Thursday, 17 March 2011

Forget templates and schedules - understanding is the key

I'm out here in India with a very small charity. The founders have a bit of background in large corporates (or large charity organisations, which can basically be seen to operate in a similar way) but the majority of the rest of their staff have no such background. They all have training in social development, but that's it. The problem is that they're being asked to be project managers.

Project Management is a skill. It's not something that comes naturally to everyone (some would probably say anyone!). You need training and experience. I'm not claiming to be the perfect project manager by the way, far from it, but I've learnt a lot from some very good people over the years.

So where do you start when you are literally beginning from scratch. These people are already running projects, they are (nominally) planning, creating status reports and budgets - but it's all so ad-hoc and disorganised that most of it appears fairly worthless. It's a house of cards, all four corners are shaking and you've got to pick one to strengthen first!

The approach I'm taking is to not ask them to change anything. Yet. I want to get them starting to think like project managers a bit more. We're starting regular review meetings with each Project Co-ordinator to discuss the state of the project. These meetings will be asking them the sort of questions I would expect to see answered by default in status reports, project plans etc. "Are you on track to finish in time?", "What issues are you facing at the moment?", "What is your plan for next month?", "What is the reason for this difference in the budget?". The problem is that at the moment they don't see the benefit in answering those questions, so there is no thought given to them at all. These artefacts are produced because they have to, not because they are seen as useful.

You need to understand why you're performing a task before you can commit to it. Asking someone to produce a report in another template, or update their budget more regularly doesn't achieve anything if they don't know why they're being asked to do it.So that's what we're focussing on first - understanding the why. We'll get to the how and the what later.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Doing the right thing vs. doing what's required

I'm stuck in a bit of a strange position at the moment. My organisation are required to submit regular reports to funding organisations - and I don't think they're even close to up to scratch! If a junior PM submitted one of them to me for a programme I was running, I'd read the riot act!

Basically, it's simply a rehash of the project schedule (I said I'd do this, I did this)....and nothing else. No analysis of results, no qualitative review of the situation - pure stats. And the wrong stats at that. I remember reviewing one of these "reports" back in December and thinking - really? I'm sure this is going to get sent back with a load of questions. Apparently not....

And this brings us to my problem. I know it's wrong. We need to be able to do proper reporting, by which I mean we need to be able to measure our impact through the projects. At the moment, we can't do that - not even close. But (and it's a big but.....) the funding organisations don't seem to care. We say we're going to hold "12 sensitisation meetings" this month, we hold 12 meetings and they say "OK! Good! Well done! Carry on....."

I think I can change the behaviour here - it's a big challenge, but I'm up for it. At the same time, there are plenty of other challenges to be faced. I'm only one person and I've only got 9 months to make the maximum impact I can.

What's a volunteer to do? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.....

P.s. please don't send answers on postcards - none of the 3 letters I've been sent so far have actually turned up, so you'd waste the cost of a stamp. And a postcard.