Project Business between Transparency and Corruption


Project Business Management


By Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany

“Clearly, once you involve yourself in the murky world of bribery,
it is not open to you to simply opt out whenever you like.”
– Guido Penzhorn SC, Prosecutor[1]


Project Business is attractive to corrupt behavior more than other business disciplines. The damage it causes to individuals, corporations, and society is enormous. In addition – it stands in the way of project success. The players involved should develop systems, processes, and a mindset to resist the temptation and protect their projects.

Corruption in Project Business

“Sir, who are you, and what are you doing professionally?”

It was early in 2023, and the Covid19 pandemic seemed over. Many organizations returned to face-to-face meetings, and so did Transparency International (TI), the global association against corruption. After two years, when get-togethers were done using online tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, it was great to again look into people’s faces directly and exchange thoughts and ideas without a digital data line in between.

I had been late to the meeting of TI’s regional group for Bavaria and had missed the self-introduction at the beginning of the session. Most faces were unfamiliar to me, and my face was also unknown to them, too. So at the end of the meeting, someone asked me to state my name and profession.

“Well, my name is Oliver, and I have been with TI for 18 years. I work as a trainer for corporations in the fields of project management and the management of Project Business.”

Someone asked, “I know project management, but what do you mean with ‘Project Business’?”

I responded: “Project Business takes place when a project is not done internally, inside an organization, but with two or more organizations involved as customer and contractor. In Project Business, you often find subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and so on. The number of organizations involved in a project can become quite significant. They build complex networks of vendors and service providers. Unfortunately, in Project Business, corruption is not rare.

“Indeed, there is a lot of corruption in Project Business. In operations that carry out their daily business over a long time, the risk for corrupt people is high that someone uncovers their practices one day. In Project Business, however, corruption is much easier to hide. At one point in time, the project is finished. Then, documentation gets closed and archived in thick boxes that no one dares to touch and open again. It’s the temporary nature of projects that makes them so attractive for corrupt people.”

Another meeting attendee said, “Oliver, I know precisely what you are talking about. I had such a situation in my company some years ago when a purchasing professional challenged my company’s integrity by subtly asking for a bribe.” He then told us his story, and everyone could feel his pride that, while the company lost the bidding, it maintained its uprightness.

It is a pattern I’ve seen repeatedly: Once I addressed the topic of corruption in Project Business, people have stories to tell. The same happened in this session: Other attendees stepped in and talked about similar experiences. The experiences made it obvious: The challenge to maintain personal and organizational integrity in Project Business is high.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Oliver Lehmann, author of the book “Project Business Management” (ISBN 9781138197503), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2018. See author profile below.

How to cite this article:  Lehmann, O. F. (2023). Project Business between Transparency and Corruption, series article, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue III, March. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/pmwj127-Mar2023-Lehmann-project-business-between-transparency-and-Corruption.pdf

About the Author

Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany


Oliver F. Lehmann, MSc, ACE, PMP, is a project management educator, author, consultant, and speaker. In addition, he is the owner of the website Project Business Foundation, a non-profit initiative for professionals and organizations involved in cross-corporate project business.

He studied Linguistics, Literature, and History at the University of Stuttgart and Project Management at the University of Liverpool, UK, where he holds a Master of Science Degree (with Merit). Oliver has trained thousands of project managers in Europe, the USA, and Asia in methodological project management, focusing on certification preparation. In addition, he is a visiting lecturer at the Technical University of Munich.

He has been a member and volunteer at PMI, the Project Management Institute, since 1998 and served as the President of the PMI Southern Germany Chapter from 2013 to 2018. Between 2004 and 2006, he contributed to PMI’s PM Network magazine, for which he provided a monthly editorial on page 1 called “Launch,” analyzing troubled projects around the world.

Oliver believes in three driving forces for personal improvement in project management: formal learning, experience, and observations. He resides in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, and can be contacted at oliver@oliverlehmann.com.

Oliver Lehmann is the author of the books:

His previous articles and papers for PM World Journal can be found here:


[1] (Penzhorn, 2004)