PMO Success in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Talent and Technological Disruption


One lesson that has emerged from the disruption of the past few years is that there is no universal answer to overcoming disruption. In the midst of crisis, organizations turned to project professionals who were able to leverage talent and technology in re-imagining solutions.

To dive deeper into the unique challenges and opportunities faced by organizations and project managers in different parts of the world, Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s leading authority on project management, and global professional services firm, PwC, have collaborated on a global and regional research effort.  

This report, focused on sub-Saharan Africa, draws on evidence from a survey of project managers and senior leaders, and in-depth interviews with project management experts and leaders across the region. These findings demonstrate how The Project Economy in sub-Saharan Africa can be reengineered with a people-focused and digitally enabled approach to project management, in a way that suits the specific challenges and opportunities of the region, its economy, and its people.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a region brimming with potential. With a fast-growing project economy and one of the youngest populations in the world,1 there is a massive opportunity to attract young people into the project management profession. While a wave of technological disruption is transforming the region’s economic potential, the lack of legacy technology offers sub-Saharan Africa the potential to leapfrog more developed economies through digital transformation.2

To capitalize on the opportunity for growth, more and more organizations in sub-Saharan Africa are turning to their project managers to manage complex processes and transformations, and to get products and services to market quickly. In fact, PMI research recently revealed that demand for project management–oriented employment (PMOE) in the region is predicted to grow by 40% from 2019 to 2030.3 PMI and PwC’s latest research in sub-Saharan Africa highlights how organizations can best position themselves to maximize their growth potential.

This research report centers on two major implications for sub-Saharan Africa:

  1. Talent development is essential. Organizations can attract and retain project talent through empowerment and skill development.
  2. Technology is integral to improving outcomes. Tech-enabled solutions that go beyond basic reporting can enhance project outcomes and strategic alignment.

Research Background

In July and August 2021, PwC and PMI undertook a global survey of 4,069 people involved in leading or facilitating the delivery of projects, programs, and portfolios. The survey explored how projects, programs, and portfolios are working for project managers and their organizations. A total of 458 sub-Saharan African respondents with project management responsibilities took part in the survey, with 225 responses from senior leaders.

Sub-Saharan Africa response profile (n = 458):

33 countries including:

  • Nigeria (24%)
  • South Africa (23%)
  • Kenya (11%)
  • Ghana (10%)
  • Remaining countries (32%)

31 sectors including:

  • Construction (14%)
  • Financial services (14%)
  • IT (12%)
  • Telecommunications (12%)
  • Government (11%)
  • Remaining sectors (37%)

Respondents including:

  • Individuals who work in a Project Management Office (PMO)* (82%)
  • Individuals in the C-suite or equivalent roles (49%)
  • Individuals who lead a PMO* (30%)

To better understand the factors driving trends across the region and to uncover opportunities for improvement, PwC and PMI carried out a series of interviews with project management experts. These insights help to bring real-life examples to many of the key insights from the global survey.

*The term “PMO” used in this research also refers to the following offices: program management office (PgMO), project portfolio management office (PPMO) and enterprise PMO (ePMO). We are also using “PMO” to refer to other offices that implement various initiatives, including "projects,” “organizational change," "new offerings," etc. (e.g., Strategy Management Office, Transformation Management Office, Product Management Office, etc.).

The Top 10 Percent

This research has identified a global cohort of 230 organizations (including 21 in sub- Saharan Africa) with high-performing project management offices (PMOs). Companies with advanced PMO maturity are more likely to have performed much better compared to the previous year in common indicators of business performance such as revenue, customer loyalty and acquisition, and environment, social, and governance (ESG) indicators (see Figure 1).

We will refer to these organizations as the "Top 10 Percent" throughout this report as a benchmark for what organizations in sub-Saharan Africa can do to join them. The Top 10 Percent are more fully described in our recent report, PMO Maturity: Lessons from the Global Top Tier.

We asked senior leaders (C-suite or equivalent) across the world how their organizations performed in 2020 compared to 2019. Four performance indicators were measured: revenue, customer acquisition, customer satisfaction/loyalty, and environment, social, and governance (ESG) indicators. Figure 1 compares the responses of senior leaders of the Top 10 Percent organizations (n = 73) and sub-Saharan Africa organizations (n = 225).

Figure 1: Organizational Performance
The percentage of C-suite respondents who stated their organization performed much better in 2020 compared to 2019 in the following key metrics:

Figure 1 for PMO Success in SSA Report

Source: PMI and PwC Global Survey on Transformation and Project Management 2021. Responses from C-suite level respondents only.

PMO Success in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Talent Development is Essential

Young talent is quickly emerging as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s greatest assets. Between now and 2050, the United Nations predicts that more than half of global population growth will occur in Africa, and it will be home to some of the world’s fastest growing cities.4 To take full advantage, organizations must make investments in project talent a strategic priority. Not only will this help drive positive business outcomes, as highlighted in Narrowing the Talent Gap, it can help overcome recruitment and development challenges specific to the sub-Saharan Africa region.

Empower Project Managers with Strong Power Skills

Strategic thinking, adaptability, and strong communication skills that enhance collaboration and influence outcomes—these are the skills that sub-Saharan African organizations rated as most important to delivering successful project and PMO outcomes (see Figure 2).

Project managers who embody these skills can use their understanding of the organization’s goals and its current portfolio to ensure the right projects are done at the right time.

Figure 2: Skills and Capabilities
Top five skills/capabilities of project managers in sub-Saharan Africa* (in order of priority)

Figure 2 for PMO Success in SSA Report

Source: PMI and PwC Global Survey on Transformation and Project Management 2021.

To be effective in their roles, project managers equipped with these critical skills must be given autonomy to make strategic choices. This was recognized as a potential challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, which has many cultures with deep-rooted, hierarchical traditions. "Driving self-management can be a challenge," Justin Doyle, an agile PMO leader for Discovery Limited, South Africa, explains. "New project managers are expected to come in and be free-thinking, driven individuals, then return home to an environment that may not necessarily be conducive to that."

Doyle emphasizes the importance of collaborative leadership when promoting autonomy: "It has to be done in a way that doesn’t pull ownership away from other people, using techniques like SAFe® program increment planning to facilitate cross-functional collaboration, instead of one project manager being the central point of control."

Unique Challenges Faced in Sub- Saharan Africa That Talent Investment Can Address

Bridging inequality: Qualitative research in the region, particularly in South Africa, reveals a disparity between rural and urban recruits in their training and onboarding needs. For example, a new recruit to a financial firm may have had limited exposure to life insurance products, and will need more training and support around these products and the industry. However, only 29% of organizations in sub-Saharan Africa are adapting training to meet the diverse needs of their employee base, and only 22% are upskilling youth in underrepresented communities. To gain the benefits of a diverse workforce, organizations must help early career employees from underrepresented communities to develop crucial business and commercial awareness skills.

Tackling the "brain drain:" Experts are concerned that the region is losing much of its talent to organizations based abroad. The shift to global recruiting and remote teams, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has exacerbated this trend, allowing candidates to take jobs abroad without needing to relocate. When organizations commit to developing their project management talent, they demonstrate that sub-Saharan Africa is an excellent place to develop a career in project management.

Supporting high-demand skills development: Project managers with skills in high demand, such as collaborative leadership and strategic thinking (see Figure 2), can find themselves pulled around the organization to solve problems. However, this can increase their risk of burnout and gives them less opportunity for self-development. By investing in these high-demand project management skills across the organization, it avoids putting too much pressure on a select few individuals.

Make Learning and Development a Strategic Priority

To maximize their strategic impact, project managers will need training and mentoring in the capabilities and skills of the modern project manager. But many organizations in the region do not have a mature talent strategy in place. To tackle key people challenges, including bridging inequality and supporting stretched talent, organizations need to invest more in their own project talent and avoid being too dependent on outsourced services, according to experts in the region.

Figure 3: Capability Building
Methods used to develop the capabilities of project managers: Global Top 10 Percent vs organizations in sub-Saharan Africa

Figure 3 for PMO Success in SSA Report

Source: PMI and PwC Global Survey on Transformation and Project Management 2021

Training and development strategies need to be clearly linked to organizational objectives, and tracked and reviewed regularly to ensure they are meeting business needs and providing a return on investment (ROI). However, in sub-Saharan Africa, only one in five has such processes in place. In comparison, 47% of the Top 10 Percent monitor their training programs and 50% regularly review them. Given the lack of tracking and review, the majority of organizations in sub-Saharan Africa cannot demonstrate ROI, which adds to the lack of strategic prioritization.

What Sub-Saharan Africa Can Learn About Talent from the Top 10 Percent

The Top 10 Percent has invested in cultivating and sustaining a continuous learning culture, as well as providing mentoring opportunities to staff (see Figure 3). Providing in-house coaching can be an important step for junior staff to understand the impact they are having at a strategic level.

Unleash the Strategic Potential of the PMO Through C-Suite Support

Organizations globally recognize the role the PMO plays in bridging the gap between the formulation of strategy and its execution. Moving beyond project execution alone, they deliver projects that align with the organization’s goals, and support project-based collaboration and communication. PMOs must embed themselves within the organization’s strategy and demonstrate their values.

Strengthen the Links Between the PMO and the C-Suite to Unlock Its Strategic Value

To empower the PMO to focus on strategic outcomes, C-suite advocacy is vital. Our research has shown it is one of the most common traits of the most advanced PMOs.5 Ninety-four percent of the Top 10 Percent said their C-suite supports and values the PMO and considers it to be a strategic partner.

Establishing responsibility for PMO performance at the C-suite level strengthens this strategic partnership. Seventy-three percent of the Top 10 Percent PMOs have representation at board level, compared to 58% of PMOs in sub-Saharan Africa. This is linked to greater strategic impact: the Top 10 Percent are almost twice as likely to be consistently aligning initiatives and key performance indicators (KPIs) to the organization’s strategic goals (94% versus 50% of organizations in sub-Saharan Africa).

Collaboration between the C-suite and the PMO improves the speed and quality of an organization’s decision-making, as well as its ability to align projects with long-term ambitions. The relationship is mutually beneficial: senior leadership can take advantage of the PMO’s unique insight across the portfolio and how projects are impacting the wider organization, while PMOs gain a greater understanding of the overall strategic direction. With C-suite support, the PMO can guide more effective distribution of resources to projects that will drive success for the business.

What Sub-Saharan Africa Can Learn About PMO Maturity From the Top 10 Percent

Read our global report PMO Maturity: Lessons from the Global Top Tier to learn more about what the most advanced PMOs have in common and how C-suite support helps them create long-term benefits for their organizations.

Case Study: Vitality RSA

Aligning Initiatives with the C-Suite and PMO

Justin Doyle leads Vitality’s PMO and participates in Vitality’s Ops Exco. As an agile practitioner, he is passionate about helping organizations adopt lean-agile principles and lean portfolio management techniques to improve project delivery. At Vitality, he helped establish a cross-functional solutioning process to accelerate lean product development and experimentation, called a “Solutioning Forum.”

Speed of delivery is paramount for Vitality. Initiatives are discussed at a high level and driven by small, cross-functional teams. These sessions aim to provide just enough information to enable fast go/no-go and trade-off decision making.

To ensure resources are targeted towards initiatives that align with Vitality’s core values, the Solutioning Forum is chaired by key executive stakeholders, including the Chief Operating Officer, Head of Research and Development, Head of Strategic Programmes, and Chief Information Officer.

An initiative that goes through this Solutioning Forum will encounter the following steps:

  • An initial discussion between business leads and stakeholders explores the project business case, examining scope, complexity, and how it will produce products with a clear benefit for the organization, customers, and society.
  • This will be fed back to the Solutioning Forum so they understand the size and complexity of the project, and if it meets the business need.
  • The project may go through several rounds of iterative solutioning sprints to rapidly unpack the initiative requirements and solution options. This develops the business case to ensure it is feasible and aligns with the organization’s goals.
  • This is supported by weekly project steering meetings co-attended by all the executives, so they have visibility across the project portfolio.

A key outcome of the Solutioning Forum is to quantify an approximate “t-shirt size” for the initiative so stakeholders can map the size of the initiative to the business benefit anticipated. This allows for rapid iteration on design versus benefit trade-offs to ensure that the solution is ‘right’ for the size of the opportunity.

Key benefits:

  • Better trade-off and decision making due to more visibility of initiatives
  • Streamlining flow of initiatives to development teams that improves delivery timelines
  • Alignment of solutions across different areas of the business
  • Significant cost savings
  • Faster delivery of products to customers

Justin Doyle is the head of the Agile PMO for Vitality RSA, part of Discovery Limited, South Africa. He is responsible for project management delivery in the Vitality wellness business, with a focus on strategic alignment and improving the flow of initiatives through the delivery pipeline.

Technology is Integral to Improving Outcomes

The PMI® Global Megatrends 2022 report states the adoption of digital technologies to improve project outcomes will greatly increase by 2026. With the demand for digitally enabled project managers increasing, PMOs in sub-Saharan Africa need to invest in new technology and training to keep pace.

But our conversations in sub-Saharan Africa reveal that technology is not currently being used to its full potential in the region. Though digital solutions are used for dashboarding and basic reporting functions, many organizations still rely on spreadsheets and other manual solutions for planning, organizing, and analyzing projects.

Embrace Advanced Technology to Boost PMO Maturity

Employing technology that supports the strategic focus of the PMO—for example, using cloud technology to provide easy access to project performance data—can give organizations a competitive edge in the current market. In particular, PMI predicts artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technology will have a big impact on the future of project management, augmenting skills like decision-making, risk management, and data analysis. But current uptake of AI is low. While 51% of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa think AI will be used to improve the management of projects in five years’ time, only 14% of organizations in the region currently use it on their projects.

Embracing technology can free project managers from repetitive tasks to focus on strategic and creative initiatives. And by using technology to align PMO processes across functions, the PMO can ensure projects are being developed and aligned with the organization’s strategic goals every time they are initiated.

Technology is an important catalyst to increase project management and PMO maturity. But organizations in the region must overcome a range of operational and leadership barriers.

Address Barriers to Technology Adoption

It is a challenge for PMOs to secure investment for technological solutions and encourage staff to adapt to new, digitally enabled ways of working (see Figure 4). They will need to consider:

  • How to develop a business case for project management technology.
  • How to build a digital culture by investing in digital skills training.

Figure 4: Barriers to Technology
Operational and cultural barriers when using technology to improve decision making and outcomes for projects in sub-Saharan Africa

Figure 4 for PMO Success in SSA Report

Source: PMI and PwC Global Survey on Transformation and Project Management 2021

Make the Business Case for Project Management Technology

Budget approval for project management digital solutions is especially challenging in sub-Saharan Africa. "We aren’t a very rich continent," explains Dele Daniel, an agile IT project manager for the Tincan Island Container Terminal (Bolloré Group). "Many of these tools come from Europe and North America and are still on the high side when compared with the annual incomes of many of our organizations." PMOs in sub-Saharan Africa often need to compete with other areas of the business to attract internal investment and justify the cost.

Articulating the impact of project management technology adoption on achieving organizational goals is imperative. Strategy execution management and benefits realization tools, for example, can help senior leadership to make better-informed decisions by allowing them to visualize progress across a complex portfolio of projects. Closely tracking the benefits a technology has introduced can help secure future investment in new technologies.

Build a Digital Culture by Investing in Digital Skills Training

Another challenge in the region is an underdeveloped digital culture that is resistant to change. Over one- half of sub-Saharan African respondents think inadequate digital culture is one of the key barriers to uptake of technology (see Figure 4). Concerns about job security, along with a lack of digital skills, can make it more difficult to embed digital ways of working in employees’ day-to-day work.

Bayo Adenrele, an experienced project manager and volunteer with the PMI Africa Working Group, often needs to provide reassurances that technology will enhance the project manager’s role. "Technology will never replace the project manager," Bayo says. "Technology cannot think about initiating a project or developing a business case. You can use technology to justify the business case, but it cannot glue the resources together under one goal or vision like a project manager can."

Encouraging staff to embrace technology will require further investment in digital capabilities. The World Economic Forum estimates that digital skills lag behind in Africa as a whole, with the continent scoring 3.6 on their index compared with 4.7 in Europe and 5.5 in the United States.6 Greater investment in digital training will help project managers understand how it can enhance their role and how digital solutions can free up more of their time to contribute to strategic initiatives in the business.  

The Top 10 Percent are almost twice as likely as sub-Saharan African organizations to be using technological solutions to support governance and risk management. Strong governance is at the heart of all PMO functions. The Top 10 Percent demonstrate the positive impact technology can bring to this function; 93% of the Top 10 Percent are managing governance, risk, and compliance issues all of the time, compared with 46% of organizations overall in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Providing access to real-time analytics also allows the PMO and the organization to proactively approach project management by identifying and mitigating issues before they have a chance to adversely impact a project. Technology can be used to create a single source of truth for key project portfolio data, supporting data-driven decision making.

What Sub-Saharan Africa Can Learn About Technology from the Top 10 Percent

Organizations in sub-Saharan Africa can look to the Top 10 Percent for guidance on how to mature digitally. The Top 10 Percent focus on solutions that enhance collaboration, provide access to data in real time, and increase the visibility of projects (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Advanced Use of Technology
How technology is being used by project managers beyond providing updates and basic reporting: Organizations in sub-Saharan Africa versus the global Top 10 Percent

Figure 5 for PMO Success in SSA Report

Source: PMI and PwC Global Survey on Transformation and Project Management 2021

A Call to Action

The potential in sub-Saharan Africa resides in its people. By developing talent strategies that suit the unique characteristics and needs of the region and promote a digitally enabled workforce, organizations can harness this potential and propel their own growth. Actions to consider include:

  • Recognize the strategic impact of the project manager and enhance this by investing in their business acumen, communication and collaborative leadership skills, and by giving them a voice in strategic conversations.
  • Develop a talent strategy for project management staff that is linked with the organization’s goals to maximize the value it creates.
  • Design the PMO with a focus on informing and delivering strategic outcomes for the organization. Unlock the PMO’s strategic potential by improving collaboration between the C-suite and the PMO.
  • Embrace the shift towards a digital culture at the PMO and C-suite level, and support this with widespread digital upskilling.


PwC and PMI would like to thank everyone who took part in the survey and qualitative interviews referenced in this report.