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5 Project Management Phases to Consider in Proposal Writing - Phase 4

Phase 4 - Performance and Control

Welcome back to The Grants House description of how the 5 Project Management Cycle (PMC) phases inform your Grants Proposal design. We mentioned in the last blog that the 3rd and 4th phases are not sequential. Performance and Control actually run concurrently with the Implementation phase and are taken into account all the way back in the 1st phase. When you search on the PMC phases, you will see Performance and Control sometimes referred to as Monitoring, M&E, or even Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning.

As a project manager, you must make sure that no one deviates from the original plan. You do this by establishing Critical Success Factors (CSF) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). The manager (and management team) is responsible for quantitatively and qualitatively tracking the effort and cost during the process. This tracking ensures that the project remains within the budget and is important for future endeavours and new projects. You need to ensure that there is an adequate means of ‘controlling’ the different steps of the project cycle. In particular, measuring the progress of a project against its objectives and assessing the checkpoints and milestones that were devised in your implementation plan.

Through regular reporting and analysis, one is able to tell if there have been any deviations or variations in your project delivery plan (the scope, budget, schedules or risk management plans). It is very important to have your Project Implementation Plan (PIP) at the start of executing your project but as I mentioned, a lot can happen along the way to push you off course and the process of monitoring is one of the most important ways that you can make adjustments and informed decisions to get back on track.

No surprises please!

The earlier you detect any deviations, the easier it will be for you to fix the problem. Clearly, if you have missed your training output targets by 50% and you are in the last year of a 4 year project, then you have a big problem. Spotting that problem in Year 2 or 3 will give you time to adjust the Time, Cost and Scope of your project.

Allow yourself a chance to change ... in the project design

If you think about it, the management of a project is not a linear process. In fact, it is a cyclical or iterative one where the management team will be collecting regular feedback and forming decisions based on it. There may be a change in some of the assumptions reported in the original design, some new learnings have been introduced - or perhaps a contextual change that has affected the Triple Constraint (see earlier blogs). Thus, a project is never static or implemented exactly to plan and that is why you always need a strong management and monitoring team. A good manager will always look for and allow adjustments to the implementation plan. A smart donor will always be open to such changes if they are likely to lead to a better outcome for the project and its intended primary stakeholders. Remember that your proposal is your 'best assessment' of how you think your project can respond to a given problem (or development challenge) with a given solution. You have built in your pre-conditions and assumptions and managed the risks - but now you will apply that project to the context and a lot can happen!

3 Very important stages of the 4th Phase
3 stages of peformance and control; the grants house;; Project Management; PMC

Obviously, there are all sorts of ways to describe the Performance and Control Phase of the PMC. Myself, I break it down into 3 important stages - Initiate, Adapt and Audit.

In stage 1 - Initiate - you are making your best attempt to describe the internal and external environment of the project. However, it can't be perfect - not until you get into the implementation. Thus, your planning has to be as exacting as possible, describing the assumptions and risks and the means by which you are going to achieve your project results. This means that the New Business Development Officer or Grant Writer of your Proposal will need to have a good understanding of the project management cycles and the methods by which monitoring and evaluation are accomplished in the project. In many cases, grant writers will rely on the specialist staff in the country of implementation in order to finalize this important part of the design of the project.

Each project should have indicators designed from a logical framework (or logic model). These would form an important part of a Performance Management Framework (PMF). We talked about this in an earlier blog (ref. The Project - results-based management) and I always recommend that each project goes through this important exercise for every proposal design, whether or not the donor requires it. Those indicators should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). They are the points of your compass for the project and will help determine if project resources are being properly managed to reach the expected results (sometimes referred to as 'results monitoring'). They also will be the direct result of a thorough 'causal analysis' of the identified problem and the solution proposed. Thus, your Grant Proposal Writer should be able to guide the wider team through a careful conversation to inform the implementation team on what is expected of them once they get started using project inputs.

In Stage 2 - Adapt - the project manager will employ the 9 processes of management that I described in the last blog (Phase 3). This means monitoring the triple constraint (time, cost scope) and adapting the management methods to determine what works best for the project within any given context. A method of adaptive management is often preferred because it provides a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outputs and outcomes. Adapting basically refers to taking 'corrective action' and it is informed by the monitoring framework you have designed and funded in the project. The managing team will assess the data, examine possible changes and determine their impact and relevance to the project and its constraints. However, an important element is the project team's ability to also learn from that experience, leading to increased productivity, improvements and innovations in the project and making well-informed decisions.

The important thing to remember is that this type of change in a project is positive and normally welcomed by the funding donor. You have already described the possible risks and assumptions in your proposal design (hopefully) and so you have also informed the donor that 'things happen.' No project design is perfect and when the tire rubber hits the road, that is when you find out if you have the ability to accelerate or brake at the right times. If your monitoring system is measuring performance and control effectively, then you will navigate the pitfalls and will steer onto better roads every time!

In Stage 3 - Audit - the project management team is subjecting all aspects of your project to a thorough review process. I am not talking about sending 3rd party external auditors into your project in this stage. The review should be internal and the results of that review should lead to the goal of reporting back to the donor on project performance. If the monitoring was effectively executed, then the management should have an ongoing idea of how well each process performed throughout the year (e.g. quarterly). There are a number of methods by which this can be cross-checked by the project manager. Internal audits (or if you prefer a lighter term - internal assessments) may be carried out on an annual basis to ensure that fiscal controls are in place and are being followed. Each of these "assessments" would provide a set of recommendations to strengthen program and fiscal performance, leading to a substantially reduced risk of outcome failure or disallowed costs.

Each of the 9 processes of management should be considered and areas to be streamlined or improved highlighted. Assumptions should be reviewed to decide if they are still valid and each risk should be considered and revised, as necessary. There are two excellent outputs from this ongoing exercise. One is that a reward system may be injected into the performance of a project and its teams can be highly motivated for a job well done. Also, your organization can maximize the output of its employees on the project and ensure that its goals are being met. Remember that 'control' is not about top-down management or 'policing' the project. It is a process by which a project manager can get regular feedback and data on the project and avoid the many management pitfalls that could lead to a low-performing project.

What if the monitoring is not good enough?

When you get to the closure phase of your project, you can appreciate that the acceptance of that closure (by the donor) will depend on the acceptance of the project outputs, outcomes and any other deliverables. If the donor doesn't accept that the project has delivered on its commitment, then you may face disallowed costs or be forced to continue the objectives of the project, to completion, with your own organizational funds. If you have ever been in this challenging position you will already know that a weak monitoring system likely led to that situation and it could have been avoided if more robust controls had been put in place during the implementation phase. Stay tuned for more information on this when our next blog comes out on Phase 5 - Closure Phase.

Reporting to those that matter most

I mentioned in my last blog that I was going to propose a challenge when we are considering HOW we report back in our projects - especially as it relates to the community stakeholders.

If reporting to a donor - with quality reports and on time - is not difficult enough, one can imagine that reporting back to the people we are serving must be even more complex. It is a frequently neglected part of project management because it is expensive and difficult to do. Herein again lies a unique difference between international development projects and conventional project management. Development projects have a duty of care towards the stakeholders and aim to have deliberate and meaningful engagement with them. After all, it is typically part of a robust sustainability strategy at the close of the project. We don't just design and deliver a set of interconnected activities - we engage communities to design, implement and sustain those activities themselves.

However, if you are already challenged in pulling together data and reports for donors, imagine how one will need to take scientific and complex content and then find a means to translate that knowledge into a useful format for recipient communities; especially where education levels are often quite low. Statistics and outcome statements are great for management but they do nothing for the day-to-day activities of the rural farmer. How do you explain to them what you’ve done in the project and how it is helping? How are those results transferred back to communities on a regular basis and at the close of the project, when funds are usually scarce and staff are often applying to other jobs and leaving?

Knowledge translation and transfer should make information accessible and easily understood by project stakeholders. After all, certain members of that community group likely helped set up the project (if you've done it correctly) – and they were possibly involved in monitoring and supervising the results, right? I'll be happy to share some ideas in subsequent blogs and discuss possible methods with you. For now, I'll just mention a couple of easy methods that I found very useful - though it is not for every project.

Release the spiders!

I’ve used the spider-web methodology quite a bit – a very easy tool for setting up key indicators with community stakeholders and then having those groups measure (monitor) them and develop community action plans based on them. They do it quarterly and it helps them track results and advance the results even further. I can walk into a community space, look at the wall, and see immediately what’s been done and how much progress has been made in that village, against the project targets. It's a clear visual aid that the community members have created and they maintain those results and the progress achieved - almost in real-time.

Social Mapping

I’ve seen some community members prepare social mapping in their community and work with different local groups to select improvements in infrastructure and attract new members for committees and activities. I’ve also seen some really interesting and simple pamphlets being produced that describe the project's progress in easy-to-read cartoons and pictorial representations – and these keep them informed and active in the project.

Again, it really comes down to the creativity of the project manager and his or her staff to implement these activities. The great fun of this kind of job – being a project manager – is that you have a wide field of opportunities to explore ideas and utilize your creative energies. The trick is then to inspire others and have them fulfil the vision that you set out.

Consider your format of reporting

Another consideration for knowledge translation, is to ensure that the monitoring system used is collecting disaggregated data, typically by various key socio-economic variables (SES, gender, age, tribal group, caste, differently abled, sexual orientation, etc.). Firstly, this gives the project management team more specific data related to the impact of the project but secondly, it will produce sufficiently diverse data and results that are more meaningful for specific groups within the community. When reporting those results, consider unique and innovative methods for reporting back to your stakeholders, consistent with the context and local conditions. For example, can your reports be produced in braille for visually impaired stakeholders? Can inexpensive radio announcements be created for rural farmers who are predominantly illiterate? Or can agricultural fairs be set up at the end of the project to exhibit the results and innovations of the project?

At The Grants House, we would love the opportunity to explore these options with you and to find an innovative solution that would align with a donor's expectations.

One of the services The Grants House provides is coming up with 'creative ideas' to set your proposal apart from the crowd. You'll be surprised at how many donors are open to this type of innovation in project design. One of the great outcomes of monitoring and reporting back to community stakeholders is that other projects in the area can learn from our approaches and from the unique methods we use to include marginalized community groups. This has the added benefit of putting your organization in an attractive position of sharing information and leading innovative solutions with other partners.

Let the grant games begin!
Elements of a great proposal; grant proposal; writing a grant proposal; grant writer; grants strategy
Philip Tanner, Grants Coach and Trainer. Founder of The Grants House

In the next blog, we will look at the final Phase 5, which involves the closure of the project. Sometimes considered the easiest phase, it is in fact something that is often neglected and you need to plan for from the very beginning. If it is neglected, it can become a project manager's worst nightmare!

I'm Dr. Phil Tanner, founder of The Grants House. With over 25 years in project management and grants acquisition - both in headquarters and in the field - I am pleased to share my experience with clients all over the world. Whether you're a small agency or a big one - you can compete for those scarce donor resources - and at The Grants House we show you how! Why not try out our proprietary training courses today? You can rent them for the low, low price of CAD $4.99.

If you would like more blogs like this, don't forget to give us a 'like' and look for our future blogs from The Grants House.

The Grants House,

@The Grants House, 2023


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