How to manage complex projects

11. October 2021 - Morten Flørnæss Kerrn, Client Director, Mannaz Share

Leaders need to be able to lead across boundaries, both within the organisation and with a variety of external partners. But this isn’t always an easy task when projects are large and complex. Use these five focus points to successfully lead co-creation around complex projects so that all parties benefit from the collaboration.


Many factors and several different bottom lines need to be considered when dealing with large and complex community projects. Therefore, leaders in the public sector need to consider the wider organisation and involve a more varied group of stakeholders in problem-solving than they have done traditionally. This increases the need for collaboration across functions, within the organisation and with external stakeholders. However, too often, internal competition, unclear frameworks, and differences of opinion about what is essential hamper such cross-function collaboration.

The Collective Impact model is a valuable approach to creating shared goals and direction setting. It’s a new management model for leading and aligning cross-function efforts across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Too often, internal competition, unclear frameworks, and differences of opinion about what is essential hamper such cross-function collaboration.

Creating a common agenda with the Collective Impact model

The Collective Impact model is a systemic approach to performance management and leadership. The model aims to create a common agenda for the parties involved to solve a specified challenge using a particular type of collaboration. It does away with working in siloes and internal competition, often underpinned by individual performance agreements and department-specific targets.

It requires managers to work collaboratively to continuously set common goals and performance indicators to achieve a shared objective ultimately.

The model consists of the five steps below:


1. Shared objectives

Shared objectives are when the management team, employees and external stakeholders are all committed to achieving the same changes and impact. However, shared objectives are too often interpreted differently, allowing the management team and external stakeholders to promote their interests at the expense of other stakeholders and the shared objective. As a result, the collective dimension of the effort is lost, and we’re back to collaboration between isolated stakeholders and departments.

There are usually many stakeholders involved in a co-creation process, typically pursuing very different agendas. The trick is to facilitate and manage a process where everyone agrees on the shared objective and then to arrive at the best joint response.


2. Shared feedback system

Continuous follow-up ensures sustained and continued focus on the shared objectives of cross-function collaboration. For this to happen, the management team and stakeholders need to provide ongoing clarity about the impact of decisions made and actions taken. For example, how do you measure the ongoing progress of the citizen-focused initiatives you set out to tackle together?

Where progress is measured by reducing the number of cases of a particular type, you need to establish indicators against which you can measure progress on an ongoing basis. All stakeholders need to be kept informed of progress.

Often there is no structured follow-up, or one that only a few stakeholders have access to. The Collective Impact model helps ensure continuous target follow-up, where everyone receives ongoing and structured feedback.


3. Joint coordination and prioritisation

Ensuring a common understanding, prioritising clear objectives, and using a shared feedback system means you, as a manager, have secured the best starting point to coordinate your cross-function collaboration successfully.

From this point, you must ensure that the activities of individual departments and stakeholders are aligned and support each other. That’s easier said than done, though: Despite good intentions, too frequently, activities end up working at cross purposes. A tool to ensure aligned action plans and joint prioritisation thereof, and more importantly the relational alignment between stakeholders.


4. Trust and communication

Continuous, long-term and sustained relationship building is the fourth element in the equation if you as a leader want to succeed in getting a multi-stakeholder community to commit to shared objectives and practices. It is therefore essential that your leadership focuses on building trust and strengthening informal communication between stakeholders. The stakeholders in the cross-function collaboration need to meet. As a manager, you need to invest in facilitating and managing the meetings to contribute to strengthening trust and enhancing relational communication among the stakeholders.


5. Dedicated independent secretariat function

The first four steps of the model require resources and focus. Continuous planning, support, coordination and follow-up are required. Meanwhile, as the collaboration leader, you need it to be perceived as being coordinated fairly and impartially. Therefore, it may be appropriate to designate or set up an independent secretariat function attached to the project. This can be a different focal point to facilitate follow-up and coordinate the work so that nobody feels left out.


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Morten Flørnæss Kerrn

Morten educates leaders, consultants, and specialists in the management of both people, processes, and projects. Additionally, he specializes in distance management and virtual facilitation. Throughout the years, Morten has been focusing on leaders in the public sector and the development of public organisations. He has a background of emplyment in government agencies and has through the last 8 years worked as an external consultant for municipalities, regions, and government. Morten is also an expert in coaching and process facilitation.

Contact Morten at or 5139 6052.