On 15 November 2014, Directive 2014/95/EU1 was published in the Official Journal of the European Union. It obligates companies with more than 500 employees and that are defined as ‘public interest entities’ to produce an annual non-financial report.
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“[These organizations] shall include in the management report a non-financial statement containing information [about the] development, performance, position, and impact of its activity, relating to, as a minimum, environmental, social, and employee matters, respect for human rights, anti-corruption, and bribery…”2
Many organizations, therefore, began work to enable the publication of the required non-financial statement (a sustainability report or integrated report). This directive was an important step in raising the awareness of sustainability in all organizations, not only the larger ones that are directly affected by it.
This case study focuses on a project that was initiated by Estra, a private Italian company, which is directly affected by Directive 2014/95/EU. Estra began to draft a Sustainability Report in 2015, supported by the OpenCom team.
OpenCom is a European social enterprise specializing in managing European-funded projects. The organization facilitates people-to-people communication for a smarter, sustainable, and inclusive Europe. It specializes in:
Estra identified the need for a project manager who could support and lead organizations (including small organizations not subject to Directive 2014/95/EU) along a course of sustainability and enable improvements by identifying strategic, economic, environmental, and social objectives. This project manager would then monitor progress against these objectives through key performance indicators (KPIs).
As a result, work began on a new training curriculum to establish and promote the role of the project manager of integrated reporting (PMIR).
‘Estra identified the need for a project manager who could support and lead organizations along a course of sustainability…’
The PMIR project had three major aims:
The PMIR project submitted to INAPP (Erasmus+ Italian National Agency for VET) and was undertaken by partners located in five European countries (Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Norway). It has a lifecycle of three years (and so it is still in progress). It will end on 31 August 2020.
Figure 1.1 The Project Manager of Sustainability Reporting. Source: OpenCom
The PMIR project is a PRINCE2 project. PRINCE2 was and is being tailored to comply with the requirements of the Erasmus+ Programme (the European Commission’s programme for education, training, youth, and sport for 2014-2020) and rules of reporting (the European Commission rules for financial reporting for Erasmus+ KA2 projects. Annex III to the Grant Agreement).
The whole project approach, including PRINCE2’s principles, processes, and some of the product description outlines, were adapted to suit the project.
Financially, the project should respect the Erasmus+ Financial Rules3 (economy, efficiency, and no double funding) and the principle of co-financing, at the same time as avoiding recipient overcompensation. This will mean that the non-profit principles are retained throughout the project’s life.
The interests of project stakeholders (business, user, and supplier) are represented by the following organizations:
As is recommended in the PRINCE2 manual, stand-alone PDF documents for each of the stage plans were created and uploaded on the project data management (PDM) platform so that all the partners could access them.
We also uploaded relevant mind maps and Gantt charts. The lessons log was particularly helpful for project management and continual improvement.
Benefits and goals
One of the key benefits that OpenCom was trying to realize was the upskilling of people in the labour market. The target demographic was graduates in economics or engineers, professionals such as tax advisors and consultants, and employees. Upskilling is related to sustainability goals and how to measure them through KPIs in accordance with the PRINCE2 method.
PMIR training is offered internationally through the open online course (MOOC) and webinar platform, classroom lessons, and a platform that was developed by OpenCom, which is used to draft sustainability reports.
Estra expects the project to result in:
The main benefits for the user are staff upskilling, leading to the improved quality of sustainability reporting through tailored project management procedures, and an improved business reputation.
In the short term, the PMIR project aimed to:
To achieve these aims, several outputs were developed that contributed to the quality of the PMIR curriculum and the realization of the expected outcomes and benefits (see section 6.1). The final output has not yet been achieved because the project is still running, but some benefits have already been realized, including some that were unexpected.
For example, the test online course has been reopened because members of some Latin American universities were excited by the concept. The University of Siena has begun to offer PMIR training, which now carries six European Credit Transfer System credits (ETCS credits).
The ETCS credits are a standard means of comparing academic achievement in Europe. This opportunity constitutes a significant increase in scope for the project.
In the long term, the geographical scope of the PMIR training will be enlarged because a new PMIR project, involving ten universities in five Latin American countries (Chile, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, and Peru) will begin.
These countries have asked for the expansion because they support the innovative training of students, upskilling of graduates, and improved sustainability performance.
The main benefits for the user are staff upskilling, leading to the improved quality of sustainability reporting through tailored project management procedures, and an improved business reputation.
At the beginning of the PMIR project, we specified the following approach:
In order to achieve the PMIR project’s major aim, the following products will be created:
All of these activities should be undertaken in all five involved European countries.
It is difficult to quantify the risks involved in a project that is so large and complex. However, the products are being produced by partners, rather than external suppliers.
The organizations that are involved have collaborated in the past and there are no external dependencies – political, governmental, or legal – for the project implementation because it is based on Directive 2014/95/EU. These factors mean that the overall risk for the project is low.
A risk approach was defined in the starting up a project process. It was then revised during the initiating a project process and the risk register was created. The risk register was continually updated throughout the project and during the managing a stage boundary process.
The risk categories that we identified are:
Only threats were identified during the starting up a project process. Nevertheless, during project lifecycle, opportunities had emerged (see section 8).
Project structure and the PRINCE2 themes
The entire PRINCE2 method was adapted for the PMIR project. In particular, the PRINCE2 themes were adapted to comply with the Erasmus+ Programme requirements.
A detailed business case was included in the project brief, which was submitted to the Erasmus+ Italian National Agency, who evaluated it and decided to fund the project. There was no outline business case, since the starting up a project process in these types of funding is the contrary of what is defined as ‘a lighter process compared to the more detailed and thorough initiating a project process’5 ; although ‘The aim is to do the minimum necessary in order to decide whether it is worthwhile to even initiate the project’6.
The continuous business justification principle was upheld throughout the project; it underlined every strategic decision that was made and was also relevant when managing changes and exceptions.
The focus on products principle has been followed from the very beginning of the project. It was also supported by the application form structure that was designed by European Commission experts. In this form and throughout the rest of the project’s documentation, the term ‘stage’ was substituted with ‘intellectual outputs’ (IOs).
The organization theme highlights how incredibly collaborative this project is. The project board for this project consisted of:
Some organizations have different departments acting as users and suppliers.
The project assurance was undertaken by Patrice de Micco, an external professional who was coordinating the sustainability reporting at Estra. I undertook the role as the project manager at OpenCom. OpenCom’s project management department acted as project support.
Each project stage was (and is) delivered by competent members of the project consortium, and the Team managers for each IO were:
Quality planning activities
The customers’ quality expectations were expressed in the project’s call for proposal and Erasmus+ programme guide, in terms of “high-quality innovative deliverables”7. Although, it also stated “The qualitative assessment of the project will be proportional to the objectives of the cooperation and the nature of the organizations involved”8.
The acceptance criteria were also expressed in the official Erasmus+ documents. They were defined in terms of: ‘Relevance of the Strategy’ (maximum 30 points); ‘Quality of cooperation arrangements’ (maximum 20 points); ‘Quality of the activity design and implementation’ (maximum 20 points); ‘Impact and dissemination’ (maximum 30 points)9.
This point system identifies which proposals will be funded:
‘To be considered for funding, proposals must score at least 60 points. Furthermore, they must score at least half of the maximum points in each of the categories of award criteria mentioned above (i.e. minimum 15 points for the categories “relevance of the project” and “impact and dissemination”; 10 points for the categories “quality of the project design and implementation” and “quality of the project team and the cooperation arrangements”). Proposals that do not address at least one priority of the Action will not be funded.’10
A tailored project product description was documented in various sections of the application form, including the:
The quality management approach is described in a specific section of the application form, alongside measurable quantitative and qualitative indicators.
In this project, products are IOs. The product descriptions were documented in the application form, including the:
The application form also documents the quality components; criteria and quality tolerances are both described per each product description.
The quality register is not a compulsory document, but we did create one and keep it updated, using the PRINCE2 product description outline11.
The project plan is also a part of the application form. During the project initiation process, the project plan was developed in a procedure manual, in which the project stages were described chronologically, according to an output-oriented approach.
Plans for this project were defined during the managing a stage boundary process in stand-alone documents, mind maps, and Gantt charts. Usually, these plans are presented in a PowerPoint presentation during a management meeting. Team plans were unnecessary.
The project’s change control approach focuses on avoiding off-specifications and requests for change and managing issues in a short time to reduce their impact. This approach requires daily project control.
The application form did not include a section for change management. The configuration item record was included in the planning document and change authority was unnecessary.
The change budget was zero: changes are avoided in these types of projects because it is impossible to have the budget approved by the European Commission. After a project closes, the outputs are evaluated and matched against the initial plans in the application form.
If quality was not respected, changes may result in a budget cut after all of the project’s costs have been covered. The project has zero tolerance for budget and time.
The project and stage progress is monitored through daily logs (which are updated by the project management team), Gantt charts, product descriptions, budget revisions, and the lessons log.
Project-level exceptions need to be escalated to the programme management, which is the INAPP (that is the Erasmus+ Italian National Agency VET).
The original application form’s content was transferred to the procedure manual after the project was accepted.
The plan and the reality
Figure 6.1 The project plan. Source: OpenCom
For this project, we followed a product-based planning technique that facilitated communication. Avoiding misunderstandings among partners is essential in international projects because partners are in different countries and often are not aligned with every aspect of the work. Planning documents were shared through PowerPoint presentations in meetings with the partners, who were usually present digitally.
The stage plans were delivered one at a time during the managing a stage boundary process by the project manager. The stage plans were then divided into work packages.
Project closure will start in the final two months of the project and may end up to two months beyond project’s lifetime, but no later than 31 October 2020. The final report will then be delivered to INAPP for evaluation.
Each project stage was delivered jointly by various partners. This international collaboration relies on clear, prompt communication. It is crucial that roles, responsibilities, and quality requirements are defined. It was also important that there was agreement on the outputs to be produced because we wanted stakeholders in different European countries to perceive the benefits.
This project was supported by a PDM (Project Data Management) platform that was specifically developed by OpenCom. The platform follows the output-oriented approach: each stage starts with the output to be developed and is consequently organized in the tasks to be carried out. It also has a monitoring purpose; it helps partners to report progress by uploading the related output, which is then validated by the team and project managers. There is a timesheets tool that partners can use to report how long each task has taken. They can also upload administrative documents and add comments and notes if necessary.
During the project delivery stages, the specific outputs outlined in Table 6.1 were created.
|Need analysis report (IO 1)||15 September 2018|
|Educational platform (IO 4)||31 March 2018|
|MOOC and webinar platform: platform development||15 January 2019|
|MOOC and webinar platform: participants’ selection||10 April 2019|
|MOOC and webinar platform: training contents development (syllabus, PowerPoint training, handover, video presentation and five hour lesson||10 October 2019|
|MOOC and webinar platform: Online training of 60 participants from Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Norway via MOOC and webinar||26 October 2019|
|Platform for the Database of Integrated/ Sustainability Report KPIs (IO 5)||15 December 2019|
|Ten days of practical training for 30 European participants in a European company, and the release of short sustainability reports to be uploaded on the project educational platform||To begin in February 2020 and end in May 2020|
|Scientific conferences (called multiplier events)||Ongoing|
|Project board meetings lasting 4 days, each hosted by a different partner, organizes usually every 6 months||Ongoing|
Table 6.1 The delivery stage outputs.
This project’s major challenge is the European dimension of delivery and the fact that it is our first time working with some organizations. This has caused some inefficiencies, such as partners not delivering perfectly on schedule.
Another challenge is that whilst we are fluent in English, none of the partners are fluent English speakers. This has, at times, caused misunderstandings.
Any issues we have that relate to the project tolerance are challenging because we need authorization from the INAPP to exceed tolerances. If one partner cannot deliver IOs, one possible response is to change the partner for a more competent one from the same country.
Challenges that are related to delays, requests for change, or partially used budget that do not need to be escalated to programme management were managed by the project board or the project manager in accordance with the delegated authority and stated tolerances in the stage plans.
The most frequent challenge that we had to navigate was the varying quality of products. Sometimes, during task delivery, partners asked for a change in the quality specifications of the output.
Some of these changes had to be denied. For example, a request to produce an output in only one language, instead of in all of the partners’ languages, was unaccepted.
Areas of improvement
Currently, the project is going well and we expect it to be a success. However, if we had to start again, we would recommend the following improvements:
We also identified several opportunities for improvement over the course of the project, which we exploited. For example, we did not initially plan to release a formally recognized certification to those taking the PMIR online course.
However, in the second year, we found that professionals in Chile (a leader in the region for institutional, social, and economic development with a need to face disparities and regain a more sustainable economy) wanted to take the course12.
The training was seen as an upskilling opportunity. Because of this, we reopened the online training through webinars and the University of Siena, Department of Educational Science, recognized six ECTS credits and gave attendants a training course certificate.
Factors that contributed to the project’s success
Many aspects made the PMIR project satisfactory. All projects are different and subject to external and internal variables, but these aspects could be useful if transferred and adapted for other projects.
Figure 9.1 The results of a questionnaire to companies with experience in sustainability reporting. Source: OpenCom
The quality of the project outputs was the major contributor to the project’s success. Quality is about understanding stakeholders’ needs and not deviating from the requirements defined during the starting up a project process.
Sustainability is an international complex problem, which means that managing the drafting of a sustainability report is a requirement that all companies share. This project anticipated international labour market requirements and capitalized on them.
The output-oriented approach that was used in planning, collaborative approach used for project delivery, and PRINCE2 method adopted and tailored throughout are some of key elements that made this project successful.
Another essential element is the competent and committed project management team and project assurance, who gave the necessary support and compensated for individual weaknesses in understanding and focus through effective collaboration.
The first project benefits are now materializing. The training course has finished, and we are organizing the ten days of practical experience for those learners who attended the online course and achieved the highest exam marks.
The practical experience will take place between February and May 2020. Companies in Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Spain are interested in hosting learners and letting them produce a short sustainability report.
Before project closure, 30 companies in four European countries will have a draft short sustainability report. This is the first step towards driving companies towards sustainability practices and more responsible actions in the future.
The sustainability report is an opportunity to improve reputation and competitiveness for the organizations, and to reinforce learners’ skills and improve their job opportunities.
Now, the PMIR training is being offered to 80 students in Europe and Chile. At the end of each learning module, learners have filled out evaluation questionnaires that indicate those that are generally highly satisfied with the training and the platform’s user-friendly characteristics.
The feedback has also helped us to understand gaps and opportunities for improvement. The online training via MOOCs and webinars was a pilot that is open to improvements and debugging.
For this reason, the training course was offered free of charge. Generally, users have demonstrated satisfaction with the products.
Sustainability is an international complex problem, which means that managing the drafting of a sustainability report is a requirement that all companies share.
To have a successful project, we have observed that the following are necessary:
A new project, submitted for (and subject to) funding in February 2020 (should it be funded, it will start in January 2021), will expand the scope for the PMIR training into Latin America through ten universities (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Peru).
The curriculum will be adapted to the different geographical context, which will result in a new approach for innovative training, the recognition of informal learning outcomes, and upskilling graduates and professionals.
This new project will also benefit trained adults because it aims to encourage the transnational recognition of PMIR competencies, thereby facilitating labour mobility and better life conditions.
There is a demand for this new project because being supported by trained professionals through sustainability reports will improve organizations’ reputations and increase their competitiveness in a world that aims to be more sustainable.
The project has achieved the envisaged products (including the need analysis report, educational platform, matrix of learning outcomes for the PMIR profession, MOOC and webinar platform, training contents development, online training of 60 participants from Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Norway via MOOC and webinar, Platform for the Database of Integrated/Sustainability Report KPIs, and a scientific conference in Arezzo).
Small delays have not undermined the project’s viability, and many of the desired benefits have been realized.
Trained students have been selected for the practical experience working with European companies and the activity is starting in February 2020, as planned.
The Platform for the Database of Integrated/Sustainability Report KPIs has been finalized and those participating in the practical experience will soon be trained on using it efficiently.
Stakeholder engagement has been assured, as was shown by the project dissemination event in Arezzo in November 2019, which was addressed to 50 professionals and companies and reached 200 attendants. Looking beyond the project scope, a scientific paper will be published next year in Peru.
The scientific paper, entitled ‘Project Manager of Integrated Report: una experiencia de formación en el contexto del informe de sostenibilidad’, is related to the first output of the project (IO1, the need analysis report, which was a quantitative research) and the replication of the research in Chile.
It also demon- strates how the research was transformed into a matrix of learning outcomes for the Profession of PMIR in Europe and its validity in Chile. It is strictly tight, because it shows the sustainability of the project beyond its European borders.
It was presented during the International Conference on Employability in Puebla, Mexico in September 2019. Following positive responses and an explicit need for the PMIR training, the online training was reopened to 20 participants in Europe and Chile and certified as training course by the University of Siena with 6 ECTS credits.
About the author
Erina Guraziu is the President of OpenCom and the Project Manager of OpenCom projects. She is a certified Project Manager (PRINCE2 Practitioner and PM4SD Practitioner) and is experienced in European projects on the design and implementation of new professional curricula through the ECVET method.
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