Project management practice in Interreg projects: Reflective analysis and recommendations 

Interreg is one of the key instruments of the European Union (EU) to support cooperation across borders through project funding. Its aim is to jointly tackle common challenges and find shared solutions in fields such as health, environment, research, education, transport, sustainable energy and more. As one of the two goals of the EU Cohesion Policy in the 2014-2020 period, Interreg is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It has a budget of EUR 10.1 billion invested in the several cooperation programmes responsible for managing project funding.

Every Interreg project involves a lead partner, partners, advisory partners and stakeholders. How to balance the relationship between stakeholders and meet their needs is worth studying. Project progress promotion, financial management, proposal selection...lots of factors should be taken into consideration.

Drawing on experiences of the author in Interreg co-operation projects, the paper Project management practice in interreg projects: Reflective analysis and recommendations relates project management practice in two case study projects to selected key topics of project management theory, resulting into a series of recommendations primarily based on personal reflection.

The case study projects were both funded by the South Baltic Cross-border Co-operation Programme 2007 - 2013. The paper presents the strategic environment of the case study projects. The framework of public requirements, the geographic distribution of the project team and the concept of a multi-organisational project set-up, lead to increased complexity. In assessing this specific project environment, the paper puts a focus on project sustainability management as a significant area for further efforts towards enhancing project management standards and indeed, long-term project success. The balanced matrix of the multi-organisational structure required management awareness of the lead partner for enacting non-formal authority and empowerment, resulting in the importance of building trust.

Since stakeholder influence and needs were critical for project success, this paper presents a process for analyzing stakeholders to prioritize and develop individual strategies. In transferring these standard project lifecycles to the considered Interreg-projects, a major distinction noted, is the timespan between an application for funding and (in case of success) the start of project implementation. This period can take several months, in which the project risks to lose momentum. Another critical, yet largely neglected phase is after the project closure, a time when promised benefits for stakeholders potentially materialize. This paper recommends strengthening the role of the 'program' in terms of project management qualification, continuous improvement and cross-project learning. Finally, the project management maturity is assessed, recommending the following areas for further development: Benefit, Stake-holder and Risk Management.