People and Culture

Spotlight on PIA: Our framework to assess project impact and promote sustainability

Learn about our Project Impact Assessment (PIA) and how it’s providing us a framework to evaluate our impact – on people and the planet. Explore how it’s giving us a renewed sense of purpose and helping our clients become more sustainable innovators themselves.

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From contact-tracing apps that reduce infections to smart factories that limit carbon emissions – technology innovation has a vital role in enabling a sustainable future. To fulfil this role, innovation service providers and transformation partners like Zühlke need to champion sustainable projects and reduce negative impact.

At Zühlke, our goal is that by 2030, at least 70% of our revenue is from client projects with a positive impact in terms of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. And that includes at least 30% of our revenue from projects that have a substantial positive impact.

But, like for many companies working in sustainability, this raises some big questions: 

  • How can you actually assess the impact of a project on people and the planet?
  • How can you ensure your approach to innovation minimises negative impact at every turn?
  • How do you entrench the culture of a “sustainable tech company” or sustainable transformation partner across your organisation?

It’s a challenge our teams are committed to tackling head on. Our belief is that ensuring sustainability in projects starts with measurement, accountability, and structured learning. These are the fundamentals of our Project Impact Assessment (PIA). In this blog post, we get the insight of four Zühlke sustainability champions who’ve helped develop PIA and ensure its successful implementation. Let’s dive in. 

What is PIA?

PIA is a standardised framework that allows our teams to set clear targets, assess impact, and put their aspirations into action.  

Our PIA Framework

How does PIA enable more sustainable projects?

At a practical level, PIA gives teams:

  • A status quo assessment of a project's economic, environmental, and social impact (both direct and indirect) based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals
  • Guidance on how to improve the impact of a project and mitigate risk of negative impact. 
  • The ability to create an impact statement for a project and give it an overall impact rating. 

But as Tim Cianchi is keen to point out, the mindset shift that accompanies the assessment framework is just as important for ensuring sustainability in projects.

"PIA also offers teams a structure for conversations about a project's impact. We want our teams to cultivate a shared mindset that allows them to surface opportunities for positive impact across the entire lifecycle of a project."

Something that Tim has experienced first hand. "I could have retired by now but PIA has allowed me to see how my work can practically create a positive impact. I am so excited to see how far we can take it, it’s made me want to continue working."

Why is PIA so important for us?

Aside from a rigorous measurement framework, PIA also gives Zühlke alignment. The term “sustainable projects” can be interpreted in a variety of ways. But to maximise impact, we need a shared understanding. If everyone has a different idea of what sustainable engineering projects are, it isn’t going to work. And, as Christoph Bröcker explains, PIA is shaping the future of Zühlke. "Zühlke has always pursued work that matters. The simple act of measuring our project portfolio intensifies our awareness of positive and negative impacts. This is already influencing the agenda of our sales teams. And we are setting targets for the impact of our overall project portfolio."

How we ensure the approach is used day-to-day

The PIA team knew that the success of the framework was transforming it from a theoretical exercise to a practical one. To achieve that, they assembled a coaching team. The coaches we use today are members of the PIA team from roles across Zühlke. Their task? Facilitate sustainability conversations and assessments with the project teams so that they can develop a ‘PIA mindset’. 

“As a PIA coach I perform structured discussions directly with the leaders of the project. This allows them to develop the all important PIA skills and sustainable project mindset,” explains Daniel Borer. “Our aim is that very soon, this awareness will be so ingrained that teams will facilitate conversations independently and with our clients.” For Daniel, seeing this awareness grow has also enriched his own experience of working at Zühlke.

What’s been the impact on Zühlke teams so far?

Teams at Zühlke have a deep passion for sustainable engineering projects and sustainable transformation projects. But as Tim explains, depending on the project you’re working on, it can be hard to understand how your actions actually contribute to a positive impact.  “Working on the NHS COVID-19 app it was easy to see our impact. It helped save many thousands of lives and the sense of fulfilment was immediate. But what about a healthcare innovation that improves early-stage medical research? There’s a long chain of interactions before there’s a direct impact on patients.”

PIA has given teams a way to connect the dots. Allow them to understand how their daily actions on a project contribute to an overall positive impact and to our sustainability goals as an organisation. Christoph is keen to add that a major contribution of PIA will be to ensure Zühlke’s clients also benefit from this clarity – linking a project’s scope and delivery to a sense of purpose. 

“I am really excited about working with more clients on PIA. There’s such a big opportunity here to create a shared impact and nurture the sustainability transformation that the world needs. It’s also perfectly aligned to the collaboration and co-creation that Zühlke’s innovation methodology is founded on.”

What’s next for the Project Impact Assessment?

As Christoph highlights, the future of PIA is not just internal. PIA can also help Zühlke's clients orchestrate more sustainable projects and sustainable transformation processes too. For Tina Köhnecke, this is a key part of PIA realising its full potential. 

This external impact is something that Tina believes will help Zühlke and its teams feel an even greater sense of achievement. 

“This is such an exciting journey for Zühlke to be on. And as an individual it’s really inspiring. When you have a structured way to make your impact count, it feels like you’re shaping the future of Zühlke and the future of our clients’ organisations too.”

Want to find out more about how Zühlke champions sustainability in projects?