The State of IT Project & Programme Management in 2020

Scott Batchelor

Introduction

Based on independent research and featuring contributions from 117 delivery professionals, this report looks at the unique challenges faced by IT Project and Programme Managers in 2020.

As we move through and past the COVID-19 pandemic, the acceleration of digital services and products has become a major focus for organisations across all industries. This has placed a unique strain on IT project delivery teams, as digital transformation programmes are under intense pressure to deliver results at speed.

Our data indicates that despite the current crisis, the majority of PMs report that they continue to deliver projects effectively and efficiently.

However, as leaders of the delivery process, Project and Programme Managers have long faced challenges around limited capacity of resources, managing complex stakeholder relationships and delivering across multiple projects.

Alongside looking at internal factors, we also asked respondents about external factors contributing to their delivery challenges. To alleviate internal resource pressures, 63% of those surveyed use third party technology suppliers across a range of disciplines.

Respondent Roles

Our respondents work in various project management-related roles across their respective industries.

Project Management remains the most popular title and respondent type, however, we also had participation from Programme Managers, Heads of Programme Management & Project Co-ordinators.

Project Manager 64.0%

Programme Manager 23.4%

Project & Programmes Manager 5.4%

Other 4.5%

Head of Programme Management 1.8%

Project Co-Ordinator 0.9%

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Respondent Company Type 

Over June and July 2020, we surveyed 117 IT Project and Programme Managers from the UK and Ireland.

Alongside this survey, we also conducted live in-depth interviews with senior IT delivery professionals from the finance, insurance, pharmaceutical and transport sectors.

5000+ Employees 31.5%

1000-999 Employees 17.1%

250-999 Employees 12.6%

50-249 Employees 14.4%

11-49 Employees 12.6%

10 Employees or less 11.7%

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Do PMs Have the Confidence to Deliver?

As technology becomes more complex and critical to business success, project delivery professionals are under increasing pressures from both internal and external sources.

Despite the inherent intricacy of modern software, it is encouraging that on the whole respondents are confident that they can deliver under challenging conditions, both in time and in-budget.

What does come as a surprise is that a small proportion of respondents indicate that velocity and costs are not tracked, indicating either a lack of data gathering or insufficient reporting.  

We Asked: On a scale of 1-5, how confident are you in the successful delivery of the main IT projects currently ongoing in your organisation?

(1 being totally confident and 5 being totally unconfident)

50-249 Employees 4.88

5000+ Employees 4.08

0-10 Employees 3.92

250-999 Employees 3.92

1000-4999 Employees 3.75

11-49 Employees 3.71

Average 3.95

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Project Delivery Timescales

We asked: how often are projects completed on time in your organisation?

Always 4.3%

Not Tracked 1.7%

About Half of the Time 19.0%

Sometimes 19.0%

Most of the time 54.3%

KEY TAKEAWAY: 5% of respondents report that delivery against budgets is not measured in their organisation

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What Are the Top Project Management Challenges?

It is widely reported that less than 30% of digital transformation programmes succeed, with failure often attributed to poor communication and unclear definitions.

As key drivers of transformation programmes, Programme and Project managers are uniquely placed to offer a granular overview of the organizational challenges that are blocking the successful delivery of IT projects.

We asked respondents to indicate the project management challenges they believe their organisations face. Unsurprisingly, scope creep tops the list with over 50% of respondents citing it as a major challenge.

“Scope creep has resulted in the termination of contracts, a one year legal battle and the loss of a number of highly skilled members of staff due to stress and frustration.” Project Manager, Pharmaceutical Industry

Scope Creep - 51%

Attempting to run too many projects - 41%

Defining Clear Priorities - 37%

Limited Engagement From Stakeholders - 35%

Access to skills & expertise - 28%

Managing third-party suppliers - 27%

Poor Communication - 26%

Staying in budget - 19%

Sharing information across teams - 18%

Poorly trained project managers - 9%

Role Specific Challenges

Alongside taking an organisational view, we also asked respondents about the specific challenges they faced in their role. Looking through the responses, several key themes appeared and were fairly consistent regardless of job title or organisational size.

Time

“Getting individuals to take any accountability for sticking to budget/time”

“Low-level tasks consume significant time while hinder career progression

Prioritisation

“Getting the business to focus on the top priorities and stick to the commitment.”

"Stakeholder engagement and agreeing priorities to deliver"

Prioritisation

“Having to take on too many projects at one time”

“Trying to run too many projects with too small a delivery team”

COVID-19

“COVID-19 meaning the high possibility of the time tolerance being broken”

“Staying agile in a rapidly changing world. 2020 is a bad year to get locked into rigid plans.”

Stakeholder Engagement

“Bargaining for development resource”

"Some people don’t understand overall project pressures and challenges from a senior level" 

Resourcing

“Resourcing, too many projects, not enough people to execute.”

“Stakeholder engagement and agreeing priorities to deliver"

Looking at challenges further

Solving the right problems

“In my experience, IT projects typically tend to be bad at delivering actual business outcomes. This is down to the fact many people don’t understand the problem in the first place that they are trying to solve. Projects in my experience tend to go wrong because nobody worked out or even cared about who was going to be affected by the change or system”

Senior Programme Manager, Rail Industry

Managing Unrealistic Expectations

“There is sometimes the expectation that I can deliver results at the drop of a hat. This is especially when I’m working with multiple stakeholders outside of IT who don’t understand lead times and the amount of work that goes into things”

Project Manager, Financial Services

What is the role of third-party suppliers?

As IT projects increase in complexity and scope, it is becoming more common for organisations to use a number of third-party resources. External resources can consist of individual contractors or larger agencies who may provide individuals or entire teams.

Dev-Ops and Back-end development tops the list for the most in-demand external resources required by Project and Programme Managers. This correlates with the challenging recruitment landscape for these roles experienced across the technology industry.

 Systems Architechture / Dev-ops - 50%

Back-end development - 41%

Front-end Development - 37%

UI/UX - 35%

Business Analysts - 28%

QA / Testing - 27%

Product Managers - 26%

Product Owners - 19%

Other - 18%

Key Takeaway

Over 60% of respondents currently use third party suppliers to help speed up project delivery and plug technical knowledge gaps. On average, respondents use 10 different types of supplier to meet their needs.

Third-party Supplier Satisfaction

We asked: On a scale 1-5, how satisfied are you with the performance of your current third-party suppliers? 1 = not satisfied at all 5 = completely satisfied

5 - 20%

4 - 42%

3 - 34%

2 - 4%

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We Asked: How could third-party Suppliers improve their performance?

“Their quality, response time, understanding of our processes.”

“Some suppliers have very complex processes that get in the way of timely project delivery.”

“Understanding and agreeing on scope as well as being honest about available skills and capacity to deliver work requests.”

However, many PMs are recognising the benefits

“Sometimes doing it internally doesn’t make sense - internal resources may already be allocated and you don’t always want to go into a prioritisation fight.”

“Accuracy of internal vs external estimates can vary wildly. Internal teams can massively overestimate and you don’t get any updated costs until it’s delivered.”

“For partnerships with external suppliers to work, I need honesty. If you fail, I fail - I need us both to be successful.”

Tools and Processes

Over the past decade, delivery professionals have had to adapt to the rapidly changing technology landscape. This can be seen clearly in the mass adoption of agile methodologies and the changing practices that focus on breaking up large deliverables.

However, it should be noted with interest that almost 70% of respondents report that their organisation still follows Waterfall. So the question must be asked, do Agile and variants such as Scrum live up to their promise of increased velocity?

It is also fascinating that despite the fact there are approximately over 100+ cloud-based project management platforms currently available, just over 74% of respondents still use Excel, Google Sheets or similar to manage their projects.

There is one clear area for improvement. Almost 20% of respondents indicate that they do not use data to track project velocity, perhaps echoing earlier observations in this report that timescales and budgets remain similarly untracked

Project Delivery Data Measurement

We asked: Do you currently use data to measure your project success and/or velocity?

No - 19.6%

Yes - 80.2%

KEY TAKEAWAY

Almost 20% of respondents report that data is not used to measure project velocity and/or success. 

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We Asked: Which Project Management Tools do you use Regularly?

Excel / Google Sheets - 74%

Microsoft Office - 70%

JIRA - 64%

Trello - 24%

Asana - 4%

Notion - 2%

Basecamp - 2%

KEY TAKEAWAY

Despite the huge array of modern project management tools and software solutions, 74% of respondents still rely on Excel or Google Sheets

We Asked: which project management methodologies do you use in your organisation?

Agile - 80%

Waterfall - 70%

Scrum - 51%

Kanban - 38%

PRINCE2 - 51%

Lean - 16%

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Conclusion

IT project delivery professionals increasingly operate in a rapidly changing and volatile business environment.

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt across the profession. As digital transformation is now a critical part of organisational success, many project and programme managers have been asked to deliver more with less. Pressure and lack of understanding from stakeholders appear to be one of the biggest challenges individuals face in their role.

However, the outlook of delivery professionals remains, on the whole, positive. Projects and teams have proved to be surprisingly resilient during the first half of 2020. Our data indicates that many respondents remain confident in their ability to deliver, despite scope creep presenting a widely-reported impediment to success.

Alongside internal resources, third party suppliers have an increasingly important role to play in the delivery of projects. It is interesting to note that many are turning to a range of external technology suppliers to save on costs and increase project velocity.

When it comes to tools and processes, our data seems to indicate that long-established processes and tools are still favoured over new delivery methodologies and relatively complex cloud-based project tracking platforms.

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