Tag Archives: project management

Plan and manage projects for success! (Part 1 of a continuing series)

Why do projects fail? There are many reasons, but they can be summed up under two headings: poor/inadequate planning and poor management.

Let us take this example:

“A handicraft project trained women to make shoulder bags for income generation. A year later there are large stocks of unsold bags, gathering dust.”

The intended outcome (benefit) of the project was income generation for the women. In order to achieve this, people should buy the bags. But the bags remained unsold and the women earned no income. True, the women learned a new skill (bag-making). But this skill (output of the training) was just the means towards achieving the project purpose, which was not realized.

Let us trace the possible thinking behind the project. First, the need to be addressed: lack of income. So, a project that would generate income for the women would be the suitable solution. Next question: The choice of strategy. The project chose selling a product that the women will make, in this case, shoulder bags, and for the women to make these, they have to be trained. Thus, the main project activity was training and for this to happen, the project needed resources (inputs) in the form of money, trainers, raw materials, venue, etc. After the training and after the women have made the bags, the next thing would be to sell them. As it happened, the bags accumulated, but were not bought.

And that’s the problem. The project delivered what it promised to do except achieve the most important result – the economic benefit. Something was lacking in the project design. And that’s the marketing part. The project could have done some market research during its planning stage to determine, among others, what kind of product to sell (which would determine whether the women already have the ability to make it or would need training); the salability of whatever the women would be selling; who would be the prospective buyers; the buyers’ preferences as to style, materials, colors, etc; what would be their buying capacity (which would help in determining quality of the product and pricing); where the products will be displayed and sold; and where they would be promoted.

Among the three levels of projects (output, outcome, impact), the project only has control over its output. But the design of a project could influence an outcome being achieved by the project. In the above-mentioned example, no attempt was made to influence the outcome (income generation). It delivered on new skills (output) and just assumed that the bags would sell. A project outcome cannot be assumed with a hope and a prayer. It must be ensured by the project. When it is not achieved, the project fails.

Don’t let unethical behavior jeopardize your projects and reputation!

The collapse of a 17-story apartment building in the recent Taiwan earthquake, causing the death of more than 40 residents, has exposed the use of tin oil can fillers, instead of solid concrete, inside some of the walls of the building.

Some of the reinforcing bars in the lower floors were also found to be thinner, too short or too few. This has led to the arrest of three executives of the building’s developer.

In 2006, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), Singapore’s largest NGO, suffered a ruined reputation and the loss of its many large benefactors after mismanagement of funds was revealed, the most glaring being the installation of a tap made of gold in the CEO’s office.

I was in Singapore, attending a fundraising workshop, when the scandal broke out and many NGO representatives in the workshop lamented the backlash of the scandal on their own organizations. People started believing that other NGOs behaved in the same way and refused to make donations like before.

These are just two big examples that made headlines of how unethical behavior could affect the aftermath of projects or an organization’s image and reputation.

Every day, people involved in the planning, execution, monitoring and evaluation of projects, consciously or unconsciously, commit what could be considered as unethical behavior.

Those whose consequences are huge and become public knowledge, could be punished and suffer the consequences.

Many more, like, not admitting wrongdoing, calumny, blaming somebody else for a project’s failure, disrespect/violation of co-workers’ rights, nepotism, favoritism and bias, inflating one’s accomplishments, doctoring project reports, making shady deals, cheating on project expenses, and many others are not caught, get unnoticed or are just plain ignored.

All organizations have the responsibility to inculcate professional ethics in all aspects of the organization. This could be done through defining a set of organizational values and principles, creation of a code of ethics/conduct, incorporation of these principles in policies and procedures, orientation of new staff to the code, staff retreats and training.

All of us have our own moral compass of what is “right” or “wrong”. However, what is “right” or “wrong” becomes “relative” when it concerns us or when it is “justifiable”, or gray when confronted with an ethical dilemma.

Ethical decisions lead to reduced illegal behavior, corruption, litigation and fines; better products and project results; and a reputation that is a plus for future projects.

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