Phase 3 - The Implementation Phase
The Implementation phase of the Project Management cycle is the time to put the project into action. It is sometimes referred to as the 'execution phase' and involves the delivery of activities, control of project processes (core and support), monitoring & control, change management and sustainability (uninterrupted delivery to the ultimate stakeholders or users of the project activities).
For those who have followed The Grants House blogs, you may remember the Triple Constraint that we talked about earlier? Well, a project manager's primary responsibility is to ensure that the project Scope, Time, and Budget (cost) is continually monitored and adjusted to ensure that the project stays on course. Think of it in terms of a triangle where the 3 primary characteristics of a project are on each point and Quality is put in the middle (since it relates to each of those 3).
The project manager must ensure that the project stays on its timeline, that the project is spending within the approved and eligible budget line items and that the project achieves the desired outcomes outlined in the Project Plan (see last blog).
However, we know that things happen in a project and they are not always within our control. That's why we established a risk registry - to try and predict what could happen during the project cycle. So what happens if there is a sudden change in one of the 3 characteristics during our management phase? While you are happily implementing, one of the following could suddenly happen:
1. The Scope of the project is suddenly reduced by the donor (yup, that happened!)
2. The community decides it doesn't want the project anymore (staff conflict arose)
3. The budget has been overspent on one or more budget lines (hyper inflation)
4. The project has been delayed due to a pandemic, etc. (could never happen!)
I'm going to assume that the Scope has been reduced in this scenario. You’ll observe that the triangle suddenly shifts its shape due to a reduction in scope and this is going to have an impact on the other two elements. In this scenario, what would you expect to happen regarding management decisions that would need to be made?
The Triple Constraint in project management
As the project manager, you will likely meet with your management team and then will have to recommend an action related to the Time and Cost of the project. Since there are less things to accomplish now, this might include reducing the time or length, which would mean reducing the budget too. Or – you may discuss options with the donor and they will allow you to increase the inputs (and thus the cost) of other components of your project.
Quality Assurance isn't like putting gas in your car
The same is true if you are told by the donor to reduce or increase the timeline of the project or reduce the budget. They will have a commensurate affect on the other characteristics. A good example of a cost change might be a 'no-cost extension' on your project, if circumstances have caused your project to suffer delays in delivery of activities and outputs.
In any of these cases, it will be your job (as the project manager) to track the various activities and inputs of the project to accommodate those different characteristics. But remember – very importantly, you always have to maintain the quality of the outputs and outcomes. That doesn’t change – or the project fails! And while the other 3 characteristics are negotiable with the donor, quality is not! You can't decide to get a cheaper type of fuel for your project and expect the outcomes to be the same. Your project is a Ferrari and you need to ensure it is in top performance at all times.
By the way - keep in mind that whatever changes you finally make, they all must be approved by the project donor (or sponsor) and be discussed with the project management team. Once the change has been approved, it can be factored into the revised scope, time and cost of the project.
Bottlenecks do happen!
The reason we have risk mitigation plans is because bottlenecks and break-downs do exist in the course of implementing projects. It may be a predicted challenge or it could be the loss of a needed resource or a new constraint.
Some bottlenecks are of short duration, where there has been a supply chain challenge, shortage of staff or key project stakeholders haven't shown up. While these are annoying and can impact your implementation schedule, they can generally be fixed fairly quickly. As you learn from these issues, you can address them by automating certain functions of your plan, improving your communications (to avoid further break-downs) or by improving your delivery mechanism and steps.
Consider Project Capacity when you consider Award Eligibility
Longer-term bottlenecks are more problematic and they are generally harder to fix. One of the big ones is what we talk about in The Grants House training courses - capacity! (Reference: What is Eligibility & the Grants Pre-Award Phase?). Unfortunately, a lot of grant awardees become so focussed on winning a grant funded project that they have not fully considered all the requirements involved in implementing the project. This is why we talk about the importance of considering your project capacity when you consider award 'eligibility.' Capacity (or the lack thereof) is one of the primary bottlenecks that will derail a project. The easiest way to address this is to anticipate all of the capacity needs in 'the design and planning phase.' And before you sign anything with the donor, ask your questions and get answers to your key concerns. A common mistake is not budgeting enough time for your key program staff. If you need a HQ program officer at 50% of time, don't try to undercut the competition by reducing your overheads and allocating 35%. It will catch up with you and you will pay a price for it later. The same is true for your sectoral specialist and shared positions in a project - or for the level of effort expected of your local partners. Decide what it will take. to implement your project and then budget for that! If you don't, then you are already setting yourself up for failure when it comes to the implementation phase.
Take Me Home Country Roads
The Implementation Phase is obviously the longest phase of the project life cycle and is the one where our outputs are delivered, with our community stakeholders. The project manager’s role here is to ensure that the project is monitored and that the controls and policies in the project are maintained. A key concern is to ensure that all activities are being delivered on time and within budget, to avoid any disallowed costs to the implementing agency. Most importantly, the project manager is adapting the project plan to the local context and managing the various ‘management processes’ – of which there are 9. These processes will be essential in the implementation of your project, especially in contexts that are complex, large-scale projects, insecure contexts and multi-country programs. I'll come back to those 9 processes later on in this blog.
Management and Leadership
The project manager not only has the function of managing the project but also of providing ‘leadership’ to the project team. As many of our readers already well know, Leadership and Management are very different. We've talked a lot about management but in the case of leadership, it requires setting the ‘vision’ for the team, exerting influence on relationships and activities without becoming autocratic, and finding ways to get the most out of others in terms of production and quality, to achieve excellence in your project. Leadership is sometimes an even harder attribute to acquire in a project manager, requiring a high degree of emotional & cultural intelligence and rarely relates to power or position.
A Project Manager must know how to work closely with his/her management team and be able to manage 'up' as well as 'down.' Managing relationships in headquarters can be as important as managing the expectations and demands of your teams in the field. Whether those staff report to you or not - you are responsible to set the team culture and nurture a high performing team at all levels.
Strengthening capacity and maintaining it is a primary responsibility of your immediate management team and partners. They will be assigned to develop work schedules and coordinate various activities during the project implementation phase – and the project manager will be responsible for providing support and clearing obstacles that might come up. Some of those teams will be handling programe delivery (like education or health activities), others will be managing procurement and purchasing, while others will be managing performance/results, administration or training. It’s the project manager's job to have a hand in all of these departments to make sure that they are running optimally and achieving the best quality impact and standards possible.
The clock is ticking!
Meeting deadlines is one of the most challenging issues that the project management team will face, since there are lots of things that can go wrong in any one of the teams that you manage. Development projects seem to suffer chronically from timely reporting to the donor - for many different reasons. It is very important that deadlines are kept and peoples time is managed carefully. A donor may appear to accept a late report but you do not want to make a habit of it. An implementing agency's reputation is based on its ability to deliver the project on time - and that includes the reporting. Of course, that includes the delivery of a quality report! This was probably the main cause of my sleepless nights as a project manager, wrestling with staff to meet deadlines, analyzing quality data and ensuring that reports were not rushed and contained the required (and articulate) content needed to deliver to the donor.
It is highly recommended that if problems occur (at any stage), which may affect project deliverables or reporting timetables, that it is raised with the donor as soon as possible. Early detection and reporting is key to maintaining a strong relationship and reputation with your donor partner. In our next blog, I'll be talking about Performance and Control - or monitoring - as a key phase in the project management cycle. I'll also set a challenge for you to consider in reporting back to the people you serve in your projects.
Kick-Off in Implementation Phase
The implementation or execution phase of the project cycle will typically begin with the management team calling a kick-off meeting. This is an important step to ensure that all the new staff are on board with the project objectives and are aligned with the implementing agency's mandate, values, and strategic goals. It will be the project manager's responsibility to set the tone for the culture in the project and to ensure that everyone is clear on what their roles and responsibilities are in the project. Some of the types of activities that may be raised at the kick-off of the implementation phase could include, inter alia:
Transition into performance, control and monitoring
Set up monitoring methods and systems (incl. data collection)
Establish baseline and targets (if not already done in the Planning stage)
Clarify objectives and expectations
Initiation of status reports and updates
Develop team (incl. roles and responsibilities)
Ensure fiscal controls are in place
Establish procurement management (if needed)
Task assignments are executed
Status meetings set up (regular)
Update project schedule (ongoing)
Modify project plans as needed
Execute project management plans
4 or 5 Phases in the Project Management Cycle?
You may have noted that some of the above functions appear to fit better within the Performance and Control Phase of the project management cycle. This is actually quite true and if you google these phases, you will often see people state there are only 4 phases - not 5! In fact, the monitoring of project activities occurs simultaneously with implementation, so you'll find that some people do not see it as a 'phase' per se - more like a function. However, a key reason for performance and control is to ensure that the project results align with the management plan in Phase 2, that management is tracking effort and costs, monitoring project performance, ensuring plans are adhered to and avoiding disruptions in project delivery, throughout Phase 3. It also ensures that sustainability is achieved during the close-out of the project, in Phase 5. The Project Management Institute prefers to separate out the two because there are distinct differences between them - and I will be discussing the Performance and Control Phase in the next blog.
Process Groups - and there are 9 of them!
According to the PMBOK and PMI, Processes are a logical grouping of project management inputs, tools, techniques and outputs. In a simpler way, they’re a set of actions taken (by a management team) to achieve a particular goal. And they occur throughout the life cycle of the project and are in a cyclical relationship that requires that management conduct ‘planning, doing, checking and learning’ to ensure that quality is achieved throughout each process. So it’s an ongoing exercise.
Managing these 9 processes is probably the most critical role of the project manager – integrating and coordinating all of them. And obviously, by their nature and according to the characteristics of the project, how much time you devote to these processes will depend on many factors. For example, you may have a very large and technically complex project, which will require all sorts of specialized resources and people to manage these processes. On the other hand, a small and relatively low budget project may give you the luxury to decide how much effort you want to spend on each of them. So the project manager will become the owner and conductor of the 9 process groups.
I’ve described earlier that Project Management is about bringing a capable team of people together to plan and implement a series of inter-related activities that have to be accomplished by a certain date. Your team has to work together like a well-oiled machine. I compare it to the rowing team at Oxford, because if one person is out of sync, it throws off everyone else.
Because of all the complexities of managing projects in communities overseas, you need to divide these processes into inter-related and manageable parts – so ‘bite size pieces’ or ‘bite sized processes.’ Doing this allows the project manager to control the outcomes of the project and manage the various challenges you might face throughout the life-cycle of the project.
The 4 Core Processes of Project Management
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the 4 core processes of project management include Scope management, Schedule management, Resource management and Quality management (remember our Triple Constraint?).
Project scope management is about managing the work required to achieve the project objectives. It will ensure that the project includes all the work required and only the work required, to complete the project successfully. If you go outside of the agreed scope during a project, you end up with what is called ‘scope creep or scope drift.’ It just means that you have inadvertently (hopefully not purposely) gone outside of the boundaries of what was defined in the project charter.
The PM will be overseeing all of the activities to ensure that the project stays within the plan and does not get so off track that the project processes start to get tangled and confused. In the case of the project I took over in 2019/20, I was faced with some partners who had revised their plans to over-shoot their training targets in the last year of the project. They did that because they had some budget left in other activities and thought it was fine to go ahead and use it up on extra trainings, without prior approval. That is a big no-no and will result in scope creep and – likely a disallowed cost invoice from the donor. Approvals and authority have to be maintained and the project manager is the one to decide if those big changes can happen or not and then move the decision to the appropriate level for final approval.
Project Schedule Management is about managing the time schedule for all of your project activities. It requires that you define your project tasks, their durations and dependencies and, to ensure that you know the resources that are assigned to them in order to complete the project within the desired time frame. Within this, the project management team would consider the monitoring and reporting schedule as well.
Normally, a Schedule Management plan would be selected , along with the preferred tools to be used, and the criteria for developing and controlling the project schedule. People use all sorts of different tools for tracking this. This can include the use of tools like MS Project, a Gantt Chart, Time Flow Management, and so on. Typically, a project will have a ‘work breakdown structure’ which will de-construct the outputs and activities to sub-activities and enables a clear view of monthly or quarterly planned activities.
Project Resource or Budget Management is about managing the funds given by the donor and ensuring that they are utilized in accordance with the terms spelled out in the agreement or the Charter. It includes the steps in identifying, acquiring and managing the resources needed for the successful completion of the project. Here, we are talking about fiscal duties of the project manager and accountability over the project’s budget. It would be his or her responsibility to ensure that expenditures are tracked – just the way you would your own expenses - hopefully! You want to make sure that you are getting fair market prices for supplies and materials and that the activities are being carried out in a responsible way. You want to also ensure that individual line items (for each budget component) are tracked and that any funds moving between line items are pre-approved or agreed to by the donor.
With resource management, remember that you are the steward of the donor’s funds – and ultimately, these are often public monies that people have given to charity or through their taxes. So project managers in international development need to be especially cognizant of being aid effective – and good stewards of the project resources at all times.
Project Quality Management is about ensuring that all project activities and actions have clear standards for meeting quality assurance. It includes the steps in incorporating the organization’s policies regarding planning, managing and controlling project and product quality requirements, in order to meet stakeholder expectations. When we make a pact with a community to deliver a project, it is assumed that we are doing it with the intent of being ethical and considering our stakeholders in the community as pivotal to our success. I like to use the term ‘honest broker’ when I talk about international development and INGOs. We generally don’t have a vested stake in the money of the project – nor the politics of the community or country. We’re there to see people’s lives transformed and families raised out of poverty. For that, we should be doing everything in the project with the intent of holding ourselves to the highest standards of quality at all times.
These 4 Core Processes relate directly to the management and monitoring of the Triple Constraint. So – at risk of repeating myself - these core processes are linked to the Triple Constraint. It’s a good way to remember them.
The 5 Supporting Processes of Project Management
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the 5 supporting processes of project management include Team management, Stakeholder management, Information Systems Management, Risk management and Contract management.
Project Team Management relates to managing, developing and evaluating your team's performance over the life cycle of the project. This includes building capacity and providing training, as needed. It also involves developing the steps to manage a set of individuals who support the project manager in performing the work of the project to achieve its objectives. Now, every project manager has their own style here, as we well know. And each will bring varying degrees of emotional and cultural intelligence to their management work. As a result, this is where things get a little unpredictable on projects. Since the management of teams is governed by personality, you may get the wrong mix of people or an autocratic PM - and then things can quickly turn teams to being demoralized and under-performing. I’ve seen it a hundred times and it is sad to see a project run down-hill because of people’s inability to see eye-to-eye on the project. So this is where it is important to introduce strong human resource skills and activities to build teams and to build morale. In addition to management, you need a strong recruitment process and you need to exhibit strong leadership skills to keep people moving forward positively.
I recommend that you reach out to an expert who can help you identify that 'right fit' for your team, who possesses all of those important characteristics of IQ, EQ and CQ. At The Grants House, we have partnered with a leading Human Data Analytics company, providing just that type of Psychometric Assessment Service. Contact us if you're interested in a low-cost tool that your Human Resource department can use on a continuous basis to keep your teams healthy and to recruit the exact type of Project or Grant Manager that you need.If you would like more information about this, refer to our earlier blog on Hiring a Great Project Manager!
Project Stakeholder Management is about managing relationships with ALL of the project stakeholders. These can be all sorts of partners and depends on the type of project you’re running, your preferences, your leadership style and how you include external and community participants. It involves the steps required to identify the people, groups or organizations that could impact or be impacted by the project.
If you check the 'partnership' image I've included, you will note the many different types of partners that a project could have. Clearly, it’s a big list and this isn’t by any means the total number of partnerships you could have. You’ll notice that there are a range of local partners that include community-based groups, churches, local authorities, advocacy groups, women’s rights groups, children and youth groups, the local business sector, service providers, vendors and many others. On the international side, there are multi-laterals (like the UN), there are government bodies, churches, universities, hospitals, corporations and the list goes on and on. And for many organizations, they will have internal stakeholders as well – these could be their alliances, their memberships in various networks, their ambassadors or champions of their brand or fund-raising partners.
So as a project manager, your ability to build relationships and establish networks with many of these organizations can add tremendous value to your implementation and to the project success. Those projects that operate in a silo or in isolation very rarely have huge success or are well integrated into the overall sustainable development process in a country. It’s very hard to contribute to the SDGs or a community’s poverty initiatives if you don’t operate alongside key stakeholders who also have a mission to accomplish similar objectives. In fact, you’ll often see a section in donor proposal templates that ask you to identify other projects in the region that could impact your work and you may also have to do a stakeholder mapping exercise.
Project Information Systems Management includes the steps for overseeing the tools and techniques to gather, integrate and disseminate the outputs of project management processes. In general, the system that you put in place will help in managing the information flow and data accumulated by the project. At the end of the day, while this is not going to impact your triple constraint terribly much, you can’t succeed in a project without some form of data management – so, this is an important support process that has to be built into the planning stage and then implemented throughout the project cycle – right to the closure phase.
Project Risk Management is a bit like doing your laundry. You have to 'wash', 'rinse', and repeat! And it seems that anything worth doing will come with some element of risk. Remember that you have to identify and plan for those risks before implementing the project - or you may meet up with an unpleasant surprise during implementation!
You can think of risk management as a cycle that is ongoing throughout the project. You work through the identification of the risks, then assess the effect on the outcomes of the project. Then you design your risk response – which is based on assumptions and predictions about what could happen. You assess your risks in terms of severity and likelihood of it happening and then you report on how it is being handled. The process is set up in the planning phase but once you get to the implementation phase, you will be going through this cycle on a regular basis (usually every year but it could be more frequent depending on the environment and length of the project).
Project Contract Management is about managing the donor agreement that we signed, as well as any sub-agreement (with vendors, etc.). The project manager is responsible for keeping a copy of the agreement or charter in their top draw and is expected to know it inside and out. The Agreement is the final authority on the project. Any other agreements that are signed, any contracts with vendors or with partners, are all within the responsible area of the project manager - to ensure that the conditions of the contracts and agreements are carried out correctly.
You Want More?
I've provided the primary Supporting Processes above but if you are looking for anything else that might be important to the management team during implementation, I'm happy to oblige.
They include financial management, human resource management, strategic management, technology management, general administration, legal management and accounting. I won't go into these in detail but it is good to know that they are also important during the implementation stage. In general, they are processes in which the project manager doesn’t always (or usually) have direct control over. There may be some touch-point but it is not entirely their responsibility. The home office or HQ is often very involved in some areas of the project and may over-ride the project manager or set the boundaries for how these processes are carried out. This is often because it has a direct impact on the culture and operation of the organization as a whole, and not just the project. Hiring the wrong people, messing up financial reports, buying certain technologies and so on, can have repercussions to the organization itself – not just the project.
Happy Grants Hunting!
There are many different types of project implementation methods that project managers use throughout the life of a project. Some of the more popular ones include Scrum (team members focus on high-value tasks on daily work “sprints” and relay their progress in daily check-ins), Lean Sigma 6 (a method to reduce waste), or Agile (project leaders prepare their teams to adapt to project changes and don’t rely on rigid strategies and procedures).
I'm Dr. Phil Tanner, founder of The Grants House. I've been working in international development and humanitarian relief work for over 30 years and now I'm excited to pass along my experience to you in The Grants House proprietary training courses!
Don't forget to give us a thumbs up after you read this blog and let us know if you want to hear more about the various components of The Implementation Phase 3 of the Project cycle, more about management methods - or other unique features of Projects in International Development.
@The Grants House, 2023