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Core Training 6:  Project Lessons Learnt

Core Training 6: Project Lessons Learnt

Project Lessons Learnt

Have you ever wondered how to avoid making the same mistakes on projects? The answer lies in effective implementation of lessons learnt on your projects. 

In this course you will learn how to apply previous lessons learnt by proactively building such lessons into your planning of a project stage. Come to grips with a practical process to identify and capture both lessons and successes on your project. Learn how to do root cause analysis on lessons learnt that will enable you to develop proactive measures that can be applied on other projects to prevent mistakes from recurring.

This course is available to OTC toolkit members and consists of 3 modules with sub-units containing a practical guide, 6 video recordings (85 minutes in total) packed with practical learnings on projects.  The course is presented by Davida van der Walt who has a Master’s degree in Industrial Psychology, combined with practical experience on mega projects.

Here’s what you will learn:

  1. Why lessons learnt on projects poses a challenge.
  2. Lessons learnt success factors that can be applied on any project.
  3. The importance that the project context plays in the transfer of lessons learnt.
  4. The generic process to collect and transfer lessons.
  5. Why root causes analysis contributes to the identification of proactive measures to address gaps.
  6. How to conduct a lessons learnt interview or workshop.
  7. An overview of typical lessons on large projects.

This Course is now available to all members and you can access your e-learning from the OTC Toolkits Membership site.  (Log-in required).

See you inside the Toolkits.

– The OTC Toolkits Team

Team alignment on programmes – can it be done?

Team alignment on programmes – can it be done?

Programme Management for Owner Teams authors Freek van Heerden, Jurie Steyn and Davida van der Walt explore team alignment and its challenges on a programme.

Book image Lo Res


On a programme, alignment ensures that there is a common understanding of the owner’s business and project objectives, as well as the owner management team’s expectations.

On programmes the following alignment challenges are typical:

  • Key management stakeholders and decision makers do not align upfront on the frame / ultimate business objective of the programme. Poor upfront framing leads to multiple problems down the line
  • Project teams reporting into the programme do not always have a clear understanding of the bigger picture and the purpose of the programme.  They tend to relentlessly pursue their project objectives, not keeping sight of the programme objectives.

In reality we have found sponsors do not always take their role seriously in managing stakeholder relations that are of diplomatic or strategic nature.  The sponsor can play a huge role in pro-actively keeping key stakeholders abreast of the programme objectives and status, and avoiding stakeholder misalignment.

To ensure effective alignment, the programme management team needs to ensure that they have clarity on the items below and that all involved on the programme are aligned to these:

  • Scope: what they are supposed to do;
  • Business objectives: why they are supposed to do it;
  • Programme objectives/operating model: how they are going to do it;
  • Timeline: when they are to do it;
  • Roles and responsibilities: who will be responsible for what;
  • Budget and cash flow: what monies will be available to the programme, and;
  • Communication plan: how they will communicate about the programme.


For more practical lessons on programme management, please take a look at our book on the subject Programme Management for Owner Teams available on Amazon.

Healthy teams are high performing teams [Insight]

Healthy teams are high performing teams [Insight]

By Davida van der Walt


There is a direct correlation between team health and team performance. In simple terms, healthy teams are high performing teams.

In practice, we often see projects slipping on schedule and cost, without realising that the root cause for the dysfunction is poor team health.  Project success is defined as delivery of a product or a service within a given time frame, budget, within acceptable quality and with minimal risks.  Project teams should be set up and supported to increase the probability of project success.  Challenges and risks are inherent to all projects.  However, effective and efficient team management is one of the keys to overcome such challenges and unlock success.

What does a ‘healthy team’ mean?

The World Health Organization (WHO), defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1946).  By applying this definition to project teams, it can be stated that project teams should be physically healthy, mentally healthy and socially well-adjusted.  It is clear that team health is a dynamic condition, constantly impacted by the surrounding environment that could be of a personal or work nature.  For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the work environment.  That said, it must be acknowledged that the personal circumstances of individual team members can also have a major impact on team health.

One of the greatest buzz words of our time is ‘stress’.   It is important to note that stress is not always a bad thing.  Eustress, or positive stress, is optimal stress that motivates a person.  It is short-term in nature and it is stress within your coping capability.  Eustress helps you feel excited and heightens your levels of alertness.  Eustress therefore contributes to improved performance.  In contrast, distress, or negative stress, is more stress than one can cope with and consequently it causes anxiety.  Distress can lead to emotional and physical problems and ultimately decreases performance.  Distress is also more long-term in nature.  Project team members exposed to eustress are likely to perform optimally, whilst team members suffering from distress are likely to battle to perform at their best.

In a project context, certain characteristics of the team can positively or negatively affect the team health, exposing the team to either eustress or distress.

Characteristics of a high performing team

OTC defines effective teams, and ultimately high performing teams, as having direction and structure, work together as a team, have good relations with external stakeholders and are empowered. Figure 1 depicts the OTC model for high performing teams.

Fig 1 Team Effectiveness

Figure 1:  OTC model for high performing teams (van der Walt, 2016)

Each of these elements is discussed in turn:

  • Direction:  Strong leadership through effective project sponsorship, a clear purpose and direction, well-defined boundaries in the form of a clear sponsor mandate and project charter, as well as shared leadership, which means shared accountability.
  • Structure:  Everyone on the project is clear on their roles and responsibilities, the project team structure is well-defined and known, a clear project development and execution plan is in place, conflict and dispute resolution mechanisms are in place, and decision making and approval authority protocols are agreed.
  • Teamwork:  The team members trust one another and communicate openly, they collaborate and participate freely, listen willingly and engage in constructive conflict or disagreement.
  • External Relations:  Effective relationships, external to the project team, are in place with all key stakeholders that need to contribute in some way or provide resources.  These typically include industry leaders, business contacts, technology suppliers, communities affected by the project, suppliers of equipment, goods or services and government departments.  Government engagement is typically around legislation impacting the project.
  • Empowerment:  Being an empowered team implies that the authority assigned to each person in the team, relevant to their level of influence, is clear and understood; that resources deployed on the project are sufficient to be able to execute the project (this includes funding, people and tools); that information that the team needs in order to do their jobs, is flowing freely (e.g. progress, performance, risks etc.); that the resources that are deployed are competent to do their jobs; and that the team is not only clear on who is accountable for what, but also held accountable.

As a result of all five elements being in place, the team is happy, healthy and motivated, and they stay on schedule, keep within the budget, deliver at the required quality and stay focused, thereby preventing incidents and accidents.

To ensure project team effectiveness throughout the life-cycle of a project can be challenging, as there are many factors impacting the effectiveness of a team.  One of the keys to developing high performing teams is to remember that successful teams do not simply happen.  They require proper guidance and support from the project sponsor and project manager.  They require an organisational culture which enables and fosters teamwork.

This then begs the question: What can project managers and project sponsors do to foster healthy and high performing teams?  In the next section, we look at seven ways to achieve healthy and high performing teams.

Achieving healthy and high performing teams

The seven ways to a healthy and high performing team are shown in Figure 2.  Again, each is discussed in turn.

Fig 2 Seven ways to healthy team

Figure 2:  Seven ways to a healthy and high performing team

Leadership/project sponsorship

High performance teams start with good leadership.  Having an effective sponsor on your project can mean the difference between success and failure.  If you do not already have a sponsor appointed, make sure to appoint the right person for the job, or else provide your sponsor with the necessary training to be able to effectively enact the role of a sponsor on your project.

Framing and alignment

Framing a project properly at the outset will assist in aligning the team towards success and minimise the chances of failure.  Framing is not a single event, but is a process throughout each stage of a project that forms the foundation for all gate deliverables and helps meet promises made to business boards.  The aim of the initial opportunity framing process is to ensure that the right problem is tackled, from the right perspective, by the right people.

Proactive alignment of key stakeholders on your project will prevent unnecessary changes and rework.  In the event that a project has changed direction during the course of the project life-cycle, it can add a lot of value to redo the opportunity framing and to confirm if any project boundaries have changed.

If framing and alignment is not done properly, the team will pull in different directions and key stakeholders can halt the project, because they do not buy into the objectives.  This will lead to confusion, conflict and huge frustration, and ultimately a very unhappy, unproductive team.

Team Development

Team development is the enhancement of the effectiveness of project teams by improving goal and role clarification and interpersonal processes.  Team development creates a captivating atmosphere by encouraging co-operation, teamwork and interdependence and by building trust among team members.

According to the Tuckman Team Development Model (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977), newly formed teams go through four main phases, namely forming, storming, norming and performing.  This team development model is the most well-known and accepted in the literature.

The model proposes that when you form a team, there is normally quite a bit of uncertainty and lack of structure.  During the forming phase, a high degree of guidance is required from managers, individual roles are unclear and work processes are normally not established yet.  The team then moves into the storming phase where they start to get accustomed to how decisions are made.  At this stage their purpose is clear, but they are still learning to work with one another.  Relationships tend to be cordial and uncertain.  At this stage the team battles to adjust to the direction given to them and they tend to experiment in terms of how far they can push the boundaries.  They then move to norming.  Now they start to understand one another, understand the procedures to be followed and start working according to accepted norms and values.  They start to commit to team goals.  The final phase is performing:  now the team is committed and works well together, like a well-oiled machine.

The project sponsor and project manager can play an active role in helping the team move through the stages as quickly as possible.  If this not done, the team will be dysfunctional, not knowing what their roles are, or how they should go about getting the job done.  Poor team development is a recipe for conflict and dysfunction.

Stakeholder engagement and communication

Megaprojects call for intensive external engagement with government, organised labour, contractors, media, communities and other interested and affected parties, which all see themselves as having a stake of some sort in the project.  For example, if expectations were created to provide jobs and training to local communities and a project is delayed, these expectations must be managed to prevent unnecessary upsets.  This would require additional resources and effort to contain.  Key external stakeholders, given their power and influence over your project, could impact your project success.  Ensure that a proper mapping has been done of internal and external stakeholders, with an active engagement and communication plan.

Poor internal stakeholder management often leads to changes to the scope of a project.  Key stakeholder may not have bought into the business objectives and may insist on changes that could severely impact scope, cost and schedule.  This, in turn, puts a lot of pressure on the team and creates unnecessary distress.

Effective management and control

Effective management and control on a project will give you the opportunity to measure project performance, anticipate problems, and make proactive adjustments to keep your project on track.  Effective management and control practices include the classic management functions of leadership, planning, organisation and control.

The team leadership should ensure a clear project charter and effective governance processes that will ensure that the stipulations made in the charter are adhered to.  Planning includes preparing plans for financing, resources, deliverables, schedule, quality, integration and risk.  Leading and lagging indicators for all these areas should be defined and tracked.  Critical and scarce resources should receive particular attention.  Similarly, from a control perspective, cost, schedule, quality and benefit realisation should be tracked and managed.  Doing effective change management and control is of critical importance.  Reporting, value assurance, and risk tracking and mitigation are useful mechanisms that management can use to control progress of deliverables.

If control mechanisms are not effective, the project will slip without the project leadership realising what is going on.  By the time the message sinks in, it may be too late.  At such a stage in a project, the whole team is negative, frustrated and highly stressed.

Human resource (HR) interventions

HR interventions that can make a huge difference in terms of the effectiveness of the team and the success of the project, include:

  • Recruitment, training and development;
  • Team support initiatives;
  • Work and resource planning, and;
  • Performance management, recognition and reward.

Having competent resources on the project is crucial.  The aim should always be to appoint persons that are competent to fulfil the required roles, and should they not be competent, focused training and development plans should be in place.  Not having competent resources on the project, will transfer the pressure to other resources who will have to keep the ball rolling.  Such resource pressure creates enormous amounts of stress that leaves the team exhausted, frustrated and ridden with conflict.

Integrated wellness programmes

Project teams that are under continuous high levels of pressure, having personal problems at home, not feeling physically well and not feeling appreciated, tend to become disengaged.  Many factors, both in the workplace and in the home environment, and more often than not, a combination thereof, can contribute to disengagement.  This leads to antisocial behaviour, outbursts, family problems, poor health, heart attacks, conflict in the work environment, substance abuse, and ultimately low productivity and unsafe behaviour.

An integrated wellness programme should make provision for:

  • Regular burnout assessments (at least every six months);
  • Access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), and;
  • Access to regular health checks.

In summary

Ensuring your team is healthy: physically, mentally and socially, will be the single biggest contributing factor to your team being a high performing team.  By implementing the actions listed above, you will create clear direction and structure, as well as a healthy environment within which the team is empowered to perform.


Tuckman, B.W. & Jensen, M.A.C., 1977, Stages of small group development revisited, Group and Organization Studies, vol 2, no 4, pp 419-27.

Van der Walt, D., 2016, Effective teams are high performing teams. OTC Toolkit.

WHO, 1946, Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.

You can download this and other Insight articles from our website at

Core Training 5:  Project Stakeholder Management

Core Training 5: Project Stakeholder Management

Project Stakeholder Management

Have you been faced with the challenges associated with managing stakeholders on a complex project? Then this toolkit training is for you.  Stakeholder management is all about understanding what influence and interest stakeholders have in relation to your project and then actively managing their expectations. 

In this course you will get an understanding of the complete stakeholder management process from identifying stakeholders, understanding them, mapping them using a power and interest grid, planning how to engage them and ultimately develop strategies and mechanisms on how to engage stakeholders effectively.

This course is available to members and consists of a practical guide that unpacks the stakeholder identification and mapping process on projects, a second practical guide that describes the process of how to engage and communicate with project stakeholders, and lastly a master class packed with practical lessons learnt.  The course is presented by Davida van der Walt who has extensive experience in community stakeholder engagement.

Here’s what you will learn:

  1. How to apply the process to identify and map stakeholders
  2. The importance of understanding stakeholders before they can be effectively engaged
  3. The stakeholder expectation management processes are and how to apply them in stakeholder management planning
  4. Stakeholder engagement and movement strategies
  5. The various stakeholder engagement mechanisms and how they apply to projects
  6. How the generation theory impact stakeholder management strategies
  7. To develop a stakeholder management plan for a project
  8. Who the role players are in stakeholder management on a project
  9. An appreciation for managing stakeholder expectations throughout the project life cycle
  10. An overview of practical stakeholder management lessons learnt on mega projects

This course is now available to all members and you can access your e-learning from the OTC Toolkits Membership site.  (Log-in required).

This Course is now available to all members and you can access your e-learning from the OTC Toolkits Membership site.  (Log-in required).


See you inside the Toolkits.

– The OTC Toolkits Team

The maze of stakeholder alignment on a programme

The maze of stakeholder alignment on a programme

Programme Management for Owner Teams authors Freek van Heerden, Jurie Steyn and Davida van der Walt explore stakeholder alignment challenges on a programme.

Book image Lo Res


The ultimate objective of stakeholder management is to ensure successful execution of the programme by engaging the right people that could influence or impact the success or failure of the programme at the right time.

On programmes the following stakeholder challenges are typical:

  • Key stakeholders that could impact programme success are overseen and only identified one it becomes a crisis
  • Stakeholder identification and  stakeholder management engagement planning is done at the start of the programme and not updated through the programme life cycle

In reality we have found sponsors do not always take their role seriously in managing stakeholder relations that are of diplomatic or strategic nature.  The sponsor can play a huge role in pro-actively keeping key stakeholders abreast of the programme objectives and status, and avoiding stakeholder misalignment.

To ensure effective stakeholder identification and management:

  1. Stakeholder management on a programme should never be an ad-hoc activity or event. It should be a structured, yet dynamic process managed on a continuous basis throughout the lifecycle of the programme
  2. Stakeholder identification and engagement should consider company internal stakeholders, contractors and service providers as well as external interested and effected parties.
  3. The project team should consider who has an interest in the programme (positive or negative), and who could influence the success of the programme through exerting formal or informal power on the programme.


For more practical lessons on programme management, please take a look at our book on the subject Programme Management for Owner Teams available on Amazon.