Project Management in Germany – A view to the inside from the outside by an insider

Cathedrale of Cologne in the evening sun

This is a repost of an article I have published at LinkedIn.

Having written about challenges encountered in India and in Macau, today’s post is about a country on which one usually does not read about in terms of problems with project management: Germany, my home country.

It is very easy to criticize and write about other countries when one tries to compare the ‘good’ things of one’s own work culture with the ‘bad’ things of another. The truth is that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are very subjective terms and in the end every difference from what one is used to, is in the end nothing else than a challenge that can be overcome. Looking at Germany there are also a number of things coming to mind that I would regard as challenges that other countries’ employees have to overcome:

The need to be assured. The projects that I have worked on in Germany tended to be very detail-focused and especially in the planning phase during the initial project calculation it was usual to go into every detail in great depth. On a project calculation up to 25 million euro twenty minutes of discussion could be spent on 500 euro. And most likely there would be a risk assigned to it. A risk that needs to be quantified and qualified and entered into a list, assigned with a responsibility and presented to higher management for sign off.

The need to have every planned. In line with above mentioned risk management behavior, Germans tend to have plans in place. Plans for how things will work out, how they might work out and what happens if they do not work out as planned, preferably with option A, B and C. A typical question in meetings is “and what if that doesn’t work?” This means that a lot of time and effort is invested not in making sure that the initial idea works, but in trying out every possibility of failure and creation of alternative solutions. There are scenarios in which I highly regarded this process as helpful, e.g. in life safety applications in the railway segment, yet there are other situations in which I would have tried to eliminate these discussions in afterthought. E.g. in attribution of IT costing to service lifecycle phases of a product line.

The need to think in processes and procedures. In the same way that Germans like to have risks assessed, like to have plans in place, we also like to create standard ways of doing things. In my time in Germany it happened several times that we encountered a very specific situation that required us to create a specific solution. And then we created a process out of that specific solution to also suit other situations that might or might not occur. Whether that would really have been necessary or not is another question but the principle is that we like to think in rules and regulations and whenever we encounter a situation where our rules don’t apply, then we try to create some. This can be very helpful as for project management my former employer had created a dedicated project management life cycle process that catered for all standard situations, documentation and team interactions. However in other situation it can be blocking the overall work flow as someone is being set aside to create a new workflow or new standard document for a situation that might not arise again within the next 6 months.

Off is off. Labor laws in Germany are strict and much more social and family orientated as the typical Asian work contract would grant. As such it happened often to me that people are really off after their standard work time is over, i.e. their mobile is off, they will not react to any emails and generally the next time you can ask them for a question is the next morning. Sure there are people that work overtime and yes there are workaholics that are available 24/7, but if compared to the general availability of project management staff or contractors in Macau who can be called upon starting from 6am to midnight, this is a different scenario. This means that whatever question you have you better get solved during your work time as otherwise you will not have the solution to your problem. And don’t forget that some companies grant 30 days annual leave (in addition to government holidays) surplus extended maternity leaves, sick leaves and educational leaves. As a standard rule in my past project calculations we would never assume that a FTE (full time employee) is really working 100% of his or her time for the project but up to 30% of his time would be attributed to other matters (as said before, holidays, administrative issues, etc.).

Strong unions, strong public, strong opinions. If you are used to work in China then you are used to get things done quickly in regards to public infrastructure civil works. In Germany, similar to other Western countries, public groups and stakeholders have a very strong say in the project progress, as can be seen in such government undertakings as Stuttgart 21 and the new Berlin airport. At Stuttgart 21 public demonstrations had to be resolved using police force, resulting in private law suits, and for the Berlin airport newspapers are reporting on the ‘latest’ failures on a daily basis resulting in increased internal political pressure for quick results. Without taking into account of these stakeholders it is impossible to complete a project within the agreed scheduled time.

As said in the beginning, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ situations one can encounter, only challenges that are to be overcome. I am a person that loves to dive head first into these challenges and find new exciting solutions to overcome them. Any questions?Contact me!

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