Project Management Institute

Greek Revival

Teams in Greece Must Manage Expectations and Talent Deficits on the Road to Economic Recovery


Stella Ioannidou, PMP, Eurobank, Athens, Greece







Above, construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline. Here, public works in the streets of Athens, Greece


A decade after a historic economic collapse, the wounded country is taking its first steps toward recovery. After closing an eight-year, €289 billion eurozone bailout last year, Greece is projected to reach 2.4 percent GDP growth in 2019—the highest in 12 years, according to the International Monetary Fund. But there’s a price to pay for austerity. After the country lost 25 percent of its GDP in the economic disaster, unemployment is still just below 20 percent, and the national debt is nearly 180 percent of the GDP.

“We are now in a transitional period,” says Nikos Chatzipanagiotou, PMP, director of operations, Next Level Globalization, Thessaloniki, Greece. “Things are starting to recover, but the environment is still quite fragile.”


—Nikos Chatzipanagiotou, PMP, Next Level Globalization, Thessaloniki, Greece

Clearing a massive backlog of projects designed to upgrade and expand infrastructure will be key to rebuilding the economy. At least 75 infrastructure projects are in progress or being planned through 2023—with an estimated value of €18.7 billion. The leading areas include energy, rail and highways. Final bids are being evaluated for a €1.5 billion, eight-year light rail project in Athens—the country’s largest and most expensive public works project in the next decade.

There’s also a need to build and upgrade resorts, hotels and airports to grow tourism. As the largest industry in Greece, travel and tourism generated €35 billion in 2017 (the most recent year for available data), according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Tourism generates 25 percent of all jobs and nearly 20 percent of the GDP. That GDP figure is projected to increase to 23.8 percent by 2027.


After hitting rock bottom, there’s only one direction to go for the Greek economy. Here are signs of hope for the future:


Source: European Commission

None of this will be easy. Organizations and their project teams face myriad challenges including political instability, tighter controls, an influx of foreign investors and a serious talent deficit. Such factors have created difficult—but potentially rewarding—terrain for project professionals, who are charged with driving continuous improvement through better project management practices.

“The crisis is an opportunity,” says Natasa Spyropoulou, PMP, business analyst, Vodafone, Athens, Greece. “It forces us to focus on the things that truly matter and bring tangible results. I believe this is a positive outcome.”


—Natasa Spyropoulou, PMP, Vodafone, Athens, Greece


Brain drain is a problem. Since the crash, many project professionals and emerging project talent who had just completed college emigrated to other parts of Europe for better opportunities. “This has led to extreme talent shortages, especially for senior positions,” Ms. Spyropoulou says. “Projects struggle at times when talent is needed the most.”

That gap magnifies the need for organizations to re-evaluate their workflows, build new training programs and reinforce existing professional development initiatives, says Dimitris Daropoulos, PMP, senior project manager, banking, Intrasoft International, Athens. For instance, he starts with a strategic and proactive talent audit that identifies project needs and helps determine whether existing staffers are best suited for the organization’s long-term project objectives.

“Avoiding a crisis requires leaders who begin devising their future talent strategies today,” he says. “Doing this can set a foundation for future success in a demanding environment that will look vastly different in the years to come.”


—Dimitris Daropoulos, PMP, Intrasoft International, Athens, Greece

In the short term, organizations are optimizing existing resources by aligning skills with positions, restructuring projects entirely to adapt to available talent or outsourcing certain parts of projects to foreign partners, Mr. Chatzipanagiotou says. Over the long haul, new staff and skills are needed. Mr. Chatzipanagiotou says organizations like his are taking a multipronged approach to attract and develop future project leaders.

One method is to develop comprehensive corporate training programs that groom young project professionals or graduates with no experience so they can quickly transition onto project teams, he says. Another approach is to encourage companies to work directly with universities and their students to build, grow and entice more project talent. For instance, Eurobank implemented a program to recruit IT professionals. It uses internships and career and business days to provide professional development opportunities for graduates, says Stella Ioannidou, PMP, IT workforce management unit supervisor, Eurobank, Athens.

“New ways of working are already adopted so teams can explore beyond the traditional project delivery methods,” she says. “New approaches like agile, design thinking and lean provide our people with the cognitive tools to learn, evolve and produce more efficiently.”


In post-crisis Greece, sponsors and stakeholders are understandably more risk-averse than ever before. Although the country has escaped the shackles of international debt, organizations are still employing a cautious and careful mindset on oversight of projects—at least in the short term.

“I feel that, as a country, Greece may have managed to complete the programs and have the numbers that the European Union wishes, but do people really trust that those programs are going to help the country remain financially stable and successful in the long run? I believe the country is suffering from a trust deficit rather than just a fiscal deficit,” Ms. Ioannidou says.



Port of Piraeus in Athens, Greece. At right, the Cultural Center of the National Bank of Greece in Athens


Such an environment heightens the need for project managers to adapt to meet the strategic goals of sponsors. “Successful projects are no longer the sole objective. Project management good practices and information systems investments are concentrated on customer-driven initiatives and digital channels,” Ms. Ioannidou says.

Many sponsors—lenders, in particular—have moved to incremental funding models to reduce risks, says Constantinos Faitatzoglou, PMP, a project management consultant in Athens. Sponsors release funds in small chunks as milestones are completed to ensure the project doesn’t fall behind schedule or exceed the budget.

“Now it takes more tasks to complete a project, meaning that a project is cut into many smaller stages that need to be validated,” Mr. Faitatzoglou says. “When a market is mature, you probably have just five or six stages, but in Greece you have 10 or 15 steps to [comply with bank-imposed controls] in order to release the funds. This creates extra administrative and bureaucratic work for project managers and their teams.”


—Constantinos Faitatzoglou, PMP, Athens, Greece

Managing expectations in an increasingly complex project environment requires project teams to adapt to monumental shifts, including more foreign investors and privatization. For example, the state-owned Public Power Corp. is selling off chunks of its production capacity, including 40 percent of coal capacity, to private investors. And in July, China Energy Investment Corp. completed a €3 billion deal with Greece’s Copelouzos Group to fund a new gust of wind and other renewable energy projects.

“The role of project managers has evolved to induce change and promote people management principles—all in the context of demanding implementation plans which bear increased expectations by project sponsors,” Ms. Ioannidou says.


—Stella Ioannidou, PMP, Eurobank, Athens, Greece


To escape the past, Greece needs to focus on the future. That means project professionals must embrace a portfolio perspective that focuses on the long-term objectives of organizations, Mr. Daropoulos says. The benefit of this approach is the ability to optimize resources through accelerated delivery of high-value projects and cancellation of low-value ones, he says.

Ms. Ioannidou sees an opportunity for project management offices (PMOs) or the project leaders of organizations that lack a PMO to foster a change management mentality across the enterprise. She recommends developing strategic and tactical governance teams that can ensure prioritized projects are aligned to the strategic goals of the organization. This structure also should allow for flexibility to reshuffle priorities and resources when certain projects are found to no longer be relevant to the business.

“Benefits [realization] plans are given more attention now than in the past,” she says. “This provides the executive management with the proof that money is indeed put where the mouth is, which is essentially what investors would probably like to see from any business.”

Placing a premium on project management will help organizations maximize the value of projects and the enterprise—and help accelerate the country’s recovery, Mr. Chatzipanagiotou says.

“The crisis helped organizations understand that they need to invest in people with the appropriate background in project management. This was not the case 10 years ago. So the future for this profession in Greece is quite promising.” PM

REBUILDING BLOCKS These high-profile projects are helping Greece get back on track.


Trans Adriatic Pipeline

Sector: Energy

Budget: €4.5 billion

Scheduled completion: 2020

The Trans Adriatic Pipeline will transport natural gas to Europe from the Caspian Sea by way of Greece, Albania and Italy. Totaling 878 kilometers (545.5 miles) long, it’s initially expected to transport 10 billion cubic meters (353 billion cubic feet) of gas per year—enough to provide power to approximately 7 million homes.


Athens Metro Line 4

Sector: Transportation

Budget: €1.5 billion

Scheduled completion: 2027

The capital city’s fourth light rail line will encompass five sections. The U-shaped line will include 35 stations over 38.2 kilometers (23.7 miles). The new line is expected to carry approximately 220,000 passengers per day.



Sector: Technology

Budget: €182.3 million

Scheduled completion: 2021

The SYZEFXIS II project will upgrade the digital infrastructure of the Greek public sector so the national government can provide better, faster and cheaper services to citizens. Funded by the European Union, the three-year project will extend broadband internet and telephone services to approximately 34,000 public buildings—including schools—and implement wireless access through 55,000 government smartphones.


Hellinikon Integrated Resort Casino

Sector: Tourism

Budget: €8 billion

Scheduled completion: Not available

Greece’s Hellenic Gaming Commission plans to convert Ellinikon International Airport in Athens into one of Europe’s first integrated resort casinos. The resort will include a hotel, casino, retail stores, entertainment venues and conference facilities. It’s part of a larger urban development that will encompass apartments, shopping, a marina, a beach, a park and an aquarium. Construction is scheduled to start in late 2019.

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