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2016-03-31 | Project management for NGOs

A project is a unique venture with a beginning and an end, conducted by people to meet established goals within parameters of cost, schedule and quality. A project always has certain goals, a clear time frame and budget. It is unique and separate from normal organization work, "it takes place outside the process world".

Project management

Why Project Management? What is a project (definition)?

A project is a unique venture with a beginning and an end, conducted by people to meet established goals within parameters of cost, schedule and quality.

  • A project always has certain goals, a clear time frame and budget.

It is unique and separate from normal organization work, ‘it takes place outside the process world’.


  • Complex, one-time process;
  • Limited by budget, schedule and resources;
  • Developed to resolve a clear goal or set of goals;
  • Focused on affected group of people.

General Project Characteristics:

  • Ad-hoc endeavors with a clear life cycle;
  • Building blocks in the design and execution of organizational strategies;
  • Responsible for the new and improved products, services and organizational processes;
  • Provide a philosophy and strategy for the management of change;
  • Entail crossing functional and organisation boundaries;
  • Traditional management functions of planning, organizing, motivating, directing and controlling apply;
  • Principal outcomes are the satisfaction of stakeholder requirements within technical, cost and schedule constraints;
  • Project ends when its objectives are successfully reached.
Project Process
Takes place outside the process world. Unique and separate from normal organization work. Ongoing, day-to-day activities. Use existing systems, properties and capabilities.

Project life cycle, success factors

4 Stages in Project Life Cycle:

  1. Conceptualization: Outlines project goal, scope of work, identifies required resources and stakeholders.

  2. Planning: Specifications, timetables and work packages are broken out, assignments are made and process for completion is defined.

  3. Execution: The actual work is done here, majority teamwork, also the majority of costs included here.

  4. Termination: project completed and passed on to customer, resources are reassigned and team members disbanded.

Project Life Cycles and their effects

Project success is mainly determined by 4 factors: Budget, schedule, performance and acceptance. Acceptance is the long-run goal in order to make the project’s effects sustainable. Goals most likely to be conflicting are budget and schedule as well as budget and performance.

Leadership and the project manager

Aquirements for project managers

A manager is not automatically a leader! Managers have official titles in an organization but real leaders focus on interpersonal relationships rather than administration.

Important differences exist between the two on:Creation of purpose, network development, execution of tasks, outcomes, focus and time frame.

Effective project leaders have to communicate well, be flexible, be good team players and should be skilled at various influence tactics.

Useful skills for relationship building and maintenance in a team are:

  • Self-awareness (own strengths and weaknesses);
  • Self-regulation (behavior);
  • Motivation (internal, to measure progress and set challenging goals);
  • Empathy;
  • Social skills.

Project Managers function as Mini-CEOs and manage both ‘hard’ technical details and ‘soft’ people issues. They:

  • Acquire project resources;
  • Motivate and build teams;
  • Have a vision and fight fires;
  • Communicate well, keep close contact to all stakeholders.

Team building/leading, communication

It is critical for a project manager to maintain strong contact with all stakeholders.

Project meetings feature task oriented and group maintenance behaviors and serve to:

  • Update all participants;
  • Increase understanding and commitment;
  • Make decisions;
  • Provide visibility.

Team Development Stages:

When a new team is set up, 4 stages of development are run through.

First, in the Forming phase, it is all about inclusion of the team members. Everyone involved is testing the new environment, leading to a quiet and polite atmosphere. Especially when team members have not met before, interaction can be rather guarded and impersonal in the beginning of getting to know each other.

Second, the Storming phase, where team leaders will gather control and the team is confronted with first conflicts due to different personal agendas and confrontations. Aim in this stage is always to try to get control over occurring conflicts and mediate between team members.

These 5 methods of conflict resolution can be helpful

Problem solving (confrontational) An attempt is made to solve the actual problem.
Compromise Get everyone involved to give a little to find common ground (not desirable if it doesn’t meet anyone’s needs).
Forcing Direct order to resolve sth is given- worst type.
Smoothing Focus on the positive to distract the focus from the negative.
Withdrawal Ignoring the problem and hoping it will fix itself/disappear- not actual conflict resolution, not proactive.

Third, after the team has been Norming itself and got out of the conflict phase, work can be started in an organized way. Procedures can be established, team skills will be developed and disputes can be solved in an ordered manner.

The last stage, Performing is the ultimate goal of team building and leading. Team members trust each other, are supportive, flexible and confident and can do their work in a highly productive and efficient way. This state can be reached when leaders do their best in communicating well with all members, solve conflicts and motivate all team members.

Further measures for building high performing teams can be:

  • Make the team tangible (publicity, terminology and language).
  • Reward good behavior (flexibility, creativity, pragmatism.
  • Develop a personal touch (lead by example, positive feedback, accessibility and consistency).

Scope management

Project scope is everything about a project – work content as well as expected outcomes.

Scope management is the function of controlling a project in terms of its goals and objectives and consists of 6 steps:

  1. Conceptual development.

  2. Scope statement.

  3. Work authorization.

  4. Scope reporting.

  5. Monitoring.

  6. Project closeout.


  1. Conceptual development

    The process that addresses project objectives by finding the best ways to meet them. Key steps in information development:

    • Problem/need statement: Reduction of overall complexity, goals and objectives should be clearly stated and reference points are provided leading to a complete understanding of the problem. This is important as in the beginning the goal is not always completely clear.
    • Gather information on circumstances, constraints etc.
    • Alternative analysis.
    • Formulate concrete project objectives.

    Finished with the formulation of a statement of work (SOW), a detailed narrative description of the work required.

  2. Scope statement

    A clear statement that establishes the project goal criteria (cost, schedule, performance, deliverables, review dates). Development of three structures essential:

    • Develop a management plan for the project.
    • Establish a work breakdown structure (WBS).

    Work packages are at the lowest level in WBS. They always have a certain deliverable result, one owner and are trackable, like miniature projects themselves.

  3. Work authorization

    This is the formal ‘go ahead’ to begin work. All involved group members know what to do and start to be productive.

  4. Scope reporting

    Determines what types of information have to be reported, to whom, who receives copies as well as when and how information is acquired and disseminated.

  5. Monitoring

    Collecting data that documents project progress. Can be done regularly (e.g. yearly or half-yearly) or ongoing.

    First, criteria have to be developed that will be measured during implementation. They should be:
    S specific well defined;
    M measurable know if goal is obtainable, how far it is to completion;
    A achievable goal can be achieved within agreed timeframe;
    R relevant doing the right things;
    T time-based enough time to achieve the goal.

  6. Project closeout

    The project is not finished after everything is implemented. Closeout work is essential for documenting and communicating success.

    Closeout documentation is used to resolve disputes, train project managers or facilitate auditing. It includes historical records, post project analysis and financial closeout.

Risk management (Identification, analysis, mitigation, control)

The identification and analyze of risks throughout the lifecycle of a project as well as appropriate responding to them.

Risk management encompasses 4 Stages:

  1. Risk identification.
  2. Analysis of probability and consequences.
  3. Risk mitigation strategies (accept, minimize, share, transfer, reserves, mentoring, training) that shall minimize the potential impact of an adverse event.
  4. Control and documentation helps to classify and codify risks, responses to them and outcomes. Like this, a knowledge base for future can be created.

Qualitative methods for identifying risk factors

  • Brainstorming: Bringing team together. Gathering quickly many ideas;

  • Delphi method: Collect expert opinions. Can be very expensive and like this, no synergy effects between individuals can occur;

  • “Experience Counts”: Lessons learned from individuals in the organization that have had similar experiences;

  • Multiple (team-based) assessments: A diverse group of team members that are specialized in different aspects come together, they all have different perspectives.

Risk clusters:

  • Financial;

  • Technical (new and unproven technology, unique technical elements);

  • Contractual/Legal;

  • Execution (unknowns that can occur when plan is carried out).

Common Types: Absenteeism, Resignation, Staff pulled away, Time overruns, Skills unavailable, Ineffective Training, Specs incomplete, Change in circumstances.

Cost estimation and budgeting

Type of Cost Description
Direct costs Directly attributable to project, spent only in project work (material to build solar collectors).
Indirect costs Needed for project but not restricted to it (rent, electricity).
Fixed costs Consistent on the project regardless of how many are used (design of a book cover).
Variable costs Fluctuate with the number that is produced (printing each copy of a book).

Most common problems with cost estimation are: low initial estimates, unexpected technical difficulties, lack of definition, specification changes, external factors. A Solution to these problems can be budget contingencies, extra funds included in the budget to cover uncertainties.

Cost estimation methods

  1. Analogous (top down) – compare to a previous project.

  2. Bottom up – individual items are estimated, then summed up.

  3. Activity Based Costing (ABC):

    • Assign costs to activities that use resources;
    • Identify cost drivers;
    • Compute a cost rate per cost driver unit or transaction;
    • Multiply cost driver rate * the volume of c.d.r. used.
  4. Parametric – parameters around which the estimate is built.

  5. Computerized/Monte Carlo – individuals items are estimated, then summed up.

Project evaluation and control

The Project control cycle illustrates what has to be done during project evaluation and control, naming 4 steps.

First, of course, we have a goal set as clear and certain as possible. Second, progress in reaching the goals is measured with defined indicators. The third step is to compare the actual/measured situation with how it was planned initially. Should this not match, measures have to be planned to get back on the path as it is planned. After this, the control-cycle will be restarted from the beginning.

Relation to donors

What to communicate

  • Regular updates on state of work.

  • Special milestones, e.g. start-up meetings or the beginning of implementation on the ground (e.g. first building refurbished) should be highlighted.

  • Successes or media outreach are something you can be proud of – show your donors!

  • Always think about how much information you really want to expose. Donors have to be kept updated but you should be sure that you are ready to share and discuss details with someone who, first, is not involved in the project as deep as you are and, second, is your donor and therefor has a big say.

How to communicate

An adequate means of communication has to be figured out in the beginning. Most of communication will happen in written form via letters or e-mailing. If closer contact is required, regular phone or skype calls or meetings could be suitable.

State of the art technical appliances like clouds and other online devices allow to share information (in this case all your project documents) with anyone you want. Think about giving your donors access to certain files documenting your work in order to give him/her deep insight in the project. But again, consider how much you want to show.


Related materials



What is a logical framework and how to use it to present develop project. Audio-record of webinar by the Executive Director of WECF International Sacha Gabizon:


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