Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility for Projects

Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility for Projects

By Davida van der Walt


Before we consider strategic corporate social responsibility, let’s first look at corporate social responsibility in broader terms.  The most common terms that refer to social responsibility are ‘corporate social investment’ (CSI) and ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR).  These terms are commonly used interchangeably.

According to the World Bank (Petkoski & Twose,2003), CSR is the commitment of businesses to contribute to sustainable economic development by working with the local community to improve the quality of life in ways that result in benefit to the business and the community.

Investment in local communities where projects are implemented can occur in one or more of the following four primary ways:

  • Job creation;
  • Skills development;
  • Small enterprise development; and
  • Infrastructure development, e.g. water supply to communities.

These categories are not mutually exclusive.  For example, in the event of setting up a small enterprise in the local community, such an opportunity will also make provision for skills development and job creation. A single initiative may involve numerous aspects of social upliftment.

In this article, an attempt is made to provide an integrated view of strategic CSR on projects.  A stronger focus will be given to strategic CSR in the context of developing countries.  We’ll start by looking at the objectives to be achieved by CSR, before discussing strategic CSR on projects.

Objectives with CSR


Before engaging in any form of CSR, whether as a running concern or for a new project, it is important to consider why you wish to follow this road.  If done for the right reasons, it can be of benefit to all concerned, and if done badly, can do more harm than good. Kapelus (2002) emphasizes the need to consider underlying motivations for business to engage in and embrace the CSR concept.

CSR can be a vehicle to achieve any, or a combination, of the following five objectives:

  • Philanthropy;
  • Reputation building;
  • Socio-economic development;
  • Skills development; and
  • Enterprise development.

The five objectives are shown graphically in Figure 1 as being interrelated and overlapping.  Sustainable CSR can be found where most of the objectives overlap.

CSR Objectives


Figure 1: CSR Objectives

Each of these objectives is discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.


Philanthropy is an unselfish concern for, or devotion to, the welfare of others, expressed especially by the donation of money to good causes.  Here the stated objective is not to seek any benefit for the business or the project. Very few businesses can afford this type of altruism in their early years, let alone new projects.  In some cases, philanthropy can be construed as an attempt to indirectly ‘bribe’ government officials for favours in return.

Reputation building

For any business to be successful, good relationships with stakeholders and a strong reputation of caring for the environment, the communities, and the people therein greatly contributes to business success and sound business practice.   Strong relationships with local communities, unions, government departments, media and investors (amongst others) can significantly impact business operations, and are to be actively sought.

Socio-economic development

Socio-economic development is aimed at improving the social status of the communities, and addressing the needs of the poor, vulnerable and those with special needs.

Socio-economic development thus seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life of communities by creating and/or retaining jobs, and supporting or growing household incomes and community living standards.  Economic development may involve job opportunities and income growth, sustainable increases in the productivity of individuals, businesses and resources to increase the overall well-being of residents and maintaining or even enhancing the quality of life. Economic development thus refers to the enhancement of economic activity in the community, which in turn leads to social enhancement.

Skills development

Skills developmentis aimed at providing community members, who are disadvantaged, poor, or illiterate, with skills and competencies which can be transferred to other areas once the project has been completed. Once again, these categories are not mutually exclusive.

Simple skills can be transferred to enable the recipients thereof to be employable by the project.  With further training, the local communities can be the source for many of the operators for the new facility.

The main reason for engaging in corporate social responsibility projects is to contribute towards sustainable economic development.  This is done to facilitate desirable economic and social changes and improvement of the social environment within which a business is operating.

Enterprise development

Enterprise development is a huge opportunity when it comes to CSR. Any project and or operation calls for multiple small business requirements.  Examples could include a tuckshop, or a refuse removal company. Partnering with existing local suppliers to support the development and coaching of new small business enterprises from local communities can greatly support job creation and socio-economic development.  Projects should creatively consider such opportunities and capitalise on them in support of local community development.

Strategic CSR


Strategic corporate social investment on a project can be, and should be, beneficial to all stakeholders.  Let us consider the typical requirements for strategic CSR on projects.

Strategic CSR should be all the following:

  • Sustainable;
  • Aligned with country requirements and/or legislation;
  • Benefits the community affected by the project;
  • Benefits the project owner;
  • Fair, ethical and transparent;
  • Seamlessly integrated into the project; and
  • Underpinned with ongoing communication.

The CSR requirements are illustrated in Figure 2, and each of these is discussed in more detail below.

Requirements of strategic CSR on projects


Figure 2: Requirements of strategic CSR on projects


According to the Cambridge Dictionary (2019), sustainable means “the quality of being able to continue over a period of time”.  This is a loaded statement.  It is perhaps best to describe with some examples.

CSR in the form of handouts is not sustainable and should be avoided. For instance, if a project decides to build a school and then steps away, the school is likely to become deserted within a year as no one will take ownership for ensuring its maintenance. An example of sustainable CSR is investment in skills development. If local unemployed youth are, for instance, provided with paving skills whilst the project is producing paving, these skills can empower them to find other work. Instead of giving them fish to eat, teach them to fish.  That is the basic definition of sustainability.

If CSR is done purely for brand promotion, it is likely that short-term, non-sustainable investment opportunities may be pursued. The World Bank (Petkoski & Twose, 2003) warns against CSR simply being used as a brand promotion tool.

Aligned with country requirements and/or legislation

Before engaging in any form of CSR, it is of vital importance to understand the legislative and cultural requirements and/or idiosyncrasies of the country in which a project is planned.  Some questions that can help to plan CSR initiatives include:

  • Are there any legislation and/or policies that guide or direct CSR?
  • What is the country’s strategic direction, and could CSR contribute to the country achieving its strategic goal?
  • What is unique about the country’s culture?
  • Are there any customs you should know about?
  • Who are the key stakeholders to engage, such as local, regional or national government structures, tribal authorities, etc.?
  • Who are the pressure groups that could negatively impact your project?
  • Who are the Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) that can support your cause?
  • Are there any funds available in country to support CSR initiatives? and
  • Does the owner company have an established relationship with any of the above which could be capitalised on?

Having answers to the above will set the foundation for strategic CSR.

As an example, when executing a project in Botswana, the book entitled Culture and customs of Botswana (Denbow & Thebe, 2006) is invaluable as it describes the history of the country and relevant information in culture and customs that could greatly support effective stakeholder engagement. Make an effort to learn about the country where you wish to develop a project.

Benefits the affected community/ies, as well as the project owner

Note that this section covers two of the requirements listed in Figure 2.

Fundamental to strategic CSR is that the affected communities, as well as the project owner should benefit.  This does not mean the owner should only focus on reputational benefit.  This means real, tangible benefit.   Let’s illustrate through an example. If your project needs catering services, it makes sense to empower a local small business to fulfil this role.  The project owner may invest in some extra equipment to support the small catering business. In return, the project owner receives a service which is required by the business on an ongoing basis.  Everyone concerned benefits: on the one hand the local community is empowered, and on the other hand the project, or ultimate business, owner receives a required service.

Handouts, as has been said before, are not sustainable.  However, skills development and small business support that would also benefit the project or business, are sustainable.

Fair, ethical and transparent

CSR must always be executed in a fair, ethical and transparent manner.  This obviously holds true for strategic CSR on projects. Transparency and fairness can be achieved by working through existing structures in the community where the project is being executed.  Where tribal authorities are present, they normally provide for the necessary structures whereby training or job opportunities can be directed, via the tribal authorities. They also tend to integrate well with local municipal structures.

For example, the project may approach the tribal authority with a list of skills required on the project.  The tribal authority will through their meetings engage the people in the community to get nominations for the jobs advertised.  They will ensure that nominations conform to the criteria specified by the project and will submit these via the tribal authority.  Nominations will be considered by the project, and feedback will be provided to the individuals as well as the tribal authority to confirm if they conformed to requirements.  This process is fair, ethical and transparent.

Where such civil or tribal structures do not exist, it is crucial that every effort is made to ensure a fair, ethical and transparent process is put in place. Bribery and corruption should be avoided at all cost.

According to Bacio-Terracino (2007), transparency in all business transactions guarantee a certain degree of fairness and permit the participation of different interested parties. These parties, such as civil society, the media, and labour unions, will each strive for their own interests, which will consequently result in better CSR conditions overall.  He says that if corruption is not addressed at the early stages of any CSR effort, the work of CSR practitioners will be built on quicksand (Bacio-Terracino, 2007).

Seamlessly integrated into the project

CSR actions that are seamlessly integrated into your project is the most effective form of strategic CSR. Again, he easiest way to explain is through a few examples.

If your project calls for paving, engage your paving contractor to employ one or two people from the local community and train them in paving skills. The same goes for brick laying.  If you need holes to be dug for fencing, use local labour.  If you have any work to be done that can be done by local contractors who are skilled to do so, make use of local contractors.  If your project and ultimate business calls for the support of small businesses such as catering, waste removal, etc, empower local small businesses with the knowledge and skills to fulfil these roles.  This is a true win-win.

Underpinned with ongoing communication

Open and transparent communication with affected stakeholders with regards to CSR initiatives cannot be over emphasized. This is specifically relevant in the case of mining related projects, where large tracts of land are required.  People directly affected by land purchases and loss of family farms or houses require ongoing communication to alleviate fears and uncertainties (Narula, Magray & Desore, 2017).

Impacts on communities include environmental impacts resulting from the project, such as noise, odours, water and air pollution and health.   The processes employed can be as fair, ethical and transparent as possible, but one still must go to great lengths to communicate possible impacts on local communities, as well as any opportunities, or positive impacts, arising from the project.  The environmental impact assessment processes normally make provision for such engagement with interested and affected parties prior to, and during, project implementation.  However, ongoing, regular interfacing with the community through their established structures is a major success factor.

Concluding remarks

CSR does not have to be your worst nightmare. If done for the right reasons, in collaboration with local community structures and relevant government structures, it can help you forge relationships with local communities that can contribute to the success of your project.  Consider how training and employment opportunities for local communities can be integrated into the project.  Look for opportunities to empower small local businesses to support the project and ultimate business.

The objective is to create win-win relationships.


Bacio-Terracino, J., 2007, Anti-Corruption: The Enabling CSR Principle. Available from Accessed 9 April 2019.

Cambridge Dictionary, 2019, Definition of sustainability. Available from Accessed on 25 June 2019.

Denbow, J & Thebe, P.C.,2006, Culture and customs of Botswana. Greenwood Press, London.

Kapelus, P.,2002, Mining, Corporate Social Responsibility and the “Community”: The Case of Rio Tinto, Richards Bay Minerals and the Mbonambi. Journal of Business Ethics, September 2002, Volume 39, Issue 3, Pages 275–296.

Narula, S.A., Magray, M.A. & Desore, A., 2017, A sustainable livelihood framework to implement CSR project in coal mining sector.  Journal of Sustainable Mining, Volume 16, Issue 3, 2017, Pages 83-93.

Petkoski, D. & Twose, N.(eds.), 2003, Public Policy for Corporate Social Responsibility. Pdf version of document available from Accessed 25 June 2019.

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The Importance of Framing and Alignment on a Project

The Importance of Framing and Alignment on a Project

By Davida van der Walt


How often have you seen one scope change after another on a project, and wondered what were the reasons behind these changes?  After some investigation, it becomes apparent that the decision-makers of the business were not aligned as to the objectives of the project. As a result, changes are constantly initiated as different decision-makers express their unique needs or personal preferences.  Sometimes the project owner’s judgement is clouded by what he or she may want, rather than what the business really needs.  These scope changes are devastating to any project and cost overruns, schedule slip and quality impairment is the norm.

It has been found that if framing is done well at the start of the project, the project will experience fewer scope changes and have a greater chance of achieving the business objectives. Proper framing at the start of a project implies that the business owner understands the true business need, gets the buy-in of the key stakeholders, and ensures that everyone on the project is aligned to the business and project objectives, as captured in the project charter.

What typically happens during the initiation stage of a project is that the business team either has operational problems to solve, or other business opportunities they would prefer to pursue.  The temptation is great amongst the engineers to immediately start with the engineering design and development of what they perceive to be the solution to the ‘problem’.  After many months of engineering, it is then ‘discovered’ that the proposed design does not meet the business objectives.  The proposed design is often very expensive, thus requiring rework, descoping and other cost cutting exercises, falsely disguised as ‘value engineering’.

Not focusing on the business objectives from the outset of a project, frequently manifests in misalignment, misunderstanding, and inappropriate project objectives.  From an owner perspective, the correct way to start with a new project is firstly to understand the true need of the business.  Should the business need to solve a problem in their operations, it would add value to conduct a root cause analysis to establish the true need, to avoid addressing a symptom rather than the true need of the business.

Framing the project

The objective of the initial opportunity framing process is to ensure the right problem is tackled, from the right perspective, by the right people.  Framing a project properly at the outset will assist in aligning the team towards success and reduce the probability of failure.

Framing is thus the process of putting a frame around the project by defining the high-level boundaries within which the project will be developed.  It provides the owner with a basis for what the business needs, and provides the project team with clear guidance and direction on the boundaries within which the project team can develop the project scope.  It thus includes the business needs and objectives, the project objectives, the high-level scope foreseen and the business value chain areas it will cover, the killer risks facing the project and the business affordable cost and schedule.  Opportunity framing is shown graphically in Figure 1.   It allows the owner team to hit the ground running.

Framing Fig 1

Figure 1:  Opportunity framing

A major objective of the framing process is to ensure that all key decision-makers that are impacted by the project in the relevant business value chain, or those that can influence the outcome of the project, are aligned with the frame.   Alignment thus starts with the framing of the project.

What can project owners do to ensure effective project framing?  The following is a list of essential requirements for effective framing:

  • Be clear on the true business need;
  • Ensure all key stakeholders are aligned with the business need at the start of project;
  • Be clear on the business objectives;
  • Effectively translate the business objectives into clear and measurable project objectives;
  • Capture the business need and objectives clearly in a sponsor mandate and project charter; and
  • List and fully understand the assumptions underlying the business objectives.

Project alignment

Alignment is the process of aligning the project team to the frame set during project initiation.  As can be seen in Figure 2, the frame sets the direction, or rather the tune, and the alignment process makes sure everyone plays to the same tune.

Framing Fig 2

Figure 2:  Framing and alignment in context

According to Griffith and Gibson (2001), project alignment needs to be addressed on three levels, namely project life-cycle, organisational level and inter-project, as shown in Figure 3.  Firstly, alignment is required from one stage to the next in the project life-cycle.  Throughout the project stages, information is firmed up and assumptions may change.  It is thus crucial to make sure that project team members are aligned to any changes to the project frame and definition as they move from one stage to the next.  Furthermore, alignment is required throughout all organisational levels. From the approval authority, to the project sponsor, business management, project management, any functional or discipline support functions, all project team members and all affected contractors.  Lastly, in the event of a project comprising several modules, or a programme with sub-projects, alignment is required between these modules or sub-projects.

Framing Fig 3

Figure 3:  Project Alignment (Adapted from Griffith and Gibson, 2001)

In the event of multiple modules or sub-projects, the sequencing of such projects is crucial.  Should misalignment occur, the whole project will be adversely affected.  Alignment is thus not a ‘soft’ issue, but an essential part of any project’s activities.

Achieving alignment

First and foremost, the opportunity framing process should be done well, involving the right decision-makers.  By aligning the decision-makers up front, the likelihood of changes being imposed from above is reduced.

Secondly, the alignment process should be well planned and properly executed.  On-boarding sessions and kick-off meetings should be held to ensure that all project stakeholders from all organisational levels, are on the same page.  Every single event or meeting should be considered an alignment opportunity.  Examples include risk reviews, gate reviews, and so forth.  Alignment should also be ensured between sub-projects/modules, and from one project stage to the next.  Every new project stage should be started with an alignment session for existing and new stakeholders.  During these sessions, the project frame can be updated to reflect the latest information.

To be able to do effective alignment, it is useful to have a standard project communication pack which is updated continually throughout the life-cycle of the project.  The project sponsor and project manager must take ownership of this communication pack and ensure that the party line and assumptions are always up to date.

Concluding remarks

Depending on the size and complexity of a project, framing can be done in a one to three day facilitated intervention, provided all relevant decision-makers participate.

Alignment is no small task, nor is alignment an event.  Achieving and maintaining alignment is a process.  A process that never ends, until such time that the project has realised the benefits it set out to achieve at the start of the project.  If planned and executed well, your project will run like a well-oiled machine.

Feel free to contact any of our consultants for assistance with project framing and alignment in your organisation.


Griffith, A.F. & Gibson, G.E. (Jr), 2001, Alignment during preproject planning, Journal of Management in Engineering, Vol. 17, No. 2.

Contact OTC for assistance with project framing and alignment in your organisation.

Project stakeholder management is a necessity, not a nice to have

Project stakeholder management is a necessity, not a nice to have

Mega projects call for intensive internal and external engagement with executive management, governments, organised labour, contractors, media, communities and other interested and affected parties which all see themselves as having a stake of some sort in the project. Ultimately it is about managing the expectations of the project stakeholders in order to ensure project success. But before one can get to expectation management, the right stakeholders should be identified, their needs and intentions should be understood, and they should be mapped using a power-interest grid which also indicate their attitudes toward the project.   This will put you in a position to effectively plan and execute stakeholder management strategies.

Stakeholder engagement is an important discipline that is used to win support from others. It helps the sponsor and project manager ensure that their project succeeds where others fail. Stakeholder identification and expectation management are continuous processes throughout the project life cycle.

Stakeholder management entails the identification of project stakeholders, gaining an understanding of them, their expectations and views, prioritising them using a stakeholder map, developing a stakeholder management plan and finally engaging and communicating with them to ensure that stakeholder expectations are managed throughout the project life cycle.

Historically, many owner organisations have often adopted a passive and somewhat reactive approach to informing stakeholders of developments, relying upon traditional communication methods such as newsletters, press releases and annual meetings. Such organisations frequently relied on a one-way communication and engagement strategy. Increasingly, successful organisations choose to be more pro-active and actively involve stakeholders in the decision-making process particularly in connection with developing new ventures. They aim to encourage and ensure wider and more constructive engagement.

Stakeholders have the power to impede or promote and a project.  Stakeholder management is an important activity that is used to gain mutual understanding of the objectives and expectations of all parties. It aids in developing a concept that will gain support from all the interested and affected parties enhancing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

The benefits of pro-active stakeholder engagement include:

  • Gaining the opinions of the most influential stakeholders to aid in shaping projects at an early stage. Not only does this make it more likely that they will support the project, their input can also improve the quality of the project;
  • Gaining support from stakeholders can help secure the right resources;
  • By engaging stakeholders early and often, one can ensure that they fully understand the benefits of the project, and;
  • One can anticipate what people’s reaction to your project may be and plan actions that will win support or mitigate resistance.

Project stakeholder management is not an add on! It is a key activity on a project that requires time, money and resources.  By identifying and managing stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle, stakeholder related risks can be pro-actively managed. Stakeholder engagement and communication are ultimately about expectation management.  Knowing what your stakeholders want from the project, puts one in a position to effectively manage these expectations, and prevent potentially serious issues that could impact project success.

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Project Communication – a forgotten art?

Project Communication – a forgotten art?

By Davida van der Walt and Dirk Lourens


In today’s world of instant data access, project managers are being bombarded with the necessity to spend more and more time with their business partners, shareholders and other parties outside the actual project management team.  These actions, together with internal communication requirements to their sponsors, steering committees and company boards, often lead to a situation where there are not enough hours in a day to communicate with their own project teams!  The project manager is so busy satisfying all the power players, that he/she ends up neglecting the very people who must make it all happen.

According to PMI (2013), amongst those organisations considered to be highly effective communicators, 80% of projects meet original goals, 71% deliver projects on time and 76% within budget.  For poor communicators, 52% of projects meet original goals, 37% deliver projects on time and 48% within budget.  However, only one in four organisations can be described as highly-effective communicators (PMI, 2013).  PMI calculate that one in five projects fail as a result of ineffective communication.

In this article, we briefly discuss a project communication model, consider barriers to communication and focus on some real-world communication problems.

Project Communication Process

Communication Model

In the project environment, communication is done to share information, clarify requirements, monitor progress, get team members aligned and it is a call to action.  With projects typically on tight schedules, ineffective communication can easily lead to schedule slippage, rework and cost overruns.  To better understand the barriers and problems associated with communication, we need to start with a basic project communication model, as shown in Figure 1.

IA 27 Figure 1

Figure 1:  A Communication Model for projects

Communication specialists would normally describe the communication process as consisting of seven or eight steps, but we’ll do a shortened version.

The Sender:  The sender, or the communicator, develops an idea to be communicated.  It is also known as the planning stage, since the communicator plans the subject matter of communication.  The sender develops the message and encodes it into a perceivable form that can be communicated to others.  In the final step, the sender transmits the message through the chosen communication channel.

Communication Channel:  The communication channel, or medium, implies the means of transmitting the message to the receiver.  Once the message is fully developed, the next step is to select a suitable medium for transmitting it to the receiver.  The medium of communication can be speaking, writing, signaling, gesturing, texting, etc.

The Receiver:  The receiver is the individual, or group, that receives the sender’s message.  The message can be received in the form of hearing, seeing, feeling or a combination of these.  Decoding is the receiver’s interpretation of the sender’s message.  Here the receiver converts the message into thoughts and tries to understand it.  Effective communication can occur only when both the sender and the receiver assign the same, or similar, meanings to the message.

Feedback Loop:  The final step of any communication process is feedback.  Feedback means receiver’s response to sender’s message. Feedback helps ensure that the receiver has correctly understood the message from the sender.  Feedback can be in the form of verbal or written response, or it can be the performing of a task as requested.

‘Noise’:  Barriers to proper communication, also called noise, are discussed in more detail later on.

Lines of Communication

Project managers, in conjunction with the project sponsor, need to establish three clear lines of communication once the project has started, as illustrated in Figure 2.  Managing, and continually improving, these lines of communication can dramatically increase your chances of a successful project.

The main lines of communication that are critical for project success, are an upward line to senior executives, a lateral line to authorities and other stakeholders and a downward line to the project team itself. When communication is delayed or neglected to the project team (the downward line), various unintended results start to surface.

IA 27 Figure 2

Figure 2:  Main lines of communication (adapted from Charvat, 2002)

How much is enough?

The art of communication is all about:

  • Communicating the right messages;
  • To the right audiences;
  • At the appropriate time;
  • In the right format, and;
  • Using appropriate channels.

Getting everything just right is obviously not easy.  However, estimates of how much time a project manager should spend on communication varies in the literature, but is typically given as between 80 and 90%.  The Project Management Institute (Whitaker, 2016) believe it should be 90% and that at least half of this time should be spent on the project team, or the downward line of communication.

Barriers to Communication

Barriers to communication is also referred to as noise.  Some of the barriers to effective project communication are briefly described below (adapted from Venkatesh, 2015):

Physical Barriers:  Since communication is a two-way process, any physical hindrance between the sender and the receiver of the message will contribute to ineffective communication.  Physical barriers include distance, noisy areas, environmental factors and the wearing of hearing protection.

Personal Barriers:  Anything which can widen the psychological distance between the sender and the receiver of a message has the same effect as a physical barrier.  Personal barriers include, for instance, difference in social values, culture, racial bias, gender bias, attitude, time pressure, age difference and communication skills.

Language/Semantic Barriers:  Even for speakers of the same language, the same words and symbols carry different meanings to different people.  Difficulties in communication arise when the meaning intended by the sender is different from the meaning understood by the receiver.  Obviously, communication is futile when the language used by the sender is unfamiliar to the intended receivers.

Positional Barriers:  Position in the hierarchy of an organisation is one of the fundamental barriers that obstructs free flow of information.  A superior may give only selected information to his subordinates so as to maintain status differences. Subordinates, on the other hand, tend to convey only those things which the superiors would appreciate. Such selective communication is also known as filtering.

Project Organisational Structure:  This barrier is usually not so pronounced in project organisational structures where the communication lines are relatively short.  If the structure involves several layers of management, the breakdown or distortion in communication will arise. It is an established fact that every layer cuts off a bit of information and takes additional time.

Lack of Attention:  Lack of attention to a message makes communication less effective and the message is likely to be misunderstood or ignored.  Inattention may arise due to the receiver being overworked or because of the message being contrary to his expectations and beliefs.  The failure to read notices, minutes and reports is a common feature of work overload.

Premature Evaluation:  Some individuals have the tendency to form a judgment before listening to the entire message.  This is known as premature evaluation.  Premature evaluation distorts understanding and acts as a barrier to effective communication.

Emotional Intelligence:  The lower the emotional intelligence of the sender and/or the receiver, the lower the expectation of effective communication.  When emotions are strong, it is difficult to understand what motivates the other party.  Emotional intelligence and attitude of both, the sender, as well as the intended receiver, obstruct free flow of transmission and understanding of messages.

Resistance to Change:  Human beings, by nature, tend to stick to the familiar, old and customary patterns of life.  They may resist change to maintain the status quo.  Thus, when new ideas are being communicated to introduce a change, it is likely to be opposed or even ignored.

Trust Barriers:  One will freely transfer information and understanding with another only when there is mutual trust between the two parties.  When there is a lack of trust between the sender and receiver of a message, the message is not followed.  Credibility gaps, in the form of inconsistencies between saying and doing, also causes lack of mutual trust, which acts as an obstacle to effective communication.

Real world Communication Problems

Poor Integration Management

It is estimated that for a $5 billion capital project, there are, on average, 2 000 interfaces; 10 000 agreements (plus multiple revisions); and 100 000 task related transactions.  Each one of these interface points may lead to misunderstanding, conflict, changes, costs and delays on projects that will tear your project team apart.  Good communication will unite your team as an integrated team, facing the same direction, and, most importantly, understanding what the project wants to achieve, the risks involved and understanding each other’s roles.

Work breakdown structures, Gantt charts, responsibility matrixes and all the other tools we have to plan, schedule and integrate, give us a planned road to travel, but lack the personal appreciation and understanding brought about when a project team communicate face-to-face on a regular basis, highlighting bottlenecks, pending interface points and potential responsibility grey areas.  The project manager is the catalyst to facilitate and promote opportunities for such communication sessions.  If he/she is absent or overworked, keeping senior management and other lateral communication going, team members will most probably retreat into their comfort zones, relying on e-mails and official project documents to show up problem areas.  A safe approach, but time consuming and not conducive for meeting project and business objectives.

Insufficient Team Recognition

During progress and planning sessions, communication tend to focus on next tasks, next milestones and problem areas.  However, people want their successes to be recognised, not only their failures.  Recognition motivates people.  According to Dapulse (2016): “Working in a vacuum is evil. The more everyone knows, the better they can work as a team.  Your hard work should remain as a trophy of your accomplishments.”

Their philosophy is to use software that turns the status of a task to green when completed; they want teams addicted to turning things green.  In traditional project management tools, when you complete a task or a project, it’s automatically archived.  They think this is wrong.  Completed work therefore stays on their progress reports, giving people recognition and accountability for their work.

This recognition within a project team is driven by the sponsor and the project manager and his/her senior staff.  If they are busy running around keeping stakeholders satisfied, the project team may lose motivation and team spirit.  Give your project manager the time to be the leader and chief communicator for the project team.

The art of translation

True communication, which means two-way communication that is understood by both sides, remains a challenge.  This is often as a result of lack of clarity of messages and the incorrect level of detail and the sharing of the incorrect level of detail as per the needs of the audience.  Project managers need to learn the art to communicate effectively and succinctly with executive teams.  Similarly, project sponsors need to master the art of translating the grand strategic vision into practical language that can be understood and internalised by project teams.  Such an understanding will motivate and energise project teams.  Both the sponsor and project manager need to be effective at translating business vision into measurable and well-defined project objectives and scope.

According to IPA (2015), the most powerful leverage point to improving capital project performance is the interface between the business and project (i.e., engineering) functions.  However, the link between these two functions is often weak.  It should always be remembered that the only reason any project comes to life is to satisfy a business need or opportunity.

Georgius (PMI, 2013) highlights that everyone needs to understand the long-term objectives of a project so they can know how they’re contributing and how they’re making an impact.  This includes the business and project objectives.  The project sponsor is responsible to always keep the team focused on the business objectives, whilst the project manager should clearly communicate the project objectives and how they will support the achievement of the business objectives. Needless to say, a solid partnership is required between the project sponsor and project manager.

Project Meetings lack the bigger picture

Kick-off meetings are the forums where project leadership will communicate the business and project needs, objectives and project risk profile to their project team.  This usually only happens at the start of a new project phase.  This sets the scene to get the “real work” of work breakdown structures, Gantt charts, work packages and tasks, started.  Every engineering discipline, contractor or subcontractor will only focus on their work scope, and depend on the already mentioned project documentation to guide them through the quicksand of inter-relations and interfaces.

Good communication means that the business objectives and the risks involved must be repeated at every opportunity – at progress, coordination, planning meetings to ensure that the context of the work is understood by all.  Most of project decisions are made by ordinary project members on a day-to-day basis without the luxury of having senior members of the team present.  Knowing the business objectives of the project, potential conflict can be defused before it becomes an issue.  Whenever change becomes necessary, understanding the bigger picture will improve and accelerate decision-making.

During the project execution phase, progress and planning meetings need to be attended as one project group and not as separate groupings i.e. per design discipline, procurement, construction, operations and maintenance.  Communication among such a diverse group will help that communication, understanding and feedback is at an optimum level. It will also make most interfaces more tangible, as progress and scheduling, requirements and delays are being discussed. Interface points then become living realities, not only a point on an interface chart.


Concluding remarks

Merrow (Klaver, 2012) highlights the need for more business education for project professionals.  Similarly, from our experience, it has become evident that business also needs education on project realities.  Too often business pushes a fixed agenda, which is not realistic from a project execution perspective.  This is where the project sponsor should step in and communicate extensively with business to educate them on project realities.

In this day and age, social media is a necessity.  All generations seem to adapt to this new way of work.  It must, however, never be forgotten that social media cannot replace face-to-face interaction.  Social and electronic media lends itself to misunderstanding and incorrect translation of messages.  It is a great mechanism for quick communication that is not of a sensitive nature and where the message is simple and clear.  Where uncertainties can surface, revert back to interpersonal communication.

Communication starts with understanding your project stakeholders.  Both internal and external to the project team and owner organisation. Knowing what power stakeholders exert over your project and what their level of interest is (either positive or negative), can help you decide on a strategy for engagement and communication.  Stakeholders in the right upper quadrant of Figure 3, should be actively engaged, and using interpersonal engagement and communication.  The project team inevitably fits into that category!

IA 27 Figure 3

Figure 3:  Engage the right stakeholders, in the right way at the right time.

If you wish to learn more about stakeholder management on projects, which includes communication requirements, please refer to the OTC Toolkit for Stakeholder Management.




Charvat, J.P., (2002), Project Communications: a plan for getting your message across.  Available from  Accessed on 16 June 2016.

PMI (Project Management Institute), (2013), Pulse of the Profession In-depth Report: The high cost of low performance – the essential role of communications.  Available as Pdf download from  Accessed on 16 June 2016.

Dapulse, (2016), Create transparency and empower your team. Available from  Accessed on 28 June 2016.

IPA (Independent Project Analysis), (2015), An interview with Margaret Walker. Available from  Accessed on 28 June 2016.

Klaver, A., (2012), Speed kills, Available from  Accessed on 28 June 2016.

Venkatesh, (2015), Top 11 barriers to communication, Available from  Accessed on 14 June 2016.

Whitaker, S., (2016), PMP® examination practice questions – 400 practice questions and answers to help you pass, 3rd ed.  Apress, New York, NY.



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Programme governance – a key factor to programme success

Programme governance – a key factor to programme success

Programme Management for Owner Teams authors Freek van Heerden, Jurie Steyn and Davida van der Walt explore the importance of programme governance .

Book image Lo Res


Corporate governance practices are built on the premise that the leaders of companies have an obligation to be fair, transparent, accountable and responsible in their conduct toward shareholders and civil society.

On programmes the following governance challenges are typical:

  • Management and governance are done by the same resources
  • Governance is poorly understood
  • Governance structures are not fit-for-purpose

In reality we have companies apply a one size fits all in terms of applying governance strictures on projects and programmes. The design of suitable programme governance structures is highly specific and is both organisation and situation dependant.  There is no single best practice applicable to all situations.

To ensure effective governance, consider the following principles:

Programme governance does, however, need to be fit for purpose and some of the considerations include:

  • Programme sponsor:  The sponsor takes responsibility for governance of the programme and is accountable to the company board.  The sponsor requires a clear terms of reference and delegated authority (mandate)
  • Company boards:  The board approves the execution of programme through the various stages and issues a mandate to the programme sponsor
  • Programme steering committees:  Steering committees play an advisory role to the sponsor and require cross-functional membership to reflect the stakeholders in the programme
  • Project steering committees:  These are required for sub-projects of sufficient scale, complexity and risk
  • Steering committee membership:  Membership must be confined to a small core group of ‘experts’ that can support the sponsor as well the leadership team of the programme or project.
  • Enterprise Project Management Office (PMO):  Ensure that the projects and programmes are executed according to the company project related procedures and governance principles;
  • Delegation of authority:  In contrast to individual projects, the programme cannot be effectively executed within the ‘normal’ approval limits.  It is advisable to delegate and set up appropriate commercial structures and approval levels to enable smooth turn-around of procurement documents.


For more practical lessons on programme management, please take a look at our book on the subject Programme Management for Owner Teams available on Amazon.