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!

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.

 

 

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Re-post: the top 10 laws of project management

This summary is a useful reminder of basics of project management:

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

 “Work expands to fill the time available.”

 “If they know nothing of what you are doing, they suspect you are doing nothing.”

follow the link for other laws and details:

https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/ten-laws-project-management-literature-6968

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

Job descriptions and roles in projects

– What roles?! There are only three roles in this project: project manager, assistant and financial officer!

This was a response from a participant in an “Giving positive feedback training for managers” at the point we were discussing how to get the best from team members to achieve success. And that answer made me sad.

“She should resign from this position. She is more of the creative type”, I heard the other day in respect of a team member of a diplomatic mission.

What the two above have in common? The missed opportunity to look beyond and to put to use the best of everyone for the common good.

Job descriptions are necessary. No doubt. They offer clarity and a certain protection to staff. As it was the case of a driver in a project team who was asked by a consultant to deal with his expired driving license. “Sorry, Mark, it is not his work duty. If you need help, we can talk about it outside working hours and see if I have private connections to guide you through the right procedures”, was my response back then, to protect my colleague and also offer clarity on roles in the project.

Back to roles and missed opportunities. People are different and this makes their skills and competencies complementary in a project/team. It is the project manager’s job to ensure this complementarity. To do that, he/she needs to learn what each member of the team is best at, ideally before the start of the project.

There are a variety of ways to do that. I remember a team building retreat we had at the World Bank, when each was asked to describe the skills he/she brings to the team. Through a skillful moderator we realised how many various skills we bring individually to the team and how, as a result, we make the team collectively strong and unique.

Do:

  • take time to learn about each team member skills and past experience;
  • look beyond the CV and/or HR file;
  • give roles to match skills: if a person has good social skills, let her/him talk to the client; if a person is an introvert and prefers quiet time to reflect, given him/her to do the research and behind the scene work; and alike. Picture1

Stakeholders analysis or who else is in the sandbox?

Projects are not stand-alone “enterprises”. They usually need to co-exist and be implanted in already “populated” areas by those who have /can have a stake in a project.

A project’s needs assessment or design phase shall include the stakeholders analysis. There are many ways and tools to do a stakeholders analysis, out there in literature and internet.

Why do a stakeholders analysis? This analysis enables an up-to-date picture of stakeholders’ roles and interests in the project. These can range from ministries, parliaments, local authorities, institutions and organisations, both public and civil, professional and non-professional groups, to people and groups of people.

I sometimes, make an analogy with the sandbox and start by looking around who else is in the “sandbox” and what they do. Who builds a castle (ambitious ones), who destroys it (opposition), who digs ditches (planners), who is well equipped with buckets and shovels (the doers), who sits on the edges (the expectants) …Sandbox-Pic

In development management projects, I find it useful to use the following classification of stakeholders for the analysis of their impact/potential impact on the project.

  1. Resource Providers: those who provide funds.
  2. Target Group: are directly affected by the project and directly benefiting from the work of the project
  3. Beneficiaries: those who directly/indirectly benefit, in the longer term, from the improved capacity (skills, knowledge, etc.) and quality of services and products of the target groups
  4. Project partners/supporters: provide support for the implementation of the project. Although not in B and C categories above, their co-operation is vital for the successful implementation of the project (e.g. ministries, other governmental agencies, NGOs)
  5. Potentially affected/threatened: are/could be adversely affected by the implementation of the project
  6. Opposers: are/could be opposed to the implementation of the project
  7. Undecided: stakeholders with unclear role.

These categories are not static and stakeholders might switch roles throughout project implementation. It is thus important to regularly monitor their roles and stance.

Feel free to download and use this template PROJECTS STAKEHOLDERS ANALYSIS TEMPLATE_web

 

Integrity in projects: standards of conduct with the media

Your personal behaviour  can affect the entire organization/company to which you provide your project management services. This can be even more critical if you deal with the media.

Check and follow your industry / Organisation’s Standards of Professional Conduct whenever in doubt and consult your colleagues in charge of the media.

The media may play a critical role in the field you implement the project in. If you are authorized to communicate with the media, be careful not to convey an inappropriate message, as it may put you/your colleagues in a difficult situation:

  • Speak only within your own area of competence and responsibility. Make it clear that you are project manager, not a decision-maker.
  • Provide facts, not opinions or comments.
  • Leave sensitive issues to officials who are specifically authorized to speak on them.
  • Decline politely by referring media to the authorised person, if you are not authorised to talk to the media.
  • Monitor the coverage to prompt necessary reaction to the way the facts of a project are depicted in the media.

Also, in multi-cultural environments or when traveling for work, stay attuned to the cultural factors in the environment the project is implemented. For example:

  • Can my religious beliefs – or lack of them – cause hostility? Can I talk openly about religion? Can I wear symbols of my religious faith? I remember these questions before my first trip to Kyrgyzstan.
  • Could there be friction because of the way the country sees the different roles of men and women?
  • Am I dressed appropriately for the location and social setting?
  • Beware of jokes that may seem inappropriate.
  • In some cultures, it is OK to disagree openly. In others, disagreements are discussed privately.
  • Beware of taking pictures inappropriately and without consent.

These considerations extend to social media, and even to your private life.

  • Do not include any organisation/company logos, emblems or other symbols in your profile, as some people might be misled into thinking you are speaking on behalf of the Organization/Company.
  • Avoid discussions involving sensitive political, religious and social issues.
  • Have your press-release first published on the company/organisation’s website on any official project events, then repost. You can post a selfie post-event, if you absolutely  must.

 

Lion’s Cage: things we do in projects

It was breakfast time. I was wondering whether our trainer – Alex – will show up. My brain was analysing options, in case he will not. I would have understood. The day before was tough.
When Alex got into the breakfast room, he had a poker face so I was prepared for anything.
– It feels as if going into a lion’s cage, said Alex.
– We are the lions, I said, meekly.

He smiled back, took a sip of coffee and went to prepare the room for the day.

How we got there: A client wanted a two day training on a matter they said it was important for the future of the organisation and they wanted to do it only with us. They did not have to pay for it. We had a sponsor. We agreed, found the right trainers and organised the logistics. It was not a small thing, as the audience was of 100 people representing over 30,000 of the organisation’s members.

When day 1 unfolded, a strong sense of opposition to the concepts to be tackled became obvious. The matter was more sensitive to the members of the organisation than we anticipated from the preparatory work with their management. Their internal divisions became also obvious. Not an ideal environment for learning and advancing the interests of the organisation.

But this is the nature of projects – they are not needed in ideal environments. We had to put together our conflict resolution skills, networking skills, positive feedback and the ability to help people find common ground. It also required a ‘is there anything I can do?” question whispered to the chairperson of the organisation, who seemed to enjoy the fight her fellows were putting on with the trainers. She got my point and helped change the tone of the event.

Finally, we managed to put the training on the right track and by the end of Day 2 we could smile and be proud that people were engaging in group work, making presentations and interacting in a civilised way with each other and trainers. They took away a great deal of new and important perspectives for their organisation’s future. Those who stayed to the end and the management of the organisation were fully satisfied and send a Thank You letter afterwards.

We could have stopped after day 1. A note to file would have done the job. Payments would be partial, according to the work and services actually delivered… . Still there was something to it, for us to learn.

My take away:
– be prepared to recover projects at any time;
– trust your members of the team;
– act on prevention with the information you have at hand;
– build alliances and rely on then.