“Have you heard about this gymnastic approach to project management?” my colleague Helen, Head of Marketing at Stoneseed, asked sometime last year.
As Stoneseed’s alpha-natural-athlete, my interest was piqued and I started to imagine where the parallel bars, pommel horse and balance beam would fit into our busy office. I was snapped out of planning my straddle-planche and inverted cross, followed by swing to handstand routine on the still rings as Helen explained further.
This time, Helen really got my attention. This was all about organisational gymnastics and a “beyond agile approach to agility”, especially in a post Covid project environment.
According to the PMI, “Gymnastic enterprises are leading the way in The Project Economy—focused squarely on delivering financial value and positive social impact, no matter what it takes.”
Gymnastic Project Enterprise
The term “gymnastic project enterprise”, and the like, have been repeatedly banded around since the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2021, which explored the notion of an ultra-agile approach to project management and delivery.
Many organisations are having to reinvent themselves and reimagine how they fit into a post-pandemic future, within these organisation project teams are also having to flex and re-assess how they add business value, deliver needs, and align their processes with the ever-changing reality of ‘new normal’.
Project leaders are having to explore and adopt new ways of working, dismiss old paradigms, and embrace new ones, and, in some cases, embark upon root and branch refits. Some organisations are better at this than other and they are enjoying significant returns for their efforts. They are making market gains, finding new ways to add value (and not just to the bottom line) and enjoying greater talent retention levels as team members benefit from more individual responsibility and autonomy.
In the wake of such widespread upheaval, The Pulse of the Profession research revealed the emergence of project management super-powers and coined the phrase “gymnastic enterprises”. In other words, those organisations that have “learned to flex and pivot—wherever and whenever needed—while maintaining structure, form, and governance.”
“Gymnastic enterprises select the very best ways of working from a landscape of possibilities and focus on their people, knowing that organizational performance is a well-choreographed dance of individual performances,” the PMI rather poetically put it.
Some stats to back up the claims? The PMI says that, in comparison to traditional enterprises, gymnastic enterprises were more likely to have high levels of organisational agility (48% versus 27%) and they were more likely to frequently use standardised risk management practices (68% versus 64%). Both traits, say the PMI, were significant drivers of project success across its entire respondent base. It may seem like marginal gains, especially that second statistic, but it is in these marginal gains that the big wins are to be found.
“Gymnastic enterprises are leading the way by empowering their people to master new ways of working, emphasizing the human element, and understanding the central role that organizational culture plays in enabling all of these capabilities,” says the PMI.
Ron Immink, writing for PMI’s projectmanagement.com, shares a conversation with Alwin Magimay, a transformation expert, on this subject. According to Alwin, “being gymnastic is a manifestation of enterprise agility—not agile as a methodology, but the meaning of the word ‘agility’. Enterprise agility means that in an increasingly uncertain world, the enterprise needs to be nimble enough to deal with the known unknowns, the unknown unknowns, and a combination of all of those.”
Basically, project gymnastics is about being ready for anything.
The Pandemic Left a Paradox
As we’ve established, the coronavirus pandemic ramped up the need for change and it reshaped the way we had to work and think about work.
Organisations already had to be agile, but Covid-19 pandemic layered complexity upon complexity, as supply chains collapsed, industries were decimated and the whole planet shut down, either together or a region at a time – everything got rapidly disrupted.
The Telegraph’s Business Reporter nailed it, “For some time we have used the acronym VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – to describe a world of rapidly changing business. But as a result of recent events, the term is no longer sufficient. Our new landscape is one defined by shock (major and dislocating change), speed (rapidly accelerating change) and surprise (change that is unexpected both in its nature and its impact).”
To thrive in this ‘new normal’ though, this post-Covid business environment where shock, speed and surprise became the only constants, organisations needed a beyond agile approach, they needed a “gymnastic” mindset to cope with this new accelerated change.
Organisations that survived best in the VUCA environment had developed a ‘fail fast approach’. I’ve written often about Google X’s Astro Teller and his philosophy on the importance of failure that led to successes and rapidly killed projects in equal measure: Google’s driverless cars; Project Loon; Google glasses and contact lenses; etc. I still think there’s merit in this but organisations without the huge financial backing of Alphabet are finding that “fail fast” is not a luxury they can afford in the SSS environment.
There needs to be a greater degree of certainty when it comes to outcomes, dictated by increased pressure on profitability and return on investment, but the ability to pivot, operate with nimbleness, flexibility and agility has never been more important. The future of an organisation could depend on it.
And there is the paradox. Ignore change, do nothing and your organisation will fail, or make the wrong change, do the wrong thing – and, er, your organisation will fail.
The gymnastic mindset can solve this paradox. To quote The Telegraph again, “Organisations must be willing to try different approaches, remain focused on results and maintain the ability to move in a different direction when new ways of working appear to fail. To succeed, this requires a disciplined and structured project management approach, layered on top of innovation and flexibility.”
So, where do Stoneseed and I fit into this new gymnastic approach?
I regret, it’s not in a vest and shorts, with chalk powdered hands, straddling a vaulting horse.
The more we considered this new need for extra nimbleness, elasticity, and agility – more ‘gymnasticity’, the more it felt that Stoneseed’s PMaaS (Project Management as a Service) was designed (and has evolved) for this very need.
This heightened level of flexibility, demand driven solutions, empowerment of talent, ability to pivot (wherever and whenever needed), all while maintaining structure and governance, we realised, are baked into the PMaaS model.
Ron Immink, again writing for projectmanagement.com, describes a gymnastic enterprise as one where “the workforce is agile, the supply lines are agile, the operating model is agile, the working capital is agile and investor capital is agile. Where, as an organization, you can switch things on and off. The enterprise is agile enough to in deploying the workforce in any way it needs (capacity, roles, location). The enterprise can turn off supply and demand. It can move its cost base up and down. The enterprise can creatively deploy capital.”
The PMaaS model gifts you the ability to do all of this, to find creative solutions to all those known unknowns and unknown unknowns, when you need them, for as long as you need them – without even breaking into a sweat.