Category: Tips and Tools Box

“Tips are like free hugs. Only without that awkward feeling” I read once on a Tips Box of a juice bar in an airport. Same goes for Tips on this blog. Feel free to borrow!

Nr 1 ability of a project manager

If there would be only one ability of a project manager I would choose from it would be resourcefulness. Resourcefulness is the ability to explore options, connect dots, step outside the comfort zone and think outside the box. It is to find water in a place others call “desert”.

Yes, projects are resources based. They have human and financial resources, and they are often seen as scarce. You know the story: not enough budget, not enough people, not enough time, not enough of something else …

Resourcefulness is connected to the mind set. The mindset is usually of scarcity or abundance. Some call it a “growth mindset”. See also “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” from Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2018/05/what-it-takes-to-think-deeply-about-complex-problems. 

In Romanian, we say “Fa rai din ce ai” – make haven from what you have. Sure, there can be times when you genuinely think things through and still can’t find a solution. Yet, often just taking a step back, changing the perspective, will open the road to the solution. There is always a source of information to access, a door to knock on, a dormant budget line, a collaborative hand, an expertise to reach, even a chance remark by someone we value. It might be as simple as saying STOP to excuses and justifications, for a start.

If you need a change of perspective, there are a number of techniques in the world of psychology to acknowledge, validate and reframe how you see a situation. You can take a break and watch “Sing” – the part in which Buster Moon turned the ruins of his theater into the greatest show in the town.

Case in point

When I started working on a project, it was at month 18 and had 6 more months to end date. It had of number of symptoms of a troubled project. The delivery rate was 50%. A number of milestones were not achieved and unfinished tasks “rejoiced” in the backlog.

The organisation had only a national consultant on the ground and no other support staff in the country the project had to be implemented, 6000 km away from headquarters. Each deliverable was painful for those who organized it before me. At that rate, we could have as well closed the project upfront.

A quick review of the modus operandi made me realise the biggest bottleneck was linked to the organisation of events in the country. Each activity required a venue, transportation, catering, interpretation, translation, printing, accommodation for consultants. Performed individually, these tasks ate up all of the previous project managers’ time and efforts.

The solution was an events management company to deal with all the logistics on the ground. A tender was organised to choose the best value for money on the market. Once the contract with the winner was signed, the project team was able to fully focus on the content and milestones of the project.

As a result, the delivery rate increased in 5 months to 85 percent of the budget, all products were delivered and the project’s objective – achieved. All – to the clients and donor’s satisfaction.

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Meez: advice from a chef to a project manager

Meez comes from ‘mise en place” known to chefs and kitchen staff. Renown chef Anthony Bourdain was caught saying “we do not dare so much as boil hot water without attending to a ritual that is essential for any self-respecting chef: mise-en-place”.

The French “Mise en place” means “everything is in its place”.

True for any self-respecting chef. True for any self-respecting project manager.

Meez in any project means that time is precious.

Project resources are precious.

Your self-respect and the respect of others are precious.

And a self-respecting project manager owns it to him/herself, to the project team and the client.

A chef will imagine a plan for a meal he/she is about to make before they begin. The plan will include the tools, equipment, delivery of products time, ingredients and their proportion, size of plates and even their temperature.61156297_2438451669528066_5056950135611719680_n

A project manager will create an action plan then a work breakdown structure. It will show what, who, when, for how long, how much budget is necessary to deliver the product/service to the client.

You’ll know how rigorous is the project manager if he/she has in place the team, needs assessments, the feasibility study results, the work plan, the procurement plan, the clearances/permits and other pre-requisites before the project starts.

Meez is gold. “Time spent on preparation saves time on implementation” remains a golden rule in project management.

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Red flags in project procurement

Development management projects (and not only) often involve procurement. Goods, works and services are necessary for the achievement of a change supported by the project.  Usually, procurements are managed by project managers. In some organisations, project managers are assisted by specialised procurement services.

Procurements of goods, services and works differ by scope and complexity and require different control structures. Procurements serve the purpose of accountability to donors and the principles of the open competition. Procurement policies shall offer a fit-for-purpose framework and value-for-money spent.

To prevent damages from ill managed procurements – financial and reputational – there are a number of checks to be made and safeguards to be put in place before and during the procurement. Check your organisation’s rules and procedures on that. This will help prevent any eventual red flags, such as single bidding, for example, or unusually big differences between bids.

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Each project cycle requires a number of checks in place for a transparent and fraud free procurement. Here is a selection of some, from my experience and the experience of a number of teams I worked with:

A. Needs identification:

  • Include a wide variety of stakeholders in the needs identification and selection to prevent capture and undue influence from certain entities;
  • Put in place or revisit your conflict of interest policy;
  • Protect confidential information and prevent insider trading.

B. Publication:

  • Design merit based appraisal criteria;
  • Choose the financial and other criteria wisely;
  • Publish the tender with clear appraisal criteria, procedures and terms;
  • Ensure the publicity of the tender to a wide public;
  • Give sufficient time for tendering;
  • Be clear about the documents required to be submitted in support of the tender;
  • Do not split contracts to avoid the competition/tendering.

C. Evaluation of the tender:

  • Follow with rigour the established criteria as published;
  • Ensure the members of the evaluation group are free of conflict of interest; manage the conflict of interest;
  • Document the evaluation process;
  • Get the approval of the tender board to contract the winning bidder(s).

D. Implementation:

  • Monitor the contractor’s obligations through reports and invoices audit;
  • Prevent and/or avoid substantial renegotiations of contractual terms;
  • Perform on-site visits to confirm the quality and quality of works, services and goods.

There is also the evaluation and audit stage, which might not be in the direct and immediate project manager’s realm. Yet, the project manager needs to remain alert, in particular, if/when any of the above stages give rise to red flags.

 

Game completed: acceptance

The way the pastry chef puts the cherry on the cake, the same way the project manager looks forward to having the results of the project accepted. This final act of the performance has two parts: the formal act and the informal act.Cherry-on-top-square

From a bridge to an IT module, the acceptance of the project results shall be formalised in a way or another.

Some projects – in particular the development management project – require a final report. The final report requires usually to take a result-oriented perspective and show that the resources and inputs lead (or not) to the change expected and if not, why.

In other projects – mostly, internal projects – an acceptance form suffices to acknowledge that the product and/or service are in place and are accepted by the customer for use. There are a variety of acceptance forms in projects guidance and methodologies. Feel free to download and use this template: Template_ Acceptance_EN

From my experience, the formalities of completing a project are a sort of “Give to God what’s God’s and to Caeser’s what’ his”.  Who is your Ceaser’s will give the answer to the question on whether or not a less formal completion of the project is needed.

From my experience, it is worth to take time to celebrate the project completion with the client and the project team. It can take a variety of shapes and forms, depending on your objective and budget. Yet, by no means a celebration of the end of the project needs to be a dull event with speeches and handshakes. For example, to mark the end of a project, at the final steering committee meeting I chose story telling. It was before Christmas, so a Christmas story with gifts – project deliverables – which were “put” under the client’s tree was very well received and remembered for years after.

What I also learned is that you need to approach the celebration of the end with the best of your project management skills. You owe it to your team first of all. They deserve to have their work acknowledged. It is also important to keep up their enthusiasm for new challenges and projects. I remember a project team which received chocolate medals  at the end of a first project with the joy of kids getting treats. It was the least I could do, but it made it a memorable thing for them.

Integrity in projects: conflict of interest

Accountability demands a strong conflict of interest policy to be in place, in both the public and private sector. PMI defines conflict of interest as “a situation that arises when a project management practitioner, PMI volunteer or employee is faced with making a decision of doing some act that will benefit the practitioner or another person or organization to which the practitioner, volunteer or employee owes a duty of loyalty and at the same time will harm another person or organization to which the practitioner owes a similar duty of loyalty”. 4108

Basically, the conflict of interest arises when the project manager has a private interest, which is such to influence the impartial and objective performance of his/her duties. Private interests are not an issue in themselves. Conflict of interests do not necessarily lead to damages or unjustified benefits. It is when they go unmanaged that harm is done.

The management of the conflict of interest has a number of features, among which:

  • identification and disclosure of a conflict of interests on a regular basis and through a clear procedure;
  • awareness of all corporate, personal, and family business interests and relationships that may involve or relate to the project manager and the client;
  • a procedure for solving conflict of interests;
  • training on preventing and solving conflict of interest in projects.

For a project manager, the potential areas of conflicts of interest could be related to:

Business Associations

Owning a business or a share in a business likely to be selected as a vendor or service provider for a project you manage can be a source of conflicts of interest.

The proper thing to do in situations like this is to let the customer and  your company/organisation know of your affiliation so that decisions can be made jointly on how to handle the process.  Likely, the project manager will need to step out of any part of the decision-making process on procurement, starting from needs assessments, planning, design to tendering and evaluation and audit. The process must be documented for a record of the way it was handled should any questions arise later from any sides: audit, shareholders or the general public.

Example: the project needs consultancy services on insurance of goods to be purchased. The project organises a call for offers and the project manager’s spouse, who managers an insurance broker, submits an offer. The project manager shall declare the conflict of interest and do not participate in the procurement of services.

Affiliations

Family, relatives, close friends, your children godparents (in some cultures), alumni, clubs and leagues memberships and other affiliations are potential sources of conflict of interest.

This requires the project manager to know of his/her family and relatives affairs and interests and act in an appropriate way, once the potential conflict of interest arises. Some organisations require candidates to declare the positions/business of family members before hiring the project manager. It is a good practice in particular in small jurisdictions, where everyone is “related” to everyone.

Same is valid in hiring processes. Helping a friend or family member landing a job in the project you manage necessarily hurts the chances of people you do not know and thus the interests of the project in getting the best expertise on the market.

Example: a project manager is often seen spending his evenings on private time in a certain restaurant, which is managed by his childhood friend. The town is small and the usual suspects are in the usual places. The procurement notices  that the restaurant was constantly proposed as a venue for project’s events in the last months and no call for offers was organised.

Stakeholder Influence

Another potential area for conflict of interest comes from stakeholders, in particular in development management, when the project addresses public authorities needs and interests.  Stakeholders can be individuals with authority and important positions in an organisation. That in itself is not a harmful issue. It is the using of their ability to reward or promote certain people or interests for the project manager’s own personal/private gain. Personal interests shall not prevail over the interests of the project.

A project manager has be to aware of the stakeholders influence on all members of the project team, as it can be very direct – through statements – or indirect and subtle.

Example: a consultant on a project had a car with a driver to drive him around for business and private purposes offered by the Prime Minister office. The project manager had to stop that practice as it was influencing the balance of the consultant’s loyalty towards the politics of the Prime Minister, which was against the independence required to carry out policy advice.

 

 

Risks? What risks?!

Development management professionals looked in wonder at the U.S. Supreme Court case against IFC. In brief, America’s top justices handed down a landmark ruling in favor of a group of Indian villagers looking to sue the International Finance Corp. — the private sector arm of the World Bank — for its support for the coal-fired Tata Mundra Power Plant. The villagers said the project contaminated groundwater, killed marine life, and ejected coal ash into the air. IFC did not contest that the damage occurred, but argued it is immune from liability under U.S. law. Tata Mundra – named “India’s first ultra-mega power project” – gave already in 2015 some indications of headaches to come, if you read The Guardian article at that time. The World Bank projects go through internal assessments of impact and risks. The Guardian’s investigations seem to suggest that the standard assessments of social and environment impacts have been carried out.  Those affected had used the available remedy of applying to the Compliance Ombudsman who also looked into the matter (http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/cases/document-links/documents/IFCresponsetoCAOAudit-CoastalGujaratPowerLimited.pdf). If you are interested, there are further details on the case https://www.devex.com/news/calls-for-stronger-accountability-after-ifc-supreme-court-ruling-94387

This post is not about the legal implications of the ruling on whether it will open or not the floodgates of litigation against International Organisations. Reading the above analysis reminded me of the importance of accountability and the related risk management in project design and implementation.

With due consideration paid to the accountability framework of the organization/client, a project manager works for, the risks assessments are an inherent part of the latter’s job. While project managers are not (always) magicians with abilities to foresee the future, taking time to do a proper risk assessment from smallest internal projects to largest (infrastructure) projects is worth every second of it.

It is not unheard of to tick the boxes and fill in the risk logs (or risk registers) with standard information at the projects design phase. How much time and thought is dedicated to risks assessments and diligently answering to the question “what could go wrong” depends on a number of factors, including the risk threshold of those who design the project and the context of the project. Not taking time to do a proper risks assessment results in project delays or even damages. And no project manager wants to have to recover a troubled project or the client/organization to pay for that.

Risk logs are live documents. They are like growing children: need to constantly keep an eye on them throughout the entire project management lifecycle.

Do:

  • identify risks as early as possible in projects;
  • consult stakeholders on the risk assessment and risk management plan;
  • apply rigor to risks assessments and risk management plans;
  • complement qualitative methodologies with data-driven approaches to risk assessments (see OECD (2019) Analytics for Integrity http://www.oecd.org/gov/ethics/analytics-for-integrity.pdf);
  • avoid ‘blind spots” and biases by means of third party monitoring and evaluation, if/when possible;
  • be mindful of and monitor eventual third party risks, which could impact the project; take legal/administrative steps to reflect them in the agreement with the third party;
  • constantly monitor risks and apply remedies.

There are a variety of project risk management tools available on the internet. I found this risk log of practical use in some projects. Feel free to download it. Template_Risk Management Plan_EN