How healthy are your projects?

Guest contribution by | 25.01.2024

A perspective on systemic work in projects

In project work, we repeatedly encounter challenges that push us to our limits. But what if we see these challenges not just as obstacles, but as opportunities for growth and development?

In my experience, one of the keys to successful project management lies in systemic work. In this article, I would like to show how systemic work can not only overcome crises, but also ensure sustainable success. It is not just about the application of methods and tools, but rather about a deep understanding of the dynamics within projects and the role that each individual plays in this complex system.

Systemic work in projects is more than just an approach – it is a holistic attitude that enables us not only to manage ventures, but to bring them to life and make them part of a larger whole. This is the only way to strengthen the connection between individual goals and the overarching vision and thus create a basis for genuine enthusiasm and commitment within the team.

Typical challenges in projects

I have been working in complex large-scale healthcare IT projects for many years and time and again I encounter challenges ranging from technical difficulties and organisational obstacles to interpersonal conflicts. But one of the biggest challenges is often not immediately apparent: it is the systemic nature of the projects themselves.

Metaphorically speaking, projects can be “sick”. This manifests itself in teams only working on symptoms instead of working towards the actual, overarching goal. These are undertakings in which analyses and repetition loops do not bring any progress, in which project management does not lead properly, or in which a undertaking only exists on paper but no one is really working on it. The challenge is to recognise this “illness” and intervene effectively.

After all, the illness or health of projects is a reality that we cannot ignore. But it takes courage, honest reflection and, above all, effective intervention to create healthy projects and ensure that they thrive in reality.

Example from everyday clinical practice: interdisciplinary collaboration in progress documentation

The following concrete example from the healthcare sector shows how interdisciplinary collaboration between professional groups (doctors, nursing staff, therapists and IT) in the project on progress documentation for patients contributed to the overarching digitalisation strategy and at the same time created a high level of benefit for the patient.

The challenge: In the conventional practice, patient information was scattered across different departments and systems, which led to information gaps and inefficient processes. Our goal was to create a standard for centralised, digital progress documentation that would enable a seamless flow of information between all departments and professionals involved.

The approach: We worked closely with the various professional groups from the project and line organisation to understand their specific requirements and challenges. This process included workshops and training sessions to ensure that everyone involved recognised the benefits of digital progress documentation and actively participated in its design.

The result: By introducing digital progress documentation, we were able to achieve improved patient care. Doctors and nursing staff now have real-time access to complete and up-to-date patient information, which leads to more efficient and effective treatment. The undertaking also contributes to the realisation of the clinic’s digitalisation strategy by promoting digital processes and improving data quality.

The importance for staff: It was important to communicate to staff that their work with digital progress documentation is not just a tedious, administrative task, but has a direct impact on patient care and the achievement of the clinic’s strategic goals. This realisation led to greater acceptance and motivation among the staff.

This example is a small component of a programme for a large hospital operator. It illustrates the change process for the professional groups involved through the project itself. Through systemic work, the relevant stakeholders themselves become part of the successful implementation of IT projects in the healthcare sector in a deeper and more conscious way. It also emphasises the importance of communicating to each team member the value of their work in the context of the overall venture.

Put simply, in such projects we have to harmonise the ideal image with reality and implement it in a very practical way. The undertaking should be “seen”, and this is an important part of project management.

Core concepts of systemic work

Systemic work in projects is based on a number of core concepts that I consider indispensable in my work. These concepts are the foundation on which successful undertakings can be built, regardless of the industry or specific context.

The systemic nature of projects:

Every project is a complex system made up of numerous interacting elements. These interactions and the resulting dynamics must be understood and taken into account. In my ventures, I have seen how important it is to consider the entire system and not just isolated parts of it. This requires both a deep understanding of theory and a flair for practical application. An essential aspect of this is recognising and using system dynamics. For example, it is often found that recurring communication problems between departments hinder project progress.

Human interactions:

In systemic work, I place great emphasis on the quality of relationships and interactions within a system. It is these human factors that often make the difference between the success and failure of a project. The way in which team members communicate and work together is crucial. If the team is under high pressure and stress, the aim is to find the causes of the stress and develop measures to improve the working atmosphere.

Change processes:

A key aim of systemic work is to bring about positive change in social systems. This means that we focus not only on the technical aspects of a project, but also on the social and organisational changes that the undertaking triggers throughout the organisation. Viewed from a systemic perspective, change management creates a far more comprehensive picture than that of traditional project management. We prepare a healthy foundation for the change processes that take place as a result of the project.


Systemic work looks at the entire system and not just isolated parts. Although we always help ourselves in projects by looking at partial aspects in order to reduce complexity, we have to bring everything back together in the overall system.

These core concepts form the basis of my work and enable me not only to manage companies, but also to make them a living and dynamic part of the organisation. This allows me to develop a deep understanding of the interactions within the project system and use this knowledge to successfully organise and manage projects.

Effects on the team and organisation

The application of systemic work has far-reaching effects on the team and the entire organisation. By taking a systemic view of projects, we can not only treat the symptoms, but also recognise and address the underlying causes of problems. We strengthen team dynamics and foster an environment in which every team member feels valued and understood. This leads to higher motivation and greater commitment.

And: systemic work in projects also leads to positive changes in the entire organisation. It promotes a culture of openness, trust and continuous improvement that goes beyond the boundaries of the individual undertaking.

By learning to view and manage undertakings systemically, we help to strengthen the health of the projects and thus the entire organisation. A healthy venture is something alive that does not just exist on paper, but in which each individual makes a contribution to the greater whole.

Please note: These effects appear and develop over a longer period of time. It can take weeks or months for the change to take effect. Sometimes customers only tell me about an important change a year later and I realise “Oh yes, that’s exactly what we were working on back then”. Then I am very happy about the transformation!

A final thought on integrating systemic work into everyday professional and personal life

The systemic perspective on project work helps us to see the big picture and not just the individual parts. But how can we integrate what we have learnt into our daily practice in order to transform not only our undertakings but also ourselves?

The journey through systemic work is more than just a professional path; it is a path of personal development and growth. Every undertaking we lead, every challenge we face, is an opportunity to grow not only as a project manager, but also as a human being.

Extra bonus

Here you will find 3 additional questions answered by Katja Schaefer (please press the plus buttons):

How do team members' values influence the effectiveness of systemic work in projects?

Katja Schaefer: Depending on the value culture we encounter in the team, it takes longer or shorter for the “effect” of the systemic work to unfold in the project. A team with a high level of agility, willingness to change and appreciation of each other will respond more quickly to the work. This is because this culture provides a better breeding ground than an organisation with very rigid and encrusted structures. In any case, more time is needed for change and longer-term support.

What role does the time dimension play in the application of systemic work?

Katja Schaefer: In principle, systemic work has both short and long-term effects. The long-term effects are not always associated with my work, but when I experience them afterwards, I am always very pleased. And sometimes the systemic approach helps when preparing for important appointments. Depending on the situation, I offer, for example, compact 2-day formats or accompanying mentoring in an annual package.

How important is the support of decision-makers for the success of systemic work?

Katja Schaefer: Of course, supporting the decision-makers is important. That’s why I’m always in close dialogue with the relevant people in my work and coordinate solutions and measures resulting from the systemic work in the project with them. It is not surprising that the measures in the project often also have an impact on the line organisation – a good sign that systemic work is effective.


If you are interested in a deeper exploration of systemic work or are looking for support in implementing it in your projects, please visit Katja Schaefer’s website. There you will find further information and contact details!

If you like the article or would like to discuss it, please feel free to share it in your network.

Katja Schaefer has published more articles in the t2informatik Blog, including

t2informatik Blog: Leadership and self-leadership in project management

Leadership and self-leadership in project management

t2informatik Blog: 10 tips in a project crisis

10 tips in a project crisis

t2informatik Blog: Project manager in large projects

Project manager in large projects

Katja Schaefer
Katja Schaefer

Trainer and Coach

Katja Schaefer is a consultant for complex large-scale healthcare IT projects in German-speaking countries. In her coaching sessions, seminars and training courses, she breaks new ground in project management and brings structure, clarity and success to large projects. She guides you through project crises with a wealth of experience and systemic work.