Archive for the 'Africa' Category

Program Vs. Project – A Guide to Program Management

By John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Services

JohnCropperAgain and again I am struck by our sector’s tendency to over-complicate; taking something that is already challenging and making it even more difficult.  I see so many projects; health, education and so on, and when I look at the details of each one I see large, multi-million dollar budgets, multi-year plans, multiple areas of intervention – and sometimes multiple countries….. and I realize these aren’t projects, they are programs!  I could go on about how the donor funding environment is a major driver of this, but let’s save that for another time and focus on programs versus projects.

Program Vs. Project

If we structure our work as one large project, it will be extremely complex.  Budgets will be massive, risk registers will read like books, plans will be vast, assigning roles and accountabilities will be complicated– and everything will be interlinked.  If we can break this mass of work down into smaller units, i.e. projects, we make things simpler.  Plans are easier to understand if they involve a specific piece of work such as building a single healthcare center rather than improving health outcomes for hundreds of thousands of people spread over three countries. It becomes easier to manage, comprehend and control.   Just how do you deal with a change in a vast mega project? How do we even understand the implications throughout the project?

A Guide to Program Management

Clearly, there is no magic solution. Turning a mega-project into a program with a series of smaller, more concrete projects raises its own issues. How do we manage the program? Who will do this? What skills do they need? How do they coordinate across projects? How do they ensure that the projects are working together to deliver all the anticipated benefits?  Help is on the way! Building on the success of PMDPro (8000 people have now been through the certification), LINGOs, PM4NGOs and APMG are working together to write a Guide to Program Management and this will eventually be linked to a certification.

Programs are all about achieving outcomes for our beneficiaries and linking up to organisational strategies at country, regional and global levels. As such, they are at the heart of our work and I hope that the new Guide and certification will make a helpful contribution to improving program design, planning, management and delivery – and I hope that we are able to offer a pilot course in the fall of 2014.

Two steps forward and one step back

Guest post by Roger Steele, LINGOs Senior Project Manager

rsteeleAccording to contemporary wisdom (Wikipedia), my title is a catchphrase about a frog trying to climb out of a well; for every two steps the frog climbs, it falls back by one step, making its progress arduous, but progress nonetheless. The catchphrase feels like a fitting title for today’s post.

While I’m making steady progress in my eLearning journey – it is strenuous at times. Exactly two years ago, I wrote a post on the topic of eLearning in Southern Africa. Since those earlier efforts, LINGOs has expanded its PMD Pro work to over 20 countries all over Africa — one (big) step forward. I also contributed to a recent blog on virtual coaching for graduates of PMD Pro courses — another step forward. Upon re-reading those posts, I’m hoping readers didn’t get the impression that we are making continuously smooth and uncomplicated progress. Probably not – as most LINGOs members are in touch with the “frog’s arduous climb.”

Ok, now you should be asking: “what is the one step back, Roger?”

Allow me to start with a story. Last September, I led a successful face-to-face PMD Pro1 course for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) staff and partners in Zimbabwe. To encourage learning transfer and application of PMD Pro tools to real work, CRS asked LINGOs to conduct five hours of online virtual coaching with the class participants – a couple months after completion of the course. We scheduled four one-hour virtual classroom sessions. The participants, both CRS staff and their partners, were notified in a timely manner and all was ready to go.

That’s when we took one step back – or in a slightly different direction. Apart from the usual challenges anyone faces in first time log in to a virtual classroom environment, the Zimbabwean participants had an extra special challenge. Out of the 30 invited participants, we were lucky to have five online at any single time – with several regularly popping off and coming back on at regular intervals.

Now don’t get me wrong, the participants did the best possible. It was just a matter of internet connections that came and went! Sometimes those in the capital city, Harare, were the strongest. Other times we had great connections from Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo. Somewhat surprisingly, a participant in the remote town of Chinoyi had an almost perfect connection.

The CRS Zimbabwe story is somewhat typical of our PMD Pro online coaching sessions in African countries, largely because the students are dispersed in numerous locations. As described in an earlier post, the HOTspot approach has shown considerable promise in African locations where a strong internet connection can be secured.

Climbing forward …

We did come up with a solution – a time-tested distance learning approach. Using a software program called Camtasia (techsmith.com) that integrates into MS PowerPoint; I advanced slides and recorded my voice as I talked through each coaching presentation on PMD Pro tools. In total, I produced almost 3 hours of video on tools like Work Breakdown Structure, RACI, Issues Log, Risk Register and Gantt. I ended up with 15 coaching videos with an average length of 10 minutes each. I performed one other step — converting the voice to captions. These were burned under each slide and appear in sync with my voice during video play. The jury is still out whether the captioning step was worth the effort. I know my American English accent is hard to understand for many Africans. English is a second or third language for many. The captions can also be easily translated to other languages.

After some editing of both the voice and captions in Camtasia, I produced the videos in WMV (Windows Media Video) format. I also uploaded the videos to the LINGOs YouTube library. Finally, I added the voice transcriptions as speaker notes in the PowerPoint decks – to assist anyone who wants to use them as a guide to their own Face to Face coaching sessions.

Steady progress

I am writing this blog from Tanzania where I am interacting with some of the World Vision East Africa Operations Directors. After doing a demo of one coaching video, they asked that asked for copies of the WMV files. The World Vision East Africa team plans to burn DVDs for physical distribution to the 800 PMD Pro1 graduates in World Vision East Africa’s 9 National Offices. They seem genuinely excited about this solution.  While not what I initially expected, my eLearning success story is distribution of quick-and-dirty videos on DVDs.  What is most important is that the frog is still making overall progress in the climb.

For more information about LINGOs 4-week PMD Pro1 blended learning course, March 4-28,  see http://4weekpmdprocourse.eventbrite.com

On the road from training to application: virtual coaching

Have you ever gone to a great course or workshop, been inspired by what you learned, and have every intention of putting your new knowledge into practice as soon as you got back to work?

Have you also experienced finding a mountain of work awaiting you after the inspiring course — and as you dive into catching up on that week away, you find yourself going back to your usual practices, and that you were unable to put what you learned into practice?

Have you been to the inspiring course, been able to summit the mountain of waiting work and had trouble explaining the new concepts to your colleagues and supervisors so that you can put the new practices in place?

Over the past two and a half years, LINGOs has deployed virtual coaching as an effective and cost-efficient performance support and learning transfer mechanism for global participants of the LINGOs Project Services learning programs.  We saw the need for performance support after the first very successful training courses in our work with World Vision’s Southern Africa Regional Program to build capacity in project management.

Knowledge & skills alone don’t lead to behavior change

We all know that knowledge and skills alone are insufficient to lead to a change in behavior –think of all the anti-smoking and “just say no” campaigns!  While the vast majority of participants successfully passed the PMD Pro 1 online exam, the leaders of the program initially saw relatively low application of the newly learned tools and approaches in the participants’ daily work.

While first piloted in Africa, we’ve done more virtual coaching in Latin America. “Coaching is a necessary complement to any training process,” said LINGOs Senior Facilitator Juan Manuel Palacios. “Without it, you can’t expect change — you can’t ensure transfer of knowledge, change in behavior or achievement of intended organizational outcomes.”

Coaching for performance support & learning transfer

Coaching is a widely-used performance support and learning transfer tool. It is a particularly good approach when participants are asked to develop an action plan at the end of their course work.

Traditional, in-person coaching involving high costs and time for both trainers and participants to travel to a central location was not an option, especially as much of the Project Management Training was offered through a blend of virtual classrooms and other on-line platforms. LINGOs began to offer virtual coaching as a strategy to give learners a chance to apply new skills and receive additional instruction and guidance when they came up against real-world challenges.

We built coaching into the Latin America work that we’re now completing with the GEPAL Project (Gestión en Administración de Proyectos en América Latina) with the Interamerican Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) and in additional project management capacity work we’re doing with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), ChildFund-Americas, Islamic Relief,  Mercy Corps,  Oxfam GB, PATH, as well as with World Vision.

Technology improving, but still a limiting factor in parts of Africa

“Technology is improving monthly in African cities,” said Roger Steele, LINGOs Senior Project Manager, who has led training efforts with World Vision, CRS and PATH in Africa.  “Virtual coaching is becoming a very viable option.”

Based on the circumstances of each training cohort, LINGOs has used various technological options for virtual coaching including,

  • Groups that trained in a face-to-face environment participating via World Vision’s HoTSpots in Southern Africa,
  •  Individuals in disparate locations logging into the same virtual classroom platform in which they received training online,
  • Participants connecting via Skype when their internet connections were unable to support connections to a virtual classroom.

Roger noted that “participants are often eager to join online sessions but technology access and literacy is still limited in places. Some participants got their first email account to be able to participate in virtual coaching after a face-to-face workshop.”

“At PATH sometimes our people gathered informally around one person with a computer with a good connection and speakers,” noted Julie Baker, Trainer and eLearning Developer, who has overseen the PATH effort to strengthen staff skills among 54 participants in Kenya and Tanzania.

In Latin America, internet access has not been a limiting factor. Through the GEPAL project, LINGOs and partner organizations trained to facilitate training and coaching sessions have found no significant barriers in Brazil, Panamá or Guatemala. However, participants in Paraguay on some occasions did have some connectivity difficulties accessing the sessions offered on the Blackboard Collaborate virtual classroom platform.

Multiple modalities same objective

In the African context, the coaching approach has been more formal. Starting about a month after training, taking the PMD Pro1 online exam and developing an action plan, participants have had the opportunity to engage in virtual coaching sessions. The sessions, held in the Blackboard Collaborate Virtual Classroom, have provided structured review of different tools and an opportunity to share concerns and questions, and to problem-solve ways to remove obstacles to using the tools.

“In one session, a participant shared her concern specifics of where to keep the project’s issues log,” said Julie Baker. “The group and coaches explored advantages and disadvantages of whether to keep it on a Sharepoint® site versus a local network; who puts the data in the document, and how to make it work day-to-day in that particular situation.”

In the Latin American experience in GEPAL, however, after the training, certification exam and action plans are complete, the groups that trained together start looking at project management tools in which the participants are interested in implementing in their organizations.  They’ve generally started with design, monitoring and evaluation tools. “One participant provides the coaches with a real project to use as case study for coaching,” said Juan Manuel.

Brazil coaching group develops proposal
Participants from AVAPE (The Association for Valuing Persons with Disabilities), had already identified stakeholders and needed to work specifically on the design of a project and develop a proposal (including a logical framework). During ten hours of coaching, the entire group built the logical framework with results, objectives, M&E indicators and assumptions to prepare a proposal for donor. In this case, the group of coaching participants included the project’s donor as well as a consulting group brought in to develop the proposal. Fun follow up fact, this proposal has been presented and will be funded for AVAPE to implement.
Panama plans project transitions
In the coaching we did with the Panamanian group, a participant provided a case where she was working on the project transition and sought coaching on how to build transition planning into the finished project.

Coaching on adapting to local reality

The follow-up coaching allows participants to gain insights into the adaptation of tools. “It provides an opportunity to reinforce learning and adapt tools to specific situations, gaining ideas and inputs from other participants who don’t know an organization as well,” according to Juan Manuel.

“Our Country Leader reports a big uptick in use of the RACI matrix,” said PATH’s Julie Baker. “There was lots of conversation in the coaching session on how to customize it, including additional columns to make it work even better for our reality.” She noted that the coach was able to share an example from another organization where they’d added a new column.

The final product of this learning process (from training to coaching) is to facilitate participants’ ability to apply tools in different contexts, for different projects. “After all,” said Juan Manuel, “you don’t need to have the tools in place when you start the project.  You can adapt the tools at any phase of during the life of the project.”

Coaching makes the difference

Perhaps the clearest case of the benefits of virtual coaching happened in Mozambique. LINGOs provided face to face training but between connectivity challenges and a lack of familiarity with standardized testing, none of the participants were able to successfully complete the online exam.

However, after a process of self-directed learning, Bento Guilovica sought personal coaching from Juan Manuel. “The coachee MUST be interested and motivated to learn,” pointed out Juan Manuel who provided 8-10 hours of virtual coaching via skype.  Bento went on to become a trainer of PMD Pro, who each day after delivering face to face training, was coached through his specific questions on tools and approaches. At the end of his first course, 70% of Bento’s students passed the PMD Pro exam.

Communities of practice

The virtual coaching sessions are creating networks of people using and adapting tools in the real world.  “The community of practice can be used for advice and, guidance on how individuals and organizations have adapted or used different tools,” said Juan Manuel.

PATH is preparing to explore additional ways to foster ongoing communities of practice around project management. Roger Steele noted that “a culture of online interaction will evolve and is improving.” There’s more learning to do in the area of strengthening virtual communities and exploring additional ways of coaching and performance support.

Readers are welcome to join the large and growing international community of practice, with over 2800 individuals interested in project management for development, via the open PM4NGOs group on LinkedIn.

Coaching process encourages participants to apply and share learning

When we went to the Training of Trainers course in PMDPro in Panama, I thought it would be just one more course…,” said José Salvador Aquino Manzo, Mercy Corps- Guatemala M&E Officer. However, the reality of a more comprehensive approach that included coaching is much more.

José Salvador was so inspired by the learning process that in record time, he recruited 40 fellow Mercy Corps staffers and program partners in Guatemala to go forward to strengthen Project management skills in PMD Pro.

 

For more on LINGOs Innovations in project management capacity building, please see

1.      Blended learning blog http://lingos.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/blended-approach/

2.      What’s project management got to do with international women’s day http://lingos.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/pm-training-_women/

3.      What’s your product  http://lingos.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/what%e2%80%99s-your-product/

4.      Are NGOs in Southern Africa ready for eLearning  http://lingos.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/are-ngos-in-southern-africa-region-ready-for-elearning/

 

Blended approach gets learning to where learners are

Posted by John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Services

Training and facilitating used to be so simple. The trainer would travel to a a pre-selected venue, participants would arrive, training was delivered and after a couple of happy sheets and usually a rather nice group meal and photo, everyone departed. Easy!

 

Old School Training…

The costs of this approach are huge. Apart from the travel costs, everyone would be in the training – not actually doing their normal work. So if you had a group of twenty five participants doing a five day course, you used one hundred and twenty five person days. Run two trainings like this in a year and factor in holidays and you would have used up the best part of a person year – and we all think we are understaffed!

LINGOs is all about learning where it really matters. So, to find a way round this, LINGOs has conducted a number of what we call blended trainings on Project Management  (the PMDPro certification)  We’ve tried several approaches and I’ll describe two of them here: First with World Vision International in Southern Africa and second with Oxfam GB in East Africa. The approaches have been different but in both cases, noone had to travel and participants were able to fit the learning around their other work commitments.

In the case of World Vision, we used a “hotspot” approach to ease connectivity challenges. A number of offices were chosen and World Vision made sure that each office had a USB speaker phone and a projector. One computer would be connected and participants would either look at a shared monitor or the screen would be projected onto a wall. Participants were given a clear timetable and instructions about what was expected of them. They had a program of reading through the PMDPro Guide, using the practice exam, webinars using Blackboard Collaborate, a ning social network where they could ask/answer questions and where we could post all the documents and finally there was an ‘instructor’s hour,’ when a facilitator would be online and participants could ask any questions on a one-to-one basis. Each course was scheduled over a two week period.

With Oxfam, we adopted a similar approach but it was much more extensive. The course had the same components but was designed to be taken over a 10 to 12 week period. Participants were advised that they would need to spend 3 to 4 hours each week. No one component was mandatory and they could spend their time on any of the different components. If the facilitator or the Oxfam sponsor thought that a participant was not engaging in any element, then s/he was not allowed to sit the PMDPro exam at the end of the course.

So what?

Well clearly, the blended approach is much more flexible and obviously more cost effective. One additional immediate benefit was a higher percentage of women participants – as described in an earlier post for International Woman’s Day. Interestingly results from the extended, Oxfam approach have been the best with an exam pass rate of 50%. Best of all was to see this post from the Tanzania Country Director, in which he noted his experience of “a case where training has created learning that has turned into change. There is improved quality of work and increased commitment to share one’s learning.”

Clearly this kind of approach can lead to skill transfer and application.

What learning is there from these pilots?

  1. Setting up a hotspot is a considerable investment in time and equipment – but once it is there, it can be used again and again. We have seen staff use the equipment for virtual meetings rather than travel – another great benefit.
  2.  In both cases, it is helpful to have champions and clear leadership – without buy in from the top, any training is more difficult. Participants need to have a clear structure and they need to understand what they are expected to do, when and why.
  3. Participant selection is as important as  managing expectations – participants need to commit to putting in the time over a two/three month period.
  4. The biggest learning I have taken from all this is simple. Blended learning can work and work well. One participant from Tanzania said in one of the webinars, “I need to leave now. I am in a village with no electricity using a 3G connection and the laptop battery is going.”

 I wish I had had a photo! When we think about virtual/remote learning – or whatever we want to call it, perhaps we should stop ask asking “why?” and start asking “why not!”

 

Last Mile Learning Sneak Preview

Posted by Marian Abernathy, LINGOs Director of Membership & Communications

Reaching the workers on the front-lines of development can be challenging. They are the ones doing the hard, sometimes dangerous work that development and humanitarian relief organizations are known for. The good people at the “Last Mile” work in remote communities, sometimes informally, often without electricity and internet. They often lack opportunities to build their skills and to effectively share their experience and wisdom with others who need to know it. It’s often impossible for the Last Milers to get training or learning that would allow them to advance their careers and to more effectively achieve their mission.

Last week, Kenyan Development and Humanitarian Relief workers had an opportunity to get a “sneak peak” at some of the Last Mile Learning resources under development. The workshop was in Nairobi, so we did not manage to reach the last mile, but had some great input from “Mid Milers.”

We had a chance to try out some of the face-to-face training materials that are being developed by teams of volunteers working with member agencies to see how the format and materials work, and the participants kindly shared some of their thoughts and guidance on Last Mile Learning adoption.

Roger Steele and I worked with “sell-out” crowds at the free workshops and focus groups on July 10 and 11. It was wonderful to get to meet some of the field staff of member organizations as well as folks from many other organizations and institutions.

In addition to the sneak peak at the Coaching resource and some project management tools, we met with a number of other organizations and institutions about Last Mile Learning. There’s lots of enthusiasm for what’s to come.

Please visit the Last Mile Learning website to learn more. LINGOs Members will hear more about Last Mile Learning at the Member Meeting (Nov 28-29 in Washington, DC) — See most recent post on this blog for more information.

What’s Project Management Training Got to do with International Women’s Day?

Posted by John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Services

“It’s so great that you could do this training in Kotido (Northern Uganda) whenever there is any training, it is in Kampala and we can never go.”

A recent male partcipant said this to me after a PMDPro workshop in February (PMD Pro is the contextualised Project Management certification, developed with experts from several of the world’s best-known and highly regarded non-governmental organisations).

Downtown Kotido, Uganda, 2012. Photo: John Cropper

What this has to do with Internatonal Women’s Day is a very good question. Let me explain.

So much learning in NGOs is still focused on stopping all work, flying (often to another country), sitting in a hotel for week and then flying back. Guess who this training gets focused on?

That’s right – junior staff never get a look in. You need to be in some kind of “senior” category before it’s decided that you are important enough to be flown around and put up in a nice hotel somewhere – and who makes up the senior staff? You got it again – mostly men.

Yet, but and however – these senior staff are not actually the ones implementing projects on the ground! So, again and again we see the people who most need top boost project management skills through training being squeezed out. And given the realities in many countries (developed world included), when a woman is senior enough to be considered for training opportunities that involve travel – she may not be able to leave family responsibilities behind. Obstacles all the way.

This is why an initiative LINGOs is piloting with Oxfam GB in East Africa is so interesting. We are running PMDPro training in three countries: Uganda (hence the visit to Kotido), Ethiopia and Tanzania.

  • Uganda gets traditional NGO learning. Trainer rocks up, training happens, trainer leaves and application of learning to actual projects is in the hands of the Gods.
  • Ethiopia gets face-to-face training plus virtual learning – let’s see what difference this makes to application.
  • Tanzania is by the far the most interesting as the approach will be both 100% virtual and take 3 hours per week – so people can fit learning in around their other commitments.

This is where it gets interesting. In Uganda, 20% of partcipants were women. In Ethiopia, 32% were women (teams travelled to Addis for the training). In Tanzania, we will have just over 50% female partcipants. To be fair, Oxfam is still finalising the participant list – but what a difference!

So,  if your agency really values women: plan to  cut back on the travel, reduce your  carbon footprint and subsidies to the airlines, expand your focus from train on senior managers and start virtual learning! PMD Pro – just do it! – but do it virtually wherever possible! Take a first step on March 8.

More LINGOs blogs will follow up on this really interesting experiment.

     

For More information on PMD Pro

See what’s happening with PM work in Latin America – virtually and face to face through the Gepal Project

Watch the Gepal Video

 


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