The Cooperative Transformation


Project Business Management


By Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany


“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned
to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Charles Darwin


The growing trend to cross-corporate projects done as businesses between customers and contractors challenge the ability of organizations and individuals to cooperate. Humans and their organizations are generally able to cooperate, however, the specific setting with its issues on project management level as much as on legal and commercial level makes it particularly difficult. A transformation is necessary to benefit from this trend.

Innovating Innovation

I often think back to the late 20th century, when I was employed in a leading position in a process-engineering company. Processes here in the meaning of classical chemical and physical processes, that were used in industries, such as automotive and aerospace. In my company, we had a Research and Development (R&D) department, internally, of course, that had a red “Entry for authorized personnel only” sign on its doors. The majority of corporate staff was prohibited from entering the rooms, in which the future products of our company were developed, those products that would secure our future. The innovative work was done inside the protective walls of the company, and the walls of the R&D added further protection.

I also remember the Chairman of the board of the company, an elderly, mostly unshaved man, who could spend days playing golf and nights in the R&D lab, mixing chemicals and developing physical processes for their application, and many of them were truly ground-breaking.

He was not formally educated in process engineering (I never found out, what his actual education was) and it was definitively not his ordinary job, but he was a kind of natural-born talent in process invention.

When he showed us in the morning the results of his long nights, everyone was impressed, however the next problem was, that he rarely documented his inventive work, so we had a perfect test tube of chemistry for which there was no recipe. It could not be reproduced, at least not accurately enough to deliver the lab performance.

I also remember that I received by that time an invitation by the University of Stuttgart to speak to their researchers. I was surprised to meet there the CEO of our direct competitor. He spoke before me and then listened to my lecture. We made a decision to sit together in a nearby restaurant after the event and talk about business. He was a man who loved talking, and I could derive a lot about the business situation of his company and where they stood with certain customers. Great information that I communicated home the next day.

The response was not a friendly one. “How could you sit and talk with that man? You are a soldier for the company, and you have to know, who the enemy is!” On that day, I decided to leave the company. I was their employee, not their soldier.

Today, as a trainer, I am a visitor in similar companies for preparatory talks and for in-house seminars. There are still internal R&D departments, of course, but for many of them, the entire working style has been changed. The lion share of the work is no more done internally but by contractors. The R&D department’s job is rather to is to distribute the work among them, to decide, which contractor does what research, and when.

There is not even certainty that the contractor does the work. The contractor may give it to one or more subcontractors, when specific skills are missing in-house, or when the lab capacity is not there to do the work. If the work is passed over, the customer may be aware and accepts it. Sometimes, customer are not aware and would not accept it if they knew.

Figure 1 illustrates, how projects such as R&D-driven innovation projects are no more done inside the more or less cozy world of the organization but extend out to external contractors. This brings new issues that need to be dealt with, such as contractual matters, non-disclosure of corporate secrets and general protection of intellectual property.

From a project management perspective, the traditional cross-functional character of internal projects is getting replaced with a cross-corporate fashion of doing projects, and the question remains, whether project managers are sufficiently prepared for this change.


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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. (2019). The Cooperative Transformation; Series on Project Business Management; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue VII, August.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/pmwj84-Aug2019-Lehmann-The-Cooperative-Transformation.pdf



About the Author

Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany




Oliver F. Lehmann, MSc., PMP, is a project management author, consultant, speaker and teacher. 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. Oliver has trained thousands of project managers in Europe, USA and Asia in methodological project management with a focus 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 five years as the President of the PMI Southern Germany Chapter until April 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 “Situational Project Management: The Dynamics of Success and Failure” (ISBN 9781498722612), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2016 and ofProject Business Management” (ISBN 9781138197503), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2018.

To view other works by Oliver Lehmann, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/oliver-f-lehmann/