Let’s project some fun

The art of sharing in a harmonious project management office 🙂 :

 

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“Research skills for policy and development. How to find out fast” edited by A. Thomas and G. Mohan

I come back from time to time to this book when projects touch upon policy and public action. The book “is aimed at development managers and others who are involved in policy investigation” states its Introduction. In project management, I found it a useful resource when we need to gather information in project design; or we need to learn about stakeholders and their agenda in policy making contexts.

The book is both very informative and an invitation to reflect. It offers tips and lessons learned for example in avoiding pitfalls in research. It covers “thinking with documents” and “thinking with people” for a participative approach. A number of tools such as structured surveys and semi-structured interviews as well as the importance of the subjective and personal are presented.

The book also covers how to bring in data and combine it with qualitative information. Personal integrity and effectiveness in research are brought in as topics of academic debate in the challenge of “trying not to get it wrong”.

In sum, if you are looking at how to inform the public policy-making process and how to communicate the results the book will serve you well both in an policy research and project context.

“Managing Development: understanding inter-organizational relationships” edited by D. Robinson, T. Hewitt, J. Harriss

My interest in this book and hence its value for my work stems from the importance of relationships between organisations, as a driver of close work for common purpose in development management. In other words, we follow the assumption that better we work together, better are the results in projects and beyond. There is general donors and governments’ consensus on that. The practice of it is more nuanced though (will come back to that in another post).

The editors organised the book around the three “ideal types” or modes of structuring inter-organizational relationships:  competition, co-ordination and co-operation. The authors warn us that these types shall not be understood as stand-alone and rigid concepts. There are significant overlaps between them and each comes with strengths and weaknesses, each peculiar to development stages and contexts.

The book might seem more academic, yet the background research abounds with practical relevance. Therefore, I come back to this book when relationships between and with stakeholders become too complicated and we seem to distance ourselves from our starting point. It helps understanding organisations’ dynamics, which jointly with the science of human behaviour, is a valuable knowledge to succeed in development management.

 

The beauty of project’s dashboards

Imagine driving your car without a dashboard. Or flying a plane without it.

Now look at the project you manage. What does your project dashboard show you? Does it give you info and data to know if the project is on track; milestones are achieved on time; costs are under control? Which colours of the traffic lights dominate? Perhaps, it looks like this (for a bit of amusement): img_2099

Many project management programmes/softwares have built-in dashboard functions. A click here, a click there – and you and the project’s sponsor have it all on one page and/or on the screen. Nice and neat.

If you do not have AI to do it for you, use excel to create a project dashboard. It can serve as a monitoring, communication and reporting tool. It will show the up-to-date status of the project and you can take it out of your sleeve anytime needed for a meeting or report. You can even turn some of the data into a nice infographic and place it on the website of the project/the intranet page. This can be very handy as not all sponsors’ (and even project managers) enjoy reading a Gantt chart.

To build a dashboard, determine which data is essential. In development management projects, this data comes from the donor’s reporting requirements and/or project board needs. In internal projects, the requirements for a Project Status Report serve well that purpose. Checking with the project’s sponsor what essential info they need on the project helps as well.

The following elements are for illustrative purposes and need to be adapted to each project:

  • the list of milestones to be completed since the last report and their current status (on time or delayed);
  • the list of milestones due in the next reporting period;
  • commitment of resources;
  • costs to date compared to budget;
  • number of beneficiaries reached/trained;
  • number of deliverables produced;
  • days to go live;
  • any necessary disaggregated data (by gender, regions, products, departments, for example).

I also found the following tips for dashboard’s design helpful:

  • choose 2-3 colours;
  • follow minimalism rather than art nouveau in visuals;
  • keep it on one page;
  • make sure everything is readable (avoid small print);
  • if it is necessary to be descriptive, accompany the dashboard with a project status report.