Redefining Project Success: Key Takeaways
The Power Skills Difference
Power skills, like communication and problem-solving, play a leading role in project success. To reap rewards, organizations must prioritize these skills in hiring, training and assessment.
Big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and the metaverse may grab the headlines in a world zooming toward new ways of working and living, but when it comes to real-world projects, it takes people to deliver the results. And people with power skills often make the difference between project success and failure.
A new report from PMI — Pulse of the Profession® 2023: Power Skills, Redefining Project Success — finds that the benefits are clear when organizations prioritize power skills like problem-solving, communication and collaborative leadership. They gain higher benefits realization maturity. They achieve greater organizational agility. Their projects experience less scope creep and, if they do stumble, the losses are not as severe.
But the prioritization, development and assessment of power skills remain a challenge for many organizations — even ones that recognize their critical role in project value delivery and success.
The Pulse report reveals widespread consensus among project professionals that communication, problem-solving, collaborative leadership and strategic thinking are considered the most critical power skills in helping them fulfill organizational objectives. This consensus holds regardless of region, industry, years of experience, project management leadership level, Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification status or project management approach. Eight other power skills, such as empathy and adaptability, were also considered in the survey of more than 3,500 project professionals.
The research found a strong connection between organizations that prioritize these skills and their top drivers of project success — benefits realization management (BRM) maturity, organizational agility and project management maturity.
For example, 57% of organizations that place a high priority on power skills report high BRM maturity, while only 18% of organizations that place a low priority on power skills report high BRM maturity. Similarly, 64% of organizations that prioritize power skills report high project management maturity, while only 32% of organizations that don’t prioritize power skills report high project management maturity. The contrast holds for organizational agility: 51% to 16%, respectively.
The report shows that prioritizing power skills can help redefine success on projects and portfolios from an organizational perspective. But it also brings to light a disconnect among project professionals who agree that power skills help them work smarter and that their organizations value power skills, but do not associate power skills with key success drivers. Instead, they are likely to focus more on technical aspects of project management like using standardized risk management practices.
This perception was not shared by project management directors and project management office (PMO) directors, who are more likely to associate project success with power skills, though they do not diminish the importance of technical skills.
“Technical skills are important, but so is understanding interactions between people. At the end of the day, projects are done by humans,” said Luis Revilla, Chief People Officer at Softtek. “We need to appreciate that. We need to work on that.”
Indeed, despite the strong connections between power skills and project success, many organizations have not made a concerted effort to help employees develop them. Talent decision makers report spending only one-quarter of their annual budget (25%) for training and development on power skills, but more than half (51%) on technical skills.
As for project professionals, they spend almost half (46%) of their professional development hours on technical skills, but less than one-third (29%) on power skills. And nearly half (47%) say their organization didn’t discuss power skills when they were hired or promoted.
Clearly, there is work to be done. For starters, project management leaders can help shift these perceptions through coaching, mentoring and supporting talent development programs that emphasize power skills.
According to the report, the biggest barrier to wider adoption and acceptance of power skills is cost, followed closely by a lack of perceived value. Even for organizations that prioritize power skills training and development, perception of value remains an obstacle.
Some organizations have tackled the perception problem by framing power skills training as a benefit of employment during the recruitment process and incorporating power skills into individual employee development plans and performance goals. Other opportunities include formal coursework, online learning and mentoring relationships. Some examples explored in the report:
- Developing course modules, built in collaboration with experienced program managers, that focus on skills like stakeholder management, negotiation, problem-solving and storytelling.
- Pairing junior and mid-level project team members with experienced mentors who can coach them.
- Incorporating quantitative criteria for power skills into individual and team assessments as well as annual reviews.
- Connecting team performance to power skills through team-based assessments to promote organizational consistency and efficiency.
When organizations take these types of concrete actions, they are demonstrating the value they place on power skills. And as Pulse of the Profession® 2023: Power Skills, Redefining Project Success shows, the benefits are substantial: more successful, profitable projects — and maybe a share of that spotlight.