RGP Research: Overcoming the Execution Challenges of Mission-Critical Projects

January 12, 2023
3 Minute Read

The number of enterprise transformation initiatives has skyrocketed in the last few years, as organizations rush to meet changing demands, from the global marketplace to their own workplace. These critical initiatives are imperative to business success—but more challenging than ever to execute. What are the biggest challenges large companies face? And how are project execution leaders overcoming them?

These questions are the focus of RGP’s latest research1, released in January 2023. “To withstand the crippling effects of COVID-19, companies around the world had to accelerate the already rapid digitization of their businesses,” said RGP Kate Duchene at an executive panel discussion in New York City where she shared a preview of the findings. “We’ve crammed change projects into three years that otherwise may have taken a decade. That puts a lot of pressure on project leaders. And it increases the size of project portfolios.”

Top Challenges Center on Hybrid, Organizationally Diverse Teams

Our study found that only about one in six companies had mission-critical projects consistently achieve their key goals. However, companies embracing a more enlightened approach to project leadership—one that values strong project leaders, capitalizes on talent outside their four walls and applies new and emerging collaboration tools—can deliver meaningful business gains.

Key findings include:Download the Report

  1. Managing hybrid teams is the No. 1 factor increasing project execution difficulty.
  2. Organizationally diverse teams are on the rise, and they’re the second largest factor increasing project difficulty.
  3. Excellent project managers create an organizational competitive advantage.
  4. Strong project leadership, hybrid team management and great collaboration tools are critical to project success.
  5. Working with talent from consulting and staffing organizations vs. independent contractors correlates with greater project success.

“The biggest challenges by far reported today are managing the hybrid team with both remote and office workers and managing organizationally diverse teams,” Kate said. “But if you get them right, they’re also the greatest competitive advantages.”

  • By 2024, companies in the survey predict they will have a nearly equal number of employees and outsiders on their critical project teams (52% employees vs 48% outsiders).
  • Companies that have mastered hybrid and organizationally diverse project work say they have gained a competitive advantage.
  • 77% of respondents believe they would have a big competitive advantage if their project leaders were highly effective.

These findings provide relevant guidance at a time when the driving force for today’s business is steadily shifting from operating more efficiently to executing transformation more effectively. Renowned project management expert Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, who headlined the New York event, describes this trend as “The Project Economy.”

Move Over Strategy: Why Project Execution Has Taken Center Stage

“The focus of most organizations has been on how we can run our operations faster, cheaper, more automated… and there has been very little focus on projects and change,” Antonio said in his keynote presentation, noting that artificial intelligence and robots can help with operational efficiency but they also create disruption, and they don’t address the impacts of change.

Whether teams work remotely or not is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the challenges, Antonio told the audience: “The real disruption of the future workplace is deeper, and we need to reinvent it. … it’s a very exciting but scary moment.”

There’s a very simple formula to see whether you have a problem: Do you launch more projects than you finish?

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez

One of the biggest challenges stems from the sheer number of projects that organizations are managing at any given time, Antonio said. “Most leaders know the number of people they have. They know the number of products they have. But I have yet to meet somebody that knows the number of projects that they have in their organization.”

The larger and more complex the organization, the more important project execution and project management expertise becomes. Regardless of size or complexity, organizations are falling short, not because of strategy but because of execution. Noting that there are very few professions with a 70% failure rate, Antonio emphasized the need for change. “We cannot talk about disrupting everything but not disrupting the project management profession,” he said. “We know what we need to do. What is blocking us?”

Download our Research Report for more key findings and subscribe to our Now of Work newsletter to stay on top of future research and insights.

1 Survey of 404 senior executives at large companies ($1 billion+ in revenue) headquartered in the U.S., EU and Asia Pacific in the financial services, healthcare, pharmaceutical/life sciences, and technology industries.
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