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Transparency in projects


There are many success factors in projects, but there is little mention of full transparency in projects as an important factor. This in the sense of clarity and traceability.

Read here why and how that might look like.

By Peter Roth, May 19, 2021

Blind flight or fog in the project

There is nothing worse for stakeholders, the steering committee, project managers or project participants if it is not clear where we stand and where we are heading for. If the desired benefit is obscure, if the current status of the project is not clear, but costs and time overruns increase, if problems suddenly arise, without them being discussed in advance as risks, and ultimately the wrong results are delivered with no or limited effect. It is also difficult to understand when decisions are made based on fundamentals that are not known.

Transparency in projects shows what it is all about, what has been achieved, where we are and what is still to come. Transparency gives the viewer the opportunity to get an idea of the project, to assess it and, if necessary, to contribute or intervene. And this at the right time and not months later.

Transparency creates trust. Trust is a central aspect of leadership. You don't willingly follow someone you don't trust. And trust creates identification with the project, motivation and commitment to support and collaboration in the project.

There is probably always a certain degree of transparency, but this is often insufficient and only sporadic. But about what should transparency be created and improved? Transparency should cover all aspects of the project and project management, end-to-end across all dimensions. As a guideline in projects, I recommend giving transparency about the WHY, the HOW and the WHAT, which I describe below.

Transparency about the WHY

Why do we need this change? Why should we invest so much money, time and resources in this project when it is urgently needed in other places too? Why is the project so important? Why now?

The question about WHY gets to the heart of the matter. It explains the purpose of the project and its tasks. Only if a change is meaningful for us can we stand behind it and identify with the project and the necessary tasks. Only meaningful tasks are motivating for the employees, so they do their best to develop and implement them.

The WHY is inspiring and encourages people of the same mind to support the project.

In the majority of the projects, however, only the WHAT and the HOW are discussed. The WHY is missing or insufficient. Why, we do it for the client and the organization or customer concerned. The result is that the project is just carried out, with no inspiration and little motivation. This is a pity. Accordingly, it has to be planned, instructed, monitored and corrected with enourmous effort. If the WHY is missing for the project or if it is not transparent enough, the employees, the business and the customers are not inspired and have to be manipulated, e.g. in the form of direct leadership, power and micropolitics, creating artificial incentives (e.g. discounts and promotions) and rewards (e.g. bonus, awards), extensive communication and persuasion for the employees involved and affected. Typically, this is particularly evident during the deployment and has to be compensated for with additional effort in Organizational Change Management (OCM).

Static organizations such as companies, departments or teams find the WHY easier to explain. It is mostly mapped over the vision. The coApple, for example, wants to make things easier. Who does not want that? A project, however, is not an end in itself, it is a service provider and drives the change that is desired in the organization, in the company. Thus, a project has to combine the WHY with the WHY of the organization. If an IT organization wants to offer its services in the form of IT services, it makes sense to implement ITIL as part of a project. If a company wants to offer its diagnostic systems data-based and integrated, it makes sense that the supporting IT aligns its new strategy with business proximity and big data becomes a core competence.

Transparency about the HOW

The HOW describes how the WHY is implemented and the way in which the new state is to be achieved. In a project, these are primarily the project structures and processes. This includes the entire planning, which methods with processes, models and techniques are used and which activities are carried out on the timeline. This creates transparency about what has already been done, where you are and what is to come, both planned and current. This transparency allows everyone involved in the project to see for themselves when, what is expected of them, to plan for themselves and to maintain the cooperation.

Transparency about the WHAT

The WHAT in the project describes the results, outcome of the project. This includes especially the objectives, the deliverables and the functional and qualitative requirements for them. In addition, achievements, issues, risks and chances should be visible as well. With the WHAT, we specify the desired result and can discuss its benefits and characteristics before it is realized. The sooner and the more specifically the better. Visualizations and prototyping help. This transparency is particularly reflected in the agile approaches, where we carry out short sequences and see concrete results early on.


The majority of the projects focus too little on transparency and above all on the WHAT and HOW and neglect the WHY.

The first step is that you can basically provide all project data. In a second step, data and information must be classified as to who is allowed to see them. If they cannot be made available to everyone (e.g. for data protection reasons), this must be explained transparently. So that the raw data and information can then also be read, understood and interpreted, they must be prepared and communicated in a way that is appropriate for interest groups (e.g. in form of status report, project website, dashboards).

Nochmals, Transparenz führt zu Vertrauen. Und Vertrauen in ein Projekt ist erfolgskritisch.

For additional literature on this topic: Simon Sinek, "Start with WHY".