What’s your product?

Posted by John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Management Services

Whenever I ask NGO staff this sort of question, I usually get answers like, “safe and healthy children” or “peaceful communities.” Advanced practitioners may even manage something like “gender sensitive enhanced livelihoods.”  OK – I admit to being facetious – but my point is serious. These are not the “products” of an NGO. If you buy a car, you don’t describe in terms of a safe and trouble free journey. You describe it as a car. NGO work and projects have many positive and planned outcomes – but the product, the vehicle of achieving these outcomes is the project.

I think this ambiguity is symptomatic. NGOs talk about the importance of project management but project management is not treated as a profession within NGOs. Job descriptions for a Project Managers list a raft of technical competencies – but have just one line saying “project management experience” for what should be the core skill. Imagine if you took an experienced project manager from (say) an IT firm and gave him (or her) a job as the country gender specialist. If you then compounded this by not having any organizational standards or training, but just told him not to worry as he would, “pick it up”, there would be outrage. Yet we do this with project managers. We hire specialists in agriculture or WASH or whatever and then tell them to manage projects – no training, no standards … and no reaction, much less outrage.

But…we have project cycle management (this can be said in hushed and suitably reverent terms, if preferred). And so probably do you. Unfortunately, most organizational guidelines on PCM are not about project management. They focus on project design – Logframes and monitoring and evaluation, etc. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Project management, however is much more than this.

Starting in 2007, LINGOs convened a group of NGO staff to help look at project management in the sector. This led to PMDPro – the first certification in NGO project management. The materials are free and available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French at: http://ngolearning.org/pm4ngos/pages/PMD%20Pro1%20Prep.aspx

There is also a free practice exam. Log on and see how you do! We have tried to stick the three principles as we developed this: Accessible (online); Appropriate (contextualised for our sector) and Affordable (certification costs US$20/pax for local NGO staff through to US120/pax for HQ staff).

What we tried to do was merge best practice from our sector – project identification and design and monitoring and evaluation – with best practice from the profession of project management – project initiation, project governance, project planning and implementation.  We have tried to develop a framework that takes into account how our sector works but link this to best practice and over 30 years of work and research in project management.

Ask your colleagues how many projects are late, overspent or underspent? Ask your beneficiaries what they think? Just think what a difference we could make if we could achieve a 5% increase in effectiveness and efficiency.

If you would like to learn more, please register to join us in a webinar on June 2nd.

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