IPMA International Project Management Association
7 April 2017 / 8:33

Managing collaboration in projects

In many sectors projects are performed together with partners, project management needs to be based on collaboration. Most project management standards, models or approaches focus on projects being performed within an organisation, not emphasizing the cross-company collaboration that is needed in projects such as developing a car.

Source of the picture: ProSTEP iViP    

 In Automotive Industry we discussed already 15 years ago approaches for a Collaborative Project Management, or Cross-Company Collaboration PM. For example, under the umbrella of ProSTEP iViP in Germany the implications for project management were discussed with global players such as BMW, Continental, Daimler, Volkswagen, as well as ZF, and finally published as a recommendation “Collaborative Project Management”.  I will highlight some of the findings in this blogpost, which will be the start of a series of blogposts related to the topic.

Two or more partners collaborating in a project require a “synchronization” of activities, like in a ballet, otherwise the goals may not be achieved. This synchronization requires before kick-off a profound analysis of processes, methods and languages being used by each partner as well as the information and content required. Furthermore, the culture of each partner may also be a supporting or hindering factor for collaboration. Often processes and methods of the involved organisations differ, e.g. one may use processes based on PMI´s PMBOK, another may have adopted ISO 21500 and a third partner uses a national or industry-specific standard, such as DIN 69901. In addition, methods being used for projects, such as methods for a risk analysis, may differ significantly. Knowing those differences is a crucial factor for the synchronisation.

Before starting the project, all partners need to either agree to a common standard or a synchronization of different approaches. Most of the Automotive Suppliers work for different OEMs, thus process models and methods vary from client to client. There is not THE one and only standard, all have derivates or their own, specific standards, therefore the synchronization is the more realistic approach. Before starting into a project, the leading organisation (e.g. in Automotive Industry the OEM) of the network defines synchronization points, milestone or quality gates. Partners are free to plan and control their projects between the synchronization points. At this points they need to deliver an agreed information (e.g. status report), deliverables (e.g. prototype) or join specific activities (e.g. virtual meeting). Through synchronization points collaboration is enabled. Collaborative PM Software such as R-Plan embraces the synchronization between partners. Standardized formats, information contents and a common language is essential for a fast ramp-up of collaboration. A “Project Handbook” covering essential aspects of the standard may help new partners to get familiarized and may act as baseline for their own project management.

Another success-critical factor for collaboration is the clarification of roles, their interrelations and interactions. It is important to know key roles (e.g. Project Manager, Team Members, Purchasing Specialist, Logistics Specialist) of people executing the joint project and people involved in directing or decision making (e.g. steering board members), understanding the respective tasks, authorities and accountabilities and who is performing the roles for each partner. The well-known RASIC-chart can also be used on a cross-company level. Instead of names or functions the partner organisation´s name would be listed and the interrelations displayed. Communication plans, interaction and issue lists are central tools for collaboration (see the above mentioned recommendation) and need to be agreed on by the partners before entering into collaboration.

Culture is another success-critical factor for collaboration. In competitive industries such as the Automotive Industry, collaboration is often hindered by tight contractual regulations, non-collaborative behaviour towards suppliers and competition between involved suppliers. Thus, understanding the cultural values, beliefs and behaviours of involved partners may prevent one from surprises, the lead organisation may facilitate a shared set of cultural values, beliefs and behaviours for projects to be followed in the context of the project. One example is the timely delivery of information about the status of the project, deviations or failures. In some organisations the culture may prevent people from delivering the information as soon as an issue appears, the others may suffer from that behavior and require all partners to commit to an early warning. But more on this in one of the next blogposts…



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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.