Society needs to join forces


to meet contemporary challenges:

The case of Germany



By Reinhard Wagner

Munich, Germany

Challenges are piling up at all levels of society in Germany. For example, manufacturers and suppliers in the automotive industry have to cope with serious structural change; connecting rural regions to the high-speed broadband network and creating affordable housing is putting local authorities under considerable pressure, especially during a period of increasing home office utilization; the transformation of the country´s energy system with the phasing out of nuclear power and coal requires innovative concepts and a new infrastructure at local, regional and national levels; and finally, digitization is not only causing trouble for executives in the private and public sector, yet it´s proving to be the weak point of the German education system in times of Covid-19. If it weren’t for the discussion about the distribution of the scarce Covid-19 vaccine, you’d almost think it was business as usual in this country.

After the initial praise at the beginning of the pandemic about how well Germany had got the virus under control, there is now more “Schadenfreude” and allegations of failure. What is going on in the land of poets and thinkers, of “German engineering” and organizational genius? Germany has become ponderous, complicated and cumbersome. Instead of acting boldly and providing an app to track and display contacts with infected people, we continue to discuss the requirements of data protection and the conceivable restriction of personal rights until we finally – at the end of the first wave – have an app that practically does not work and people no longer trust.

While a start-up company (Biontech) in Germany develops the world’s first vaccine against Covid 19, demonstrating the inventive spirit and innovative strength of the local economy, the vaccine is first approved and used in the U.S. and in the UK, and the ordering and distribution of the vaccine in Germany is the cause of a scathing review in the press and the subject of numerous talk shows. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen finally admits to mistakes in vaccine procurement and states, “the EU is more of a tanker.” The list of these undesirable developments could be continued arbitrarily.

However, the question of the causes seems much more interesting to me. What has already crystallized in the failure of major projects – such as the Berlin Airport – can also be observed in many other areas. This is the dichotomy in Germany between the private sector, which is experienced in delivering projects, and the public sector, which (still) has little experience in conducting large-scale projects. I would like to emphasize here that the private sector still has a lot of ground to make up in terms of project management, and that smaller companies, especially those with an agile structure, have an advantage here. Nevertheless, companies benefit from the fact that they have to coordinate closely with their customers in global competition and respond to frequently changing requirements. That only those survive who are innovative and, in addition to sophisticated products, are also professional in the realization of corresponding projects – classic or agile in their approach, with all opportunities and risks involved, and with the full commitment of everyone participating.

In a macroeconomic survey of project activity, the GPM German Project Management Association already pointed out in 2015 the serious gap between the private and the public sector. In the private sector, more than 40% of working time is spent on projects that serve to create new products and services or solve challenging problems. The public sector manages just half of that. A recent study on the “projectification of society in Germany” shows a similar picture. Increasing complexity, digitization, pressure to innovate and social tasks are named as challenges and main areas of application for professional project know-how, but the corporate world is clearly ahead of all other sectors in this respect. This dichotomy is increasingly becoming a problem in Germany.


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How to cite this article: Wagner, R. (2021). Society needs to join forces to meet contemporary challenges – the case of Germany; Commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue IV, April. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/pmwj104-Apr2021-Wagner-society-needs-to-join-forces-commentary2.pdf


About the Author

Reinhard Wagner

Munich, Germany


Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. Reinhard Wagner has published 36 books as well as several hundred articles and blogposts in the field of project, program and project portfolio management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in a range of leadership roles (including President and Chairman) and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Fellowship of several IPMA Member Associations. He was named an IPMA Honorary Fellow in 2021.

Reinhard is Senior Lecturer at the Alma Mater Europaea and is currently finishing his doctoral thesis on the topic of Project Society. He can be contacted via reinhard.wagner@tiba.de.

To view other works by Reinhard Wagner, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/reinhard-wagner/