PM4DEV Blog

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

Characteristics of Development Projects

Development organizations vary in size and orientation, most share the common goal of helping people and benefiting society. There are the large development projects financed by governments and institutions such as the World Bank that focus on infrastructure and improvements in the education, health and justice systems, and international humanitarian organizations and national NGOs that support development activities ranging from community organization, welfare support, health, education, small-financial loans and protection of the environment.

NGOs typically are private, voluntary, non-profit and service-oriented organizations dedicated to helping improve people's welfare and quality of life.

The goal of all development projects is to help improve people's lives through skills training and other livelihood programs. Development organizations prepare and implement development projects and work to strengthen the capabilities of local institutional and promote community self-reliance through sustainable strategies. Funding for projects comes through private and public donations, government assistance and a variety of other sources. Development projects may consist of a single, transformative project to address a specific problem or a series of projects targeted at addressing several problems.

Although, development projects make significant contributions to a community’s socioeconomic development, they also have limitations. A larger number of national NGOs are small in both size and scope of operations and their impact sometimes is limited. NGOs can suffer from financial and technical constraints, often focused on a specific concern or a specific location; many lack a broader economic and social perspective. They are loosely structured and may have limited accountability and their management and planning methods may be weak or too flexible.

One of the key success factors of development projects is when their planning involves people who will benefit or be affected by the project. Beneficiaries need to play a larger role in the planning and implementation of development efforts that will reshape their lives. This is one of the reasons why development projects are gradually is moving away from traditional projects that rely on delivering direct services, and toward projects that include the participation of local organizations to deliver the services that will benefit the poor and other intended beneficiaries more directly.

Involvement of beneficiaries also increases the likelihood of development efforts realizing their intended benefits and can help avoid implementation problems. The concept of participation is concerned with ensuring that the intended beneficiaries of development projects are involved in the planning and implementation of those projects. This is considered important as it empowers the recipients of development projects to influence and manage their own development and helps remove any type of dependency after the project is completed. Beneficiary participation is widely considered to be one of the most important concepts in modern development theory.

 

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The Roles of the Project Manager

Development organizations appoint a project manager for the depth of his or her technical skills. It is not unusual to find a good engineer being promoted to project manager just for his or her technical competence. While it is true that one must have a good understanding of the technical aspects of the project, project managers are also required to have good management skills such as communicating; planning, negotiating, coaching, decision-making, and leadership. These skills are often overlooked at the time of hiring or appointing a project manager.

The job descriptions for a project manager need to be more explicit in defining the managerial skills and competencies required for the job. Organizations usually assign a project manager with the idea that all that is required is expertise in a technical area and often forget the need to have a project manager with the skills to lead a project team, coordinate the use of resources, communicate with stakeholders and manage the project constraints, all at the same time.

Organizations need to build a better understanding of the role of a project manager and understand that this role is not the same as a technical manager. The project manager role is one of integrator, communicator and facilitator; this role is of equal or more importance than the role of a technical manager.

There are three critical roles of the project manager:

  • Integrator; ensures all the project activities, strategies and approaches are an integrated effort.
  • Communicator; most of the work is spend here, communicating with all stakeholders and building the right support and relationships.
  • Leader; motivating and inspiring a team to deliver the project work by providing a vision and direction.

A key responsibility of the project manager is to ensure the proper integration of the project management processes and coordinate the project phases through the project management cycle. This responsibility is to ensure that all areas of the project come together to deliver the project to a successful conclusion. This is the main role of the project manager; it is not related to the technical responsibilities of the project, which in most cases are managed by the project staff. The role of integrator involves three specific areas of responsibility:

  • Develop the project management plans, which consists of the development of all project planning documents into a consistent, coherent project plan document.
  • Implement the project plan, which involves the execution of the project plan and ensuring all activities are performed by all the people involved.
  • Monitor and control the plan, which involves measuring the initial results against the intended objectives and coordinating all changes to the plans.

As communicator the project manager ensures that all stakeholders receive the right information at the right time. This is an important role. The project manager has a holistic view of the project and is in the best position to know the why, when, what and how the project is doing and communicate progress, changes and risks to the parties involved. Studies confirm that the project manager spends about 80% of his/her time communicating. Project managers in the role of communicators assume three functions:

  • Gathering information from project staff and other people involved with the project;
  • Analyzing the information and make sense of its implications; a
  • Distributing the information to the internal and external environments, such as the donor, beneficiaries, and the general public to gain support for the project.

As leader, the project manager must ensure the team and project stakeholders have an understanding of the project vision. A leader inspire others to achieve the project objectives, the leader encourages full participation from the project team, promotes mutual understanding with the beneficiaries and cultivates shared responsibility among all project stakeholders.

The leadership role implies the skills to:

  • Facilitate: To ease and assist the project team to do their work
  • Coordinate: To organize, direct and synchronize the efforts of all involved in the project
  • Motivate: To inspire, stimulate and encourage the team to achieve the project objectives

 These roles are integrated and cannot be treated as separate, and they are critical to the success of any project manager.

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