VANCOUVER, Canada, 04 October 2006
From September 3-8, APC people descended on Pruhonice, a small town just outside Prague for the annual board and management meeting. While the first focused on APC governance issues, the management part of the meeting got under way with a warm-up training.
Rob Purdie from iMPORTANT PROJECTS
a micro-company he started out of London last year joined the APC folk from as far as Cambodia, the USA and South Africa for two very specific reasons: explain the different project management concepts out there, and apply some of them to APC’s reality.
Consultant and trainer in project management “for social mission organisations”, Purdie made it to Prague after navigating the waters with Greenpeace, Amnesty and other high-profile advocacy groups.
Looking at projects, one phase at a time
The ice-breaker was soon to come. “What’s tough,” as Riff Fullan of civil society organisation Bellanet –currently advising the APC Strategic Uses & Capacity Building programme- put it, “is how to manage communications on projects involving multiple organisations, processes and tools.”
Purdie took on the challenge, demystifying the project phases: initiation; planning; executing; monitoring and evaluation; and closing. “Work needs to be planned, executed and controlled since work is being performed by people and is constrained by limited resources,” he argued.
One aspect of the training that really helped the 20 APCers to grasp how to approach project management was plain definitions. Purdie insisted on something that might seem obvious, but actually gets you started. He differentiated between operations
which are ongoing in nature and don’t have an end date and projects. “A project is work undertaken to achieve an objective and to terminate it,” underlined Purdie.
APC manager Willie Currie agreed but raised concern regarding the extent to which planning can be done. “This more ‘command-and-control’ approach during the planning phase is in conflict with the more networked approach of a process such as advocacy,” he said, giving the example of policy advocacy work in Africa that cannot be entirely planned out. “There are unpredictables,” he continued. “It’s true,” argued APC WNSP manager, Chat Ramillo, “but at the same time, we still need to plan out projects to give direction and scope to our enterprises.”
In the APC context, a project team often performs that ‘work’ Purdie refers to. This work involves competing demands for scope, time and cost; stakeholders with differing needs and expectations; and identifying requirements, as could be learned.
“Project management is all about providing a base from which to prioritise what’s important to your project, once in the field,” explained Purdie. To make that crystal clear, he drew a triangle on a flipchart. Every side of the triangle is a constraint and the baseline of any project: time, cost and scope. “After a while, it’s good to play with the length of the sides. That’s called monitoring. Costs can increase, the scope as well, the time frame as well.” An easy tool, that might help you get your priorities right.
Project management tools
A useful section of the training was also spend tools used to assist the managing of projects. Insisting on the distinction between task management (ie. BaseCamp) and project management software (ie. the proprietary MS Project) he successfully addressed subsequent questions relating to APC’s current drive to streamline project management internally.
“The project management training was a wonderful means for us to start imagining how we will use the project management space,” said APC executive director Anriette Esterhuysen, referring to the content management system (CMS) that is being developed by APC to ensure proper planning, follow-up and execution of APC and its members’ projects. This new modus operandi on the web is particularly important for a network organisation like APC, with people working in different time-zones and contexts.
The Plone-powered CMS is believed to render event planning, access to financial information and joint proposal writing simpler and more responsive to APC’s growing needs. The project management space will be made available to APC’s 44 members to use in early 2007. The intention is to release it back to the wider open source community.
This innovation comes at a time where APC is multiplying it’s wireless training projects, expanding the application of the Gender Evaluation Methodology –developed by APC WNSP- and put more accent on West and Central Africa ICT policy.
Photo: APC staff member Anna Feldman, executive director Anriette Esterhuysen, board member Andrew Garton and manager Karen Banks during the project management training in Pruhonice. Credit: Rob Purdie.