Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lessons Learned

I came across a little book, Post-Project Reviews to Gain Effective Lessons Learned, by Terry Williams, published by the Project Management Institute. The first half of the book is a literature review and the reference section should keep me busy with reading ideas for a while. The rest of the book is a survey of practice, a review of various methods employed by organizations to capture lessons learned, the result of a survey of organizational practices related to lessons learned, and some case studies.

None of it has anything to do with international development projects. The reason I came across this book is simply that I have been “branching out” to some extent into “project management” and looking at the literature put out by the Project Management Institute and more specifically the methodologies promoted by the Project Management Institute.

The PMI has its own vocabulary and my main professional arena, international development, has its own vocabulary. What I have been trying to do is to see whether PMI tools and methodologies could have some value in international development. Half of what PMI recommends is already basic practice in international development projects – although again, the vocabulary tends to be different.

In that context, and bringing this closer to my work on M&E (monitoring and evaluation) and lessons learned for international development projects, I have come to the conclusion that most of the projects I have encountered were managed in a very ad hoc fashion. Where there are systematic processes in place, these are mainly focused on ensuring that the regulations imposed by the funding organization are being adhered to and proper standards of accounting are followed. The rest seems to be up to the skills, aptitude and motivation of the individual project manager.

International NGOs working with donor funding are primarily project-based organizations, yet how many have a PMO (Project Management Office)? Is there an equivalent to a PMO in international NGOs? Would it make sense for international NGOs to explore what PMI tools and methodologies have to offer and adapt them to the international development arena?