• Project phases

Project Phases in workforce-management

The work is carried out almost exclusively in the form of projects. This practically always includes internal project-management and a multi-disciplinary working group with approximately 8-10 people. Larger projects usually additionally involve a supervisory team with the most high-ranking representatives possib

Consulting projects can contain standardized elements, but under no circumstances can they be reduced to such. On the contrary – new and complex challenges are project constants.

The classic view of projects often involves a linear process-model with the following general phases: start, actual condition assessment, target state definition, evaluation of alternatives and implementation. In practice, this linear approach is and has been workable in exceptional circumstances only.

A more modern understanding of project-processes includes the element of setoffs. The process is understood as a way of learning about possibilities and requirements, collecting experiences and implementation.

The project steps follow a loop shape

This general scheme can provide the structure for entire projects if these are of a relatively simple nature, and assuming sufficient experience with the topic at issue. Often, however, things are not as simple.  

In most cases projects initially consist of little more than several rough ideas. Every participant has at least one idea in mind. Complex projects cannot be planned in detail from start to finish. Assignments are provisional and are continuously changed over time. Surprises are inevitable, requiring a process that is flexible enough to react to these and to adapt to the learning process. Stability is achieved through good decisionmaking-processes and a fitting project structure, and not through a premature determination of things that have not or could not yet have been properly thought through. 

Insisting on a realistic project-design helps make allowances for the “softness of the problem” and the“unpredictability of the world”, by having participants working towards a better understanding of connections step-by-step. Based on this goals can be defined or adapted. This means that the theme can often change. It is an open processcarried by reflection, and one that both brings and permits surprises.

The process does not consist of strictly separated phases of actual condition assessment/target state definition/implementation. The phases can be distinguished based on their emphasis, but always include a mixture of actual condition assessment, target state definition, and implementation (or preparation therefore). 


The process-model distinguishes between working on the project and on the project-structure on one hand and the actual work within the project, although there are running cross-overs and double usage (Example: something realized in the actual-condition analysis has consequences for the solution to be developed and for the project-structure- additional qualifications have to be incorporated into the team).

  • Actual condition-analysis, target state-analysis and implementation or implementation-planning are constantly drawn in. This reflects the understanding that these elements are “always” at issue, even if to a varying extent.
  • The focus is represented by the line, but other aspects must be continuously considered.
  • The number of so-called serpentines between a planned and broad reflection of the project and the actual work within the project is an important design-element. This means systematic reflection with (the potential for) broad re-design.
  • Project-establishment refers to the creation of the project-structure as its own structure. People take on their roles in the project and the project develops its own dynamic.
  • Project completion means the official completion of the project. It subsequently has neither structure nor resources. Reflection is used to permit learning something for future projects and for „life after completion“.
  • Evaluation should be included in the plan (something that often does not occur). This can have the scope of a separate project. In exceptional cases it is a part of the initial package (with all the difficulties self-evaluation entails).
  • Project planning primarily occurs during the first phase of the project. Initially this can mean only roughly outlining main problem areas and subsequently initiating a generation- and testing-process for problems that are to be tackled first. Problem-solving can perforce occur only thereafter. Later phases many nonetheless also require considerable amounts of planning.
  • The open-ended nature of the project-design creates challenges for both the customer and those carrying out the work; nonetheless it involves a realistic design. When a project does not start immediately and when project- and problem-formulation are constantly questioned, strains can occur in the co-operation with the client and other involved parties, and may result in the need for clarification.  
    However, this is usually the only appropriate way to prevent hasty and premature solutions. At the same time such an approach can alleviate burdens.  It includes an important learning aspect. This can mean changes in task-definition, making mistakes and taking wrong turns. It is no longer about completely avoiding mistakes, but about making the best of a particular situation.
  • On the whole this approach is defined by soft elements, short loops and an awareness and acceptance of insecurity.

The grouping and arranging of phases is based on the size and complexity of the topic at issue, on time-pressure and on previous experience, etc. Large projects involve a higher number of different phases. The form and scope of the testing of new models and of evaluation depend on the particular circumstances.
Phases define partial projects. Interim deadlines at which specific items need to be wrapped up serve as milestones.

general structure that takes into consideration the above-outlined considerations regarding realistic project-design and realistic project-work could, for example, look as follows:

  • orientation, assignment-refinement and rough-cut planning, project-establishment 
  • probing of possible solutions 
  • refinement and experimentation/pilot-projects
  • complete implementation

The end of each phase provides opportunities for reflection regarding how thoroughly the used approach needs to be amended, whether the project-structure and the composition of the groups fits, etc. 
At a social enterprise (link to the case study NÖ Volkshilfe) only the next, manageable steps were planned in detail.  Roles and responsibilities were newly defined in each phase, and there were tests to see to what extent the initial goals fit to the experiences made.