PM4DEV Blog

Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

The Challenges of Development Projects

Development projects operate in challenging environments, where uncertainties about the future increase the risk to the project. Managers need to deal with extremely complex social, economic, and political factors that affect the delivery of goods and services. Development projects are implemented in some of the most remote and difficult locations in the world; additionally, projects operate in areas of high personal risk and high security threats to project staff. The lack of proper infrastructure, limited resources, and a changing environment put a strain on project managers who need to deliver the project outcomes. The constant changes in the social, economic, political, and natural environment; force many projects to change its original plans; in fact, project plans are built on many assumptions that eventually are challenged by the changes in the environment. Changes in the environment are not always reflected in the original design, which causes projects to miss significantly its ultimate objectives; this is why it is not uncommon to find a project that has delivered all its expected outputs but has failed significantly in reaching its objectives. From extensive observation and experimentation through working with development agencies for years, we have seen the following weaknesses in development projects:

  • Poor project planning
  • Inadequate management skills
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of stakeholder involvement
  • Unrealistic plans
  • No measure to evaluate quality
  • Poor, inconsistent project management discipline
  • Duplication of efforts
  • Poor risk management strategies
  • Unmotivated project staff

Development organizations can benefit from a standardized approach to deliver their projects not only on time and within budget but in the quality expectations of the stakeholders. Project management processes and techniques are used to coordinate resources to achieve predictable results. The value proposition for project management results by implementing a common set of project management processes, competencies and tools. The value of project management to development organization includes:

  • Better expectation-setting through up-front estimating, planning, and project definition.
  • Faster execution through the reuse of common processes and templates.
  • Fewer project problems encountered when utilizing proactive project management processes.
  • Better organizational decision making through more effective project communication.
  • Higher donor/beneficiary satisfaction and less rework by delivering a higher quality outputs the first time.

Project management provides a proven methodology to accurately and efficiently complete projects of any size and complexity. The detailed planning provides a realistic plan that helps manage risks before they occur and reduce costly changes late in the project. Benefits occur only when organizations consistently apply standard methodologies and principles on all projects.

 

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What is Iterative Planning?

Iterative Planning is the process to adapt as the project unfolds by changing the plans. Plans are changed based on feedback from the monitoring process, changes in the project assumptions, risks and changes in scope, budget or schedule.
 
 
Its a Team Effort - It is important to involve the team in the planning process. The people doing the work should be actively involved in planning the project.  When they get involved in the decision, they become motivated to get it right. After all, they were hired and they have the skills to understand the dependencies. Once they complete the plans, they will own it and will accept the schedule. It also is helpful to involve your key stakeholders; these could be the internal support functions of the organizations such as finance or procurement. Also involve partners, donors or funding agencies who can provide with valuable insights and information on when they need the project to be completed, risks, constraints and resource availability.
 
Planning should not be done hastily; it takes time in order to get plans that can become useful to the team. Usually the development of all project plans can take weeks or a couple of months depending on the size and complexity of the project.
 
 
Iterative Planning Sessions - In traditional – linear - project management, the approach is to implement the activities under the assumptions that all events affecting the project are predictable, that activities are well understood by everybody, and there is no need to revisit the plans. Unfortunately, this approach proves to be not very effective, given the level of uncertainty on many development projects. What happens is that the original assumptions under which the project plan was built change and in some cases in dramatic ways. What was originally assumed to be true is no longer valid. Assumptions about approvals, additional funding, economic and social conditions change dynamically and the project needs to have the flexibility to adapt to these changes.
 
The project should find these opportunities to review the original assumptions and make the appropriate changes to the plans, specifically in the areas of scheduling, risks and stakeholders. This approach consists of a series of iterative planning and development cycles, allowing a project team to constantly evaluate the implementation and results of the project and obtain immediate feedback from beneficiaries, or stakeholders.  
 
If you want to elarn more, join the next session of the online course: Adaptive Project Management for Development Organizations and NGOs. https://www.pm4dev.com/elearn/ecourses/eapm.html
 
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