How to implement project management in a not-for-profit environment – 2?

This is a continuation of the article from two days ago.

First, let us share the image of the standard CAM2P™ model.


The Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects™ (CAM2P™)

In the following sections, will use black font for deliverables and text related to project management in the private sector and blue font for NGO

Project launch stage

During the launch stage we have two major deliverables and two stage gates. The deliverables are  the basic requirements document (BRD) and project management plan (PM Plan).

Basic requirements document & stage gate 3

The BRD is the document where we outline the main requirements for the project, which we generate from idea statement and exploring the stakeholders’ expectations. The requirements would include: technical, scope, management, and other requirements which we will need to detail in the project definition stage and will also use for measuring the product and project success later. Once we have the BRD, we will need to gain approval at stage gate 3 – which is primarily about stakeholders alignment.

In the NGO environment the work would be similar to the private sector since the BRD is about defining the requirements for a successful project. The challenging part for the NGO environment is the stakeholders.In this case the stakeholders, including the funds’ providers, might not be limited to the organization that is planning the project. In this environment, we have the stakeholders from the NGO, funding organizations, government entities, and the community at large – including any related community groups. Once again in term of process – the work is similar – but in term of the actual practice, there are many additional complexities.

In addition, per CAM2P™, stage gate 3 is about stakeholders alignment and in NGO this can be a nightmare – or a piece of cake! It all depends on the nature of the project; funding; conflict of interest.

If the project manager and project management team do not understand these complexities and how to manage the stakeholders – the project will be starting with the deficient basis and possibly flawed plans.

Project management plan and stage gate 4

Once we complete the BRD and reach alignment at stage gate 3, the project management plan would be  straight forward with one key exception … resources. In the private sector, the PM Plan include estimate of cost and time along with other factors. Scheduling (time estimate) are not easy, but with good maturity in the organization, project management team and planners can develop good and realistic schedule.

In the NGO environment, the chance is that most of the work will be performed by volunteers and regardless how dedicated these volunteers are – they have other obligations – business, family, etc. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, we always know that activities will take much longer to accomplish (2 to 4 times normal) and our schedule need to reflect this potential. Further, there is a chance of volunteers dropping out for one reason or another – this is a risk and we must consider in our risk management assessment.

Project definition stage

The main deliverable of the project definition stage is the project detailed plan (PDP). In the image above, we have a narrow chevron symbol between the PDP and stage gate 5, this is for project formal approval and final funding (when the money is committed). In the private sector, for certain projects, this period of time might not be necessary since approval will be granted with the PDP approval.

In term of PDP development, this would be similar to the private sector, although it might take longer due to the factors we listed earlier. The major difference here (between NGO and private) is funding. If funding is external, most likely case, this would require a great deal of effort and time. The risk is not getting funding at all, which will kill the project. It is possibly we get partial funding, then we could proceed with the project with reduced scope and features, which would affect the outcome, negatively.

Project Implementation stage

In term of process, we do not see any significant difference between private and NGO environments. Yet, here again the differences are primarily in the application and practice. Here is a list of potential variations:

  • One of the biggest issues is volunteers, as we already described; which means slower pace.
  • Another issue (risk) is what happen if we did not have full funds in advance? Can we run out of funds?
  • How about resistance to change from the community? One would think that a NGO project would be to benefit the community so why would there be resistance to change and the team might ignore or under-estimate this factor. Here we remind the project managers that even in these type of projects some will oppose or even fight the project.
  • Like the private sector, implementation is where we require most of the funds and effort; it is a continuous battle to deliver the output of the project effectively and within the constraints. Therefore, a key practice here is proper control, staying focused … which is a challenge in private sector and even more challenging in NGO.
  • There are other factors and complications, in term of quality, communication, procurement, safety …

Project operation readiness stage

In CAM2P™ we also have a stage called project operation readiness stage. This is for projects where there will be something to operate that the project will deliver; like a community center, a library, a farm …. How would we manage (operate) post project completion? Would we have to hire staff or would we require volunteers for ongoing operations? We need to work toward establishing the permanent organization. This is a major challenge in NGO since we do not have a “business entity” to manage the outcome.

Project close stage

In the private sector, project close is still not something that most organization do well. There are gaps in practice, in capturing lessons learned, reconciling actual performance versus plan, measuring project success … and other factors.

In the NGO environment, we face the same challenges and even more – the complexity is magnified. However, this is critical for organizations that intend to sustain their work for a long time. It is even more important in NGO since we do not have enough lessons learned and other info to learn from and to improve future work.

Other challenges

In addition to the above, which is a partial and incomplete discussion, there are many other challenges. Such as:

  •  Volunteer culture in the area where the organization operate; in our experience there are places that embrace a volunteer culture and others that do not
  • Volunteer leaders and politics; some who serve on board of NGO are there for the status and “to look good” but will they deliver?
  •  Can you remove an in-active board members or a volunteer?
  •  How to avoid conflict of interest?
  •  How to control emotions – like if a champion is highly motivated but some of the volunteers do want to help but do not see a sense of urgency – how to deal with this situation instead of it leading to conflicts?
  • Does the NGO have the culture of proper project management?

Closing remarks

It is usually recognized that working with NGO have significant challenges on all aspects; including project management. Project management as a domain of study and practice is still emerging in some regions of the world, even in developed countries, project management might not be well developed across organizations in all domains, especially in NGO environment. Yet, we believe that project management is for all aspects of life!

To follow on the above, even in organizations that have adopted project management, project performance (and project manager performance) varies.

A good project manager can manage projects; the question is how to deliver successful projects? To do so, the project manager MUST have good understanding of the project environment and domain. Therefore, a project manager can manage a routine – repetitive project but can they manage in a complex environment?

How to elevate performance to become a great project manager?

In my humble opinion, I would prefer to have a PL (Project Leader) instead of PM (Project Manager). In NGO environment we need good leaders – supported by good managers. Therefore, to achieve success we need the PM to be a PL, with strong interpersonal and leadership skills — and UNDERSTAND the environment.

Whether in private, public, or NGO project management principles are the same – the challenge is how to apply them and customize/adapt them to the right environment?

Further references

Hope this help and we want to hear from you. Do you have experience with NGO? Were you involved in the management of a NGO or projects for a NGO? We would appreciate it if you can share your experience.