational culture. PMI’s research reinforces the idea that the right talent and processes are essential to achieving high levels of organisational agility and leveraging different approaches to project delivery.

Eighty per cent of organisations with high agility make agile skills a priority, with the ideal skill set being a combination of technical, strategic and business managerial expertise, as outlined in the PMI Talent Triangle. These organisations hire and train skilled professionals who can think creatively about how they work, help establish efficient and effective processes, and embrace change.

PMI has identified within this realm that organisations with high agility establish cross functional, collaborative environments, foster an innovative attitude, and utilise a foundational approach to processes.

The argument for having an agile mindset in leadership holds true in the Middle East, where senior management supports the adoption of agile practices, but nearly 44 per cent admit that while they have adopted some practices and approaches to make them more agile, there is room to do more.

The good news is that the region is making progress in this area. Nearly two-thirds of Middle Eastern companies say they receive support when it comes to changing the culture of their functions and teams and 59 per cent say they have an agile working group.

PMI’s research shows that developing a combination of technical and soft skills in project professionals is essential in meeting the challenges of today’s global marketplace. Most organisations PMI surveyed place significant focus on employing project professionals with the skills to apply a variety of project management approaches. To that effect, ongoing training in new project management approaches for project staff is a key enabler of agile organisations.

For organisations in the region, the path to agile transformation starts with securing the support and commitment of senior management, developing agile practices, and building awareness of agile programmes among executives. Equally important is training professional project managers across all levels and regularly communicating the benefits of adaptation.

Organisations that develop people and process drivers early on will succeed in accelerating their agile transformation, making them flexible, adaptable and capable of prospering in today’s complex business landscape.

About the author

Mark Langley is president and CEO of the Project Management Institute