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Towards a holding environment: building shared understanding and commitment in projects

Paul Culmsee (Seven Sigma Business Solutions, Perth, Australia)
Kailash Awati (Boehringer‐Ingelheim Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 15 June 2012




The early stages of projects are often characterised by ambiguity arising from differences in stakeholder views regarding project rationale and objectives. The purpose of this paper is to present a viewpoint on how to build a shared understanding of project goals and thus reach a shared commitment to achieving them. One of the ways to achieve shared understanding is through open dialogue, free from political and other constraints. The authors call an environment that fosters such dialogue a holding environment. The main aim is to illustrate, via a case study: how an alliance‐based approach to projects can foster a holding environment; and how argument visualisation tools such as IBIS (Issue‐Based Information System) can be used to clarify different points of view and options within such an environment.


Following a discussion of theoretical background and literature review, an alliancing case study is used to illustrate the development of a holding environment and demonstrate the utility of IBIS in the creation of such an environment.


It is seen that an alliance‐based approach to projects can provide the foundation for a holding environment. IBIS is seen to facilitate the building of shared understanding by making arguments explicit and capturing decision rationale.

Practical implications

The paper outlines a practical framework for improving the quality of dialogue and achieving stakeholder commitment on projects.


Achieving shared understanding and commitment to action is difficult, particularly in the early stages of projects. The paper outlines the conditions and techniques needed to facilitate this via a non‐trivial case study.



Culmsee, P. and Awati, K. (2012), "Towards a holding environment: building shared understanding and commitment in projects", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 528-548.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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